No one wants to be a suicide survivor.
To be one of the many left behind to sift through the wreckage and stumble through the corridors alone, full of grief and anger and guilt. Those of us left behind are now left to constantly battle with our thoughts and memories; what could I have done differently? Why didn’t I see it? Why didn’t I say something? Why did they leave me? Why? At the end of it all, that is the last remaining word that will cling on, forever. Why?
Because, even if some answers are discovered and reasons are justified, there will never, ever be a defining fact that fixes the horror of your loved one taking his life.
Yesterday was the ‘one year anniversary’ of my cousin’s death. First of all, let me set the record straight about ‘death anniversaries’. They suck. They serve no purpose other than to remind us that time marches on, with or without us, and despite us. And it reminds us that we only have memories to hold on to. If I am being horribly real, we are not guaranteed those memories, either. Thank dementia for that. Without going into detail about a person that most of you will never know, I will say that my cousin was one of the funniest people I have ever known (take that, Bill Murray). Beau was also one of the kindest. In a family full of sarcastic assholes, Beau was unique; he could make everyone laugh and do it without sacrificing someone else’s feelings or dignity. I had known Beau pretty much my entire life. One of many cousins that I grew up with; every Easter weekend, summer weekends, our mandatory and unforgettable family reunions every year, as roommates with other cousins and siblings for a spell, and in recent times, random days where he’d show up for dinner or a phone call to discuss everything from ninjas to girl problems. I never, ever, ever thought I would have to live a life without my cousin Beau. In a group full of dysfunctional misfits, he was our rock. The ‘normal’ one.
His suicide, unfortunately, blind-sided me. Even with the knowledge that Beau was struggling with severe depression, I knew he and his family were doing everything by the book. His dad and stepmom and siblings were by his side as he tried treatment and therapy and basically everything he could to stop the noise in his head. Being Beau, I never stopped to realize that maybe he wouldn’t win the fight. He was a ninja fucking warrior, after all!
Beau’s suicide isn’t the first I have been through; his ‘death anniversary’ is one of many I have on my stupid calendar, reminding me that the older we get the more people we lose. And I’m not even that old yet. But Beau’s death has rocked me to the core, and it has profoundly changed me in ways I am still unable to fully comprehend. His death has taught me that suicide is an illness, like cancer, that some people never get to beat. Instead of visitors with casseroles and cakes, those suffering from mental illness and depression usually suffer in silence. Beau once said it took everything he had to just get through the day without showing his pain. This man who once was extremely physically fit, active and full of live and energy was now so exhausted by the very thought of leaving his house and having to ‘be normal’. He was broken. And we couldn’t fix him.
It has taken me many years to let go of some of my anger towards those people in my life who have committed suicide. I am aware some of it was easy deflection; a way to cope. But it was also misguided. Suicide is not ‘selfish’. If we only knew what someone with mental illness is going through, even for a fraction of a minute, we would stop and realize just how courageous and brave they are. Every single day they carry on…despite the war inside their heads, in their minds, ravaging their thoughts, their sleep, their bodies. The demons that ruin their relationships with others and the person in the mirror; the voices that control what we take for granted. And more often than not, these people do it ALONE. These people are the ninja fucking warriors.
Truth be told, sometimes the battle cannot be won. The person who took his own life wasn’t looking for ‘a way out’; he was just trying to stop the pain. A person suffering from severe depression does not see or feel what the rest of us do. They truly believe the world should keep moving on, without them. No matter how much love you give them, their brains have turned on them, skewing everyday events and normal thoughts into agonizing torture. The fix isn’t simple and sometimes it isn’t even possible.
I will remember my cousin Beau Beau in all the ways that matter; his infectious laugh, his tenacious wit and quick comebacks; his bizarre imagination and his talent to make me (and so many others) feel better. I will honour Beau Beau by trying to be mindful of others’ pain and anxiety and take a moment to realize that everyone is fighting a battle, big or small, and that I have no right to assume. I will make an effort to reach out to others and I will make an effort to take my own mental health in to consideration; I will not take it for granted or pretend things are perfect for the sake of the status quo. I will be kind — to others and my self. I believe these are some of the ways all suicide survivors can use to help with moving forward and help in spreading awareness about a disease that we tend to keep behind closed doors and closed mouths.
Suicide survivors, and everyone for that matter, will benefit from knowing they have learned the ultimate lesson: that our mental health is even more important than our physical health. We cannot be affective ninja warriors if we go in to battle alone.