Yes, you read that correctly, and if you’ve ever been in that state of mind, you didn’t have to read that sentence twice.
For those who haven’t, I’ll elaborate as best as I can.
Not every day but on a pretty consistent basis, I imagine my death. Vividly. Even down to being found and what the reaction would be. I think about who would care, what people would say. How it would or wouldn’t affect others’ lives. How much better everyone’s lives would be without me. If I just didn’t exist.
That’s the thing: I don’t want to die. I just don’t want to exist.
I don’t want that out of selfishness, but in fact, for those around me.
I hate feeling like a burden. I hate being a downer. I hate being an over-the-top upper. I hate that my husband has to be there for me and listen to me cry and groan and yell and be all over the place. I hate that I bother co-workers and friends with my awkwardness and hyperness and depressing energy, the way I pull away and get quiet when I’m all in my head.
Editor’s Note: We’ve received feedback noting the similarities between this post and a post previously published on The Mighty by Taylor Jones titled “The Gray Area of Being Suicidal.” While these two stories are similar in tone and subject matter, they each offer a valuable, unique perspective to this experience. We’re grateful to have both writers on the site and a community that cares.
This year would have been my dad’s 25th Father’s Day. Even though I had only talked to him once in the year before he passed away, I know above all else, he took the most pride in his kids, and there was nothing he loved more than me and my brother. Sometimes it was hard to remember this, as he became increasingly difficult to talk to. The last time I spoke to him, I was pissed off, but before I hung up the phone, I told him “I’m so angry at you, but I love you,” his voice softened and he replied, “I love you, too.” This is the only comfort I’m left with — the knowledge that he knew I loved him, that he loved (and still loves) me, and that he is finally at peace.
A little more than a month after this, on April 4, 2016, my dad — the man who never tired of kayaking, golfing and cracking jokes — died by suicide.
I grew up surrounded by words like Lithium, Antabuse, Zoloft, Seroquel and Abilify. The names of medications swirling around in my adolescent brain. The older I got and the more I understood, the more afraid I became. I denied my own mental health issues. I was angry, frustrated, sad, confused. I didn’t understand why Dad couldn’t take his medication like he was supposed to. Why he couldn’t give up drinking. Why he would lie to the ones he loved. Why he couldn’t do what he was supposed to so he could get better.
I cried when my mom had to explain what ECT was. I cried every time Dad had to pack his suitcase and stay at the hospital. I cried every day for weeks after he died. Cried so hard I almost vomited. Body-wracking sobs. I cried when people found out but no one called. When it felt like no one cared that he was gone or how much I was hurting. I cried when I was blamed for him taking his own life. I cried for my mom’s pain and my brother’s pain, as it was left unvalidated. I cried for all of the things he would miss. I cried for myself and then felt selfish. I cried for how much he had hurt and how badly he had wanted to be happy. I cried because I don’t know that he ever was.
As a kid, he was my hero. He was funny and weird. He loved his family. He could build doghouses and birdhouses and fill bike tires. He coached soccer teams and had a nickname for his car. He could walk along the bottom of the pool and made up songs. He carried me inside when I broke my leg and took great pride in his tuna-noodle casserole recipe. He loved grilling, spending time outside and sitcoms. He gave me his green eyes and ridiculously curly hair. He had crooked pinkies and a dimple in his chin — both of which I inherited. He frequently found reasons to remind me my sense of humor was one of my greatest gifts, and he wore his Emerson sweatshirt every time he visited me at school. My hero.
Here’s the thing: heroes aren’t immune to pain. Maybe it’s worse for them. They’re supposed to be strong, to help provide for their family; heroes aren’t supposed to feel broken. They’re not supposed to struggle to get out of bed, to need meds to help get them through the day. That’s what the world told him and he believed it. The thing about believing you’re not allowed to hurt is that you also believe you’re not allowed to get help. You might even believe you’re not worth the help you’re offered. I wish he had known I wasn’t ashamed of his illness and that I would have been proud of him for getting help. One of the things I admired most about him was that despite all of the pain he felt, he kept living.
