It’s the kind of email I never expected to receive. I read the words but couldn’t digest the content. A family member took his own life… my cousin, in his early 20’s. Still unable to process what I was seeing, I picked up the phone and called my mom. Did I read this right? Is he gone? People have survived this. Maybe he could survive too. But the only thing the family knew at that moment was this: he had shot himself in the head and he was gone.
My mom rushed to the house. She got there and found my aunt, inconsolable. Earlier in the day, my aunt had gotten a call from her son. I don’t know exactly what was said but I know she knew something wasn't right. She told him she loved him and begged him not to do anything crazy. She hung up and made a frantic call to her ex-husband who lived nearby. He raced home, only to witness something no human, let alone a parent, should ever have to see. He watched as his son held a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
So many things about what happened that day just don’t make sense. There was a half-eaten plate in the kitchen. He had made lunch and started eating it. That’s something we can’t grasp. Why make food? Why go through the routine of lunch? Was the suicide a spur of the moment decision or had he planned it? He had called his mom. Was it a goodbye or possibly a cry for help? A lot of strange things happened that day. The police investigated. They looked into all the strange things. In the end, they ruled his death a suicide, leaving my family with so many questions.
A few years after his death, all the unanswered questions remain. We will never know why. We will never understand why he felt there was no other way. He left this world and ended his own pain and suffering but what he left behind is pain and suffering for everyone who loved him. He is gone but he took with him a piece of his mother. She will always feel empty inside and question whether she was partially to blame.
Were there warning signs? Maybe. He got himself into trouble from time to time. He struggled to keep a job. He wasn't happy. He moved away from our hometown, but it didn’t work out and he wound up back in the same town, living with his dad. None of this was groundbreaking stuff for someone his age. He was a typical immature young adult. We all just assumed things would work out as he grew up. We really didn’t see this coming.
I won’t lie and say I was close to him. He was 10 years younger and we lived on different coasts. Still, he was family and I watched him grow up. Losing him, especially like this, hit me hard. I had sporadic crying fits. I sobbed after seeing a suicide scene on a TV show. If I saw a gun held to someone’s head on TV, I couldn’t help but picture him sitting on the bed about to pull the trigger. It was a sight that would make me sick for months.
I have been able to move past the TV and movie fears, but some things will always bother me. When someone uses fingers to make that gun to the head gesture, it makes my stomach turn. A friend at work said to me once, “I’m going to kill myself.” He was being melodramatic, as he often was. But almost instantly, he realized it wasn’t okay to say that to me. He apologized and we moved on. Someone I know posted this on Facebook after her NFL team lost, “Go ahead and take your own life. Your mother will understand.” She posted similar things two more times before I told her it was inappropriate. I knew she didn’t mean it literally, but I instantly thought how my aunt would have felt if she had seen that post. It’s NEVER okay to make light of suicide. You never know who around you has been impacted by it. Jokes hurt. Gestures hurt. Each of these is a reminder of the pain you and your loved ones felt. You wouldn’t wish cancer on someone. You wouldn’t say to a friend “I have so much work to do today. I wish I would have a massive heart attack.” Yes, suicide is a selfish act and the person who committed the act is to blame. But that person left behind survivors. And those survivors will never be the same.