As I scroll through the 140 character sharings on Twitter tonight, I am sad to see the stories of people that have lost loved ones due to the horrific effects of depression, addiction, anxiety... (the list goes on and on) and suicide. Its truly sad how many people have lost loved ones and are left behind struggling to put their lives back together.
But what happens when those left behind can't put it back together?
In 1993, my grandfather ended his life. My mother was given the news hours after she had given birth to her youngest child and only son. Our family was ecstatic, my father explained to my sister and I that now that the prince was born we must care for him as befits his blessed position as "the son" and kiss his perfect tiny feet. (Of course, he was joking. But I wasn't totally against smearing his face with baby poo. My dad, not my brother.) However, I remember how the room had chilled when my father asked me to take my younger sister down the hall to the waiting room. At 12 I was significantly older than my 2 year old sister and newborn brother and I resented having to leave the room so soon after I had gotten to hold him for the first time. The last thing I wanted to do was hang out with my sister in the waiting room while the grown-ups got to coo over the baby.
It was then that my father and my grandmother gave my mom the news. Her father had killed himself. My mother asked for a priest and everyone went about their business.
But soon it became clear that all was not well. My mother spiraled into a deep depression. She would sleep all day, wake up in a frenzy of activity, sit and stare, or scream about nothing. Her post-partum depression went untreated and she descended into what I can only call a nervous breakdown. She became violent and abusive, she would say awful, terrible things to me as she attacked my physically. At the time, I was being bullied at school as well, I had no peace, no refuge.
My mother and I have since attempted to rebuild our relationship. It's slow work, and at times extremely painful but I know that the woman who did such incredible damage during my teenage years was not the woman or mother that my mother wanted to be.
This year my little brother will turn 20, it will also be the 20th anniversary of my grandfather's suicide. It's terrible that those two things are inextricably linked for my family.
My grandfather was abused as a child, the victim of physical and sexual abuse, he did not have a decent start in life. But, he was also abusive, verbally and physically. If my grandmother had not had the courage to run, I really, truly believe that he would have killed her. His final act, his suicide, would damage my family in ways that no one could have ever predicted, no one really thought that there was more pain left for him to cause.
What really happens to the families of people who commit suicide is not given its fair due. Which is why I shared my experience, I hope that I am an anomaly. I fear that I am not. The insidious tendrils of suicide reach far into the future, we need to pay attention and care for those left behind, for we cannot know how they struggle. Unless we ask.