I wasn’t ashamed, but he was. He didn’t want anyone to know. He tried to hide it. My childhood was filled with cancelled plans, white lies and excuses to friends of the family, leaving early. I didn’t invite friends over and I didn’t leave the house if that meant leaving him alone. I isolated myself because I believed I could make him better. I spent much of my life trying to save him. I wanted him to live so badly and believed his life was my responsibility. My greatest fear for as long as I can remember was that he would take his own life. I’m adjusting to a life where my greatest fear has come true.
Pushing someone to live when they don’t want to is draining. I would have done anything to save him. There came a time when — after therapy sessions, my own mental health diagnosis, years of taking my medication as prescribed, after my parent’s divorce and going away to college — that I realized I could help him but I couldn’t make him live. It was both terrifying and a relief.
Every day is a struggle to accept his life wasn’t my responsibility and his death wasn’t my fault. It’s trying to remind myself my mom, brother and I tried so hard, for so many years, to help him get better and make him happy. That it wasn’t his choice to leave me. That he wanted so badly to stay, to be better. That his death was not selfish. That his intention was never to hurt the ones who loved him. It’s adjusting to talking about him in past tense. It’s meeting new people and realizing they’ll never know him. Thinking about a future in which he doesn’t exist. Reminding myself his demons are not mine. Remembering I am worth taking care of, worth being helped, worth loving. It’s a constant push towards believing I am enough.
Suicide, depression, and bipolar disorder took the man who was supposed to watch me graduate, walk me down the aisle, make a toast when my brother gets married, hold his future grandchildren. I was supposed to introduce him to new friends, and eventually, to the man I will someday marry. He was supposed to hear the joyous chorus of “Grandpa!” at family celebrations. He was supposed to remind me to keep my sense of humor, even in my darkest days. He was supposed to be on the other end of the phone when I dialed his number. He wasn’t supposed to be buried by his children, brother and parents less than four months after his 55th birthday. Wasn’t supposed to be eulogized by a woman who couldn’t even pronounce our last name. The forever goodbye was not supposed to come so soon.
Now, a little after two months after his death, I had to face the holiday that was dedicated to celebrating him. I watched as Facebook friends posted pictures of their dads. I was jealous. And I’ll admit it — this post was for me. It was selfish — something I had to write. But it’s also for him and the countless others who lost their fight. I refuse to let his life end with his death. It’s for the people still struggling. For the families and friends who lost and for those who will lose someone too soon. I wrote this because I won’t be silent — I can’t be, because silence is deadly. To cut myself off from the world, to lie about how I lost my dad, that would be selfish. I will shout from the rooftops that he suffered, that he could’ve been saved. I will write and talk about suicide and mental health. I will point out the disgusting lack of mental health resources and the cuts to funding. I will fight the stigma and remind people they are worth every good thing that happens to them, and that the bad things don’t define them. I will tell anyone who will listen that every bad day passes, that everything gets better. I will share my story so no one feels alone. On Father’s Day, I went mini-golfing with friends — a way to feel close to my dad on a day I wish I could spend with him. I celebrated his love of golf and the happy childhood memories that are now bittersweet. And then, on Facebook, I posted a picture of Dear-Old-Dad.
Editor’s note: If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
Suicide entered my life kind of the way spring enters with the change of seasons — in like a lion out like a lamb. Its grip caught hold of someone I love and used all its power and might to try and take them from me.I did not let it win. I risked everything I am and everything I had to keep my child from utter destruction.
The inner workings of her brain told her she wasn’t good enough and that things would never get better. Throughout her years of programs and hospitalizations, we never made it down the road of complete self-destruction until one night when I heard the screams of a soul in turmoil.I sprang from my bed when I heard the wales of her grief.I arrived at her bedroom door in horror as I saw her lying on the floor screaming for me to let her die.
There is nothing more gut-wrenching than hearing your child beg you to let her take her own life. The pain ran so deep within her, she was unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel.It touched me in a place down deep in my being I fear to ever go to again.A place so dark and filled with despair that even thinking about it makes my skin crawl.
