My sister died by suicide February 26, 2015, less than two weeks after her father’s funeral. Her daughter is the one who found her. Today is her birthday.
I wonder if she still wakes up and looks for her. I wonder if she cries at night, missing her mother, wishing she were holding her tight. In five days, it will be her birthday.
On that day, I will continue to mourn her and respectively acknowledge the anniversary date of the death of the woman who loved me as if I were her own daughter, stepping in to fill the shoes of my own family when they failed to support me. I was so consumed with grief and loss I didn’t even know she was sick and hurting. I never said goodbye. I wish I could’ve told her how much she changed my life and how much I loved her.
April 29th is my father’s birthday, but that’s not why I remember the date. It is also the birthday of my friend, with whom I ministered for years at our church. She was age 25, on vacation in Hawaii, heading to watch the sunrise with her husband, when they were hit by a drunk driver. She died instantly. That was six years ago. It took three years to acknowledge that loss and finally grieve her.
On this day, twenty-one years ago, I was in middle school when my friend died from a gunshot wound to the head. I sat in the cafeteria, in shock, as the entire school finally took the time to acknowledge him as more than a trouble maker or juvenile delinquent. At first, it was investigated as a suicide.
In the end, his death was dismissed as another instance of a teen with a gun, who should’ve known better. I still drive by his house. I can still see him and all of his siblings. I wonder how many people knew he missed so much school because he was also their caretaker. There are consequences that come along with forcing children to be adults. Dangerous consequences.
The same year my friend was shot, a lady in my mother’s Multiple Sclerosis support group took her own life. I didn’t know it then, but I experienced firsthand what suicide contagion looks like. Two other support group members died by suicide in the months that followed. My mother discontinued her support group, and “suicide” became a permanent, routinely used word in our home. For ten years, I listened to my mother threaten her own life or encourage me to kill her. So, later that year, it didn’t seem unnatural or abnormal when I attempted to take my own life.
People believe death and loss are something we experience, something we feel, for a moment in time and then heal from. People assume the pain leaves the heart once the stages of grief have ended, but, often, it doesn’t.
We bury the loss. We hide the guilt, and we forever carry the grief in our hearts until we finally reach the end of our own lives.
Life is fleeting— temporary. We must cling to hope to survive.