At that very moment my heart had been ripped out of my body and I was operating on adrenalin alone.I grabbed her and attended to her wounds as I tried to calm her inner spirit.She was inconsolable. I whisked her to safety.That was the first time her cries for help pierced through me in her attempts to release some type of pain that to me was unimaginable.I could not fix this, I could not help her, but what I was planning on doing was saving her.I was her mother, but it felt like this was someone I did not recognize.It was someone I had never met before and at that moment, it felt like I was saving a stranger.
I had now gone to bed with suicide or the attempt of it, the flirting per say of this dance we would do together over the next few weeks/months/years.We weaved in and out of each other’s life like a bad relationship that just never ends.Getting back together every few months and never knowing the next time we would see each other.The anticipation of meeting again, when we would have our last dance together, wondering when it would really be over.Would it ever really be over?Would we always lurk just outside the line for each other?Would we forever be in each other’s life, torn between this world and the one it was so desperately trying to get us to go to?I couldn’t have it, and it couldn’t take her.
After way too long, the dance finally ended.We had been to every group therapy, individual therapist, psychiatrist, psychologist and hospital dealing with suicidal ideology on the East Coast.I refused to give up, I refused to take any answer other than, “We will help you.”I was fortunate enough to find an organization that would not let her down, that stood by her side alongside me in the most alienating time in both of our lives.
After what seemed like an eternity, my time together with suicide was over, and its grip was released from the soul it came to take. It was the day I stood and starred death in the face and said, “Not today, not today.”
First of all, phew! Big sigh of relief. How am I still standing? How is this possible? How can I write this blog without getting choked up, tears blinding my vision and drenching my keyboard? The answer is simple: I’m much stronger than I gave myself credit for. Does this mean I’m over the cycle of pain? No, not by any means. It’s an ongoing process and I will take a while to heal. But every day brings a new hope, a new emotion and mixed feelings.
Self-care is vital during the grieving process after a partner or someone you love has died by suicide. You must take care of both your inner-child and outer-adult. Here is a list of things I’ve been practicing and have found useful in my grief journey:
1. Spend time with your feelings. Meditate or pray. Spend time alone. Your soul’s calling must be heard. Listen to what it’s saying. Self-awareness is key.
2. Express yourself. Journal or write about your feelings, emotions, fears, anger, sadness, frustration. Get it all out. The only path to healing is to let your emotions be a floodgate, let them overflow onto the paper.
3. Phone a friend. Or two. Or five. I’ve spent the last few weeks on the phone with a few close female friends who I trust. Healing takes place when we talk about our pain. You need to validate what you’re feeling. Don’t bottle it up inside.
4. Find a grief or bereavement counselor. Community non-profit organizations in your area might offer free counseling. I’ve booked some sessions with one who lost a son to suicide. Common bonds can be formed with a compassionate person who knows what you’re going through.
5. Eat and rest. For me, the first week was tough. You might not want to get out of bed. Take some time to process the loss and trauma. At this time, you may not have an appetite, but do your best to eat small snacks and hydrate yourself.
6. Show yourself compassion. Take a long soak in a hot bubble bath. Light some candles, put on soft music. Your mind and body are going through a lot. This is a heavy process. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself. You deserve to be given the gift of your time, your healing and your renewal. Take time to fall in love with your life again. Loss of a loved one is devastating, and it can drain you, but be good to yourself. You can do this.
7. Get out of the house. Call a friend and have a latte on a patio. Feel the sun on your skin. Breathe the summer air.
8. Take stock of what’s still beautiful in your life. Friends, family or mentors who uplift you can show you what still matters. Remember, you have a lot to offer in this life. You have a bright future ahead. People love you, and there’s more beauty yet to come.
Cheering for you,
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicideresources page.
I remember you, when you defended me in front of the new class that day in seventh grade. When I thought, things are never going to change. I remember looking up from my painting and seeing the smirks on their faces. I remember their cruel words and thinking, “I’m as hard as a rock, nothing can hurt me.” But it did hurt.
I remember how hot my face got when I realized you’d stood behind me and had heard what they said. Then, you got angry. You got so angry, the whole class went absolutely quiet. Nobody dared to even whisper a word. Everybody froze as you shouted at that boy and demanded he apologize to me. I was sitting there, hardly able to breathe, my pencil shaking in my hand and I didn’t understand what was happening. I’d hated you and suddenly you were protecting me. That boy turned to me and apologized in front of the whole class.
Dear teacher, you had no idea what you’d done. You’d returned my trampled-on, broken, shattered dignity to me in one minute. You didn’t know I thought I deserved all of this. I deserved my parent’s words about me being too stupid for this and that. I deserved being kicked and laughed at on the bus. I deserved that nobody ever helped me when they held me on the bus at my stop. I deserved that they pretended I didn’t exist. I deserved when they painted on my clothes and my skin with a permanent marker. I deserved when they hid my books or imitated everything I said, ridiculing me.
Dear teacher, you didn’t know the day before, at only 12 years old, I had stood on that bridge above the railroads, thinking it was better to jump and yearning for peace so desperately that death seemed better than life. That day you took my hand and pulled me away from the abyss. You put hope into my heart. You’d seen me. You’d helped me. You hadn’t looked away.
Dear teacher, remember all the years when you were trying to conquer my trust? You put your warm hand on my arm and with your other hand you took one of the bricks out of my walls. I looked at you angrily. How dared you take away my walls? I needed them! I pointed my weapons at you. You just smiled at my anger and spoke kindly to me. My weapons tumbled out of my hands, useless in the face of your kindness. You disassembled all of my walls. When I stood in front of you, defenseless and vulnerable, you stepped next to me and defended me.
Dear teacher, I remember that day I looked at you standing in front of the class. You no longer were just a teacher. You’d become a human being and I wanted you to be happy. I wanted to defend you. Then, I did, two years later in front of the whole class and ever after.
Dear teacher, that day was 25 years ago and you’re not here anymore, but your kindness is. Everything I am now is because of you. Before you came, I was failing school. Then you came and I graduated from high school, college and university. Before you came, I was an outsider. Then, you came and taught me to trust again. I found true friends. I had you.
Do you remember that evening we stood on the stage side by side and everyone was clapping? You had no idea what that meant to someone who’d been bullied for three long years. Before you came, I wanted to die. Then, you came and my life turned into magic because you filled it with everything worth living for, love, warmth, joy, wisdom and trust.
I sit in the front row of church during a funeral mass I helped plan. My wife is sitting to my left, my mom and sister to my right. I listen to the priest speak beautifully about my younger brother Anthony, who killed himself at my grandfather’s gravesite the previous snowy Monday afternoon. He was 32 years old.
“Why did he choose that location?” I wonder to myself. “Why our grandfather’s grave?”
I simultaneously know, and don’t know, the answer.
My grandfather lived in the basement apartment of the home my brother and I grew up in, just a few minutes from this very church. He was a widower; his wife died 20 years before him. As he lived alone, he loved to spend time with my brother, my sister and me. His apartment downstairs was a place Anthony and I visited almost daily. The three of us played card games like Go Fish, and watched TV game shows like “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” together. We would laugh, talk and play in my grandfather’s living room. He was our on-demand chauffeur, our personal chef and our mentor. I remember how he taught us to make fresh gnocchi, and the old fashioned pasta crank on which he trained us to make raviolis. I remember like it was yesterday the smell of all the delicious foods my grandfather loved to cook, like fried chicken, cinnamon rolls and apple pie.
My grandfather attended church here, weekly, for many years. As I sit here, waiting to walk up to the altar where I will give the eulogy I’ve spent the past several days writing and rewriting, I think just as much of my grandfather as I do of my brother Anthony.
My mind races. Can this moment be real? How is it possible Anthony is gone? Why would he do what he did? Why did he choose our grandfather’s gravesite?
As children, my grandfather taught us to honor those who had gone before us. He would often take Anthony, my sister and me to visit our late grandmother. The visits were invested with tradition. It always started with him popping a large pot of kernels in his apartment. He would fill a brown shopping bag with the freshly popped popcorn. I often snuck a few handfuls of it as soon as we got into the car.
We would drive to the cemetery where my grandmother was buried, pull up to the pond, and Anthony and I would run out with excitement to feed the ducks the popcorn. Within moments of our arrival, dozens of ducks would be eating our freshly cooked treat.
After feeding the ducks, we would walk over to our grandmother’s gravesite, just a stone’s throw away. More often than not, my grandfather brought potted flowers for us to plant, usually red geraniums. This was another fun adventure for us. We would dig the hole to plant the flowers, and then water them together. We would also clean her tombstone before praying for her. My grandfather visited the cemetery often.
In my church seat, I take a sip of water, and then a few deep breaths. I find myself staring at the picture we had enlarged to display on the altar during his funeral mass. It is one of my favorite pictures of Anthony. In it, he’s wearing a tuxedo from my wedding day almost 10 years ago. I think back to the speech he gave as my best man. My mind then flashes back to my bachelor party at the lake house in upstate New York, where we had spent a long weekend with a small group of close friends. Anthony had escorted me home from a bar, where I’d had just a little too much to drink. (It was my bachelor party, after all.) Neither of us had a key, but luckily, he found a way in through a window someone had left open. Though he was the younger brother, he chaperoned me to the safety of my bed that night, and cracked jokes about it the rest of the trip.
I was the oldest brother, I think to myself. I was supposed to be our leader. (Anthony and our sister Michele always told me my leadership style was bossy; I personally liked to think of it as direct.)
And now he was gone.
We grew up knowing the nearby cemetery as a place of peace and serenity. Anthony visited my grandfather’s resting place often. He carried our grandfather’s license in his wallet at all times.
Anthony and my grandfather were the only two people in our Italian family to have blue eyes.
I can feel the priest drawing his homily to a close. He’s about to call me up to the altar to speak.
My mind fills with worry. Will I be able to stay composed in front of a very full church of people? Will I be able to make everyone understand the significance of our grandfather, and the cemetery in which Anthony took his life?
The cemetery was a place of peacefulness for us, and of tradition. This church also represented tradition. Anthony often came here to sit in the exact same pew my grandfather used to sit in. He would talk to Father Xavier and the canter, Anne, after Mass.
Anthony’s final ritual in this church was to pray in the room that contains the statue of the Feast of the Assumption, depicting Mary rising to heaven.
I think back to Anthony as a child. He was obsessed with Rambo, and had a ninja Halloween costume he would wear year round. I can still see the black trunk he kept at the foot of his bed, full of Rambo gear and later, his prized Talk Boy cassette player. I remember many fun summer days in our pool surrounded by family and friends, and winter ski trips together.
I will always remember most how much he loved his family and friends.
The priest calls me up; I squeeze my wife’s hand before moving to the front of the church. I look toward the far wall, in the space where we have made a donation to hang a plaque in my brother’s honor. This space was so special to him.
I will forever remember the 32 years I had with Anthony. Like many of the people I talk to after the ceremony, I am left with so many questions as to why this happened. I know how hard Anthony fought to overcome his addictions; I wish I knew more about his other struggles. The past two weeks do not feel real.
Anthony was much too young to leave us, but his wish was to find eternal peace. I am confident the gravesite, and the church I now find myself in, represented that peace for my brother.
While I trust he is now in a better place, I will forever miss my brother. I miss his loud voice, big smile and the crystal blue eyes I always wished I had, too.
Anthony, I hope that you have been reunited with our grandfather, and are enjoying the start of an eternity of peace and happiness in heaven.
As hard as my brother’s story is for me to tell, my family and I believe that by doing so, we are honoring him, and shedding light on a very real illness that people do not spend enough time talking about. This feels very much in line with what our grandfather taught us.
* * *
Immediately following Anthony’s death, my family started a memorial fund in his honor with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). The power of social media has amazed me. In the first 36 hours of launching the fund, we raised $10,000. Incredibly, only four days after the launch, we were approaching $17,000. I am very proud to say that his memorial fund, as of now, ranks as the seventh largest funds of almost 800 for the cause, with almost $25,000 raised to support the AFSP. With your help, I am hoping we can break into the top five.
Please join me in honoring Anthony by sharing his story, and consider making a donation to Anthony’s fund or sharing it with someone who might.