Rebuilding

Suicide destroys your life. It robs the person who died of their future and it robs their loved ones of everything else. I can’t think of Anthony (my 22 year old son who took his own life over two years ago) without it taking my breath away. He was such an amazing human being. I’m not just saying that because I made him from scratch. I don’t think I have ever had anyone say anything to me about Anthony other than how awesome he is in his entire life. Or death.

I was prepared on how to plan a funeral thanks to my Tio and Tia dying 10 months apart before Anthony died. Plus, I’m Hispanic. We start learning how to plan funerals as toddlers. Death is not foreign to us. We are expected to go to funerals as children and learn how to fall in line to pay respects to the grieving family. We have rules. Who sits where and what time you are supposed to be at the funeral home. If you are a child of the dead person then you get there as soon as the funeral home opens the doors. Then from there are the siblings and nieces. My Tio’s obituary caused a huge scandal for mentioning me in it because I was one of a million nieces and my whole name was listed with his children. My entire family, including my mother, flipped the eff out because that is against the Hispanics of America Funeral SOP. So death is no stranger to me. I have been in training on how to plan a funeral since I was three years old.

What has caught me by surprise (well, one thing, because let’s face it, I say “what caught me by surprise” in a lot of my writing on grief. I know.) is how I have had to rebuild my life. I feel as if I’ve been in a two year long coma and I’m barely waking up. Or like I have been living on another planet while everyone on this planet has just kept on going.

I no longer want the same things I wanted before Anthony died. Which really sucks since I’m 4 classes away from getting a Bachelors in Philosophy and it turns out that I don’t really care all that much about a lot of Philosophy stuff. My kid is dead, I do not care that all these men sat around thinking of new ways to disagree with Aristotle.

I also no longer want to be a Catholic speaker who goes around saying things like “but in the end I know God has a plan for my life” because the truth is, I know He has a plan for my life but it would be great if I didn’t have to bury my kid in that life. But then again, a lot of mothers bury their kids. Some mothers have their children ripped from their arms by our Government and have no idea if they are ok. So why do I think I should somehow be spared from this level of horrific suffering? Why do any of us think that? Because it is easier to live in that space of ignorant bliss than to know the horrible things that could happen to us in life even though God does have a plan for us that requires us to survive those things.

I just want to tell my story. I want to tell it honestly, openly, freely and with some dark humor because life without laughter is just depressing AF.

I will tell it to Catholics or non Catholics, atheists or Buddhists. I don’t care. Suffering is a part of the human condition and suicide is a plague robbing us of our children. We have to start listening to the stories of those left to rebuild their lives after suicide has burnt them to the ground.

So yeah, rebuilding. I am having to rebuild every one of my relationships. And first I have to rebuild myself. What do I want? How do I want to do it? What is my first step in doing it? And then I have had to change my entire view of motherhood. I no longer see my children as burdens. Ever. No matter what. Because when you go two years wishing for nothing more than to have your dead kid annoy the fuck out of you, you start to appreciate the alive kids annoying you anyway they want to.

I am rebuilding my marriage. Which isn’t easy. And it’s even more difficult when it’s the thousandth time you have started over with the same person. Spoiler: Stacey and I have rebuilt this relationship a dozen times. You would think it would be easier by now. It isn’t.

And then I have to learn how to be a friend. It’s challenging to be a friend to others when you think nothing is as big of a problem as finding your kid dead in the garage. But I have to figure it out because 1. I need friends, I’m a extrovert and 2. I don’t want to be a self-centered asshole. I didn’t have a good handle on how to be a good friend before losing Anthony so this is more of just building than REbuilding to be honest.

All of this takes up a lot of energy. Energy doing a lot of thinking and laying in bed staring at the ceiling. Energy that doesn’t look like I’m doing anything which makes me feel lazy and like I’m wasting time. So I am also rebuilding how I talk to myself and how I treat myself. I give myself time and space and love to lay in bed and stare at the ceiling. I give myself permission to go out with a friend and drink 6 shots of whiskey and have fun. I give myself permission to tell my kids to make dinner some nights. And I give myself permission to take a bubble bath at 3 in the afternoon if I want one. For me, being kind to myself and taking care of myself is not easy. I have to fight the voice in my head that tells me I’m selfish, lazy and do not deserve the luxury of an afternoon bubble bath. As if I have not had a hand in the work it took to get this house, with this bath, or this life. As if some fairy just came and handed it to me. As if, I didn’t wait tables, help with company paperwork, raise kids, cook dinners and build a readership with my writing to make this life reality. That voice is rooted in the belief that I do not deserve good things or happiness. And that voice does not come from God. So I am rebuilding my relationship with myself which is part of rebuilding my relationship with God.

So here we are. The biggest relationship of all. The one with God. *deep breath*

Before Anthony died I thought I knew God. I thought I knew what being Catholic was all about. I thought if I just did all the things that good people did, I would be a better person. That meant not being me because anyone with a brain could see that who I was was not a good person. Who I was was a person who made terrible choices that landed me in terrible situations like the county jail for a DWI. Who I was liked to drink until life was fun. Who I was liked to sleep with strangers, sometimes more than one stranger at a time and sometimes both female and male strangers and in public. Who I was liked to feel good but believed that the only kind of feel good I deserved was the kind that happened in clubs full of smoke and sketchy people. The kind of places that Good People do not even know exist. Because I was not good. Everywhere I looked I saw that message. I did things that Good People called sins and Good People said because I did these things, I deserved all the bad things that happened to me. Because God punishes people who do those things. That’s who I thought God was and so I thought when I forced myself to not be Who I Was anymore and had the sense to mimic The Good People that God would stop punishing me.

Then Anthony died.

Then I knew God as the asshole who can perform miracles in the Bible but somehow didn’t perform one for me or my son and just let him die alone in the garage. God allowed me to stand on the other side of the wall where my son’s body hung lifeless and discuss what I was going to make for dinner an hour before we found him. To me, after Anthony died God was both the only place I found peace and the One I was the most angry at. And that reminded me of my first marriage. Where I was in a relationship with a man who loved me deeply but beat the shit out of me when he was high. So God became an abuser to me.

Rebuilding that relationship has not been easy. For one thing it means accepting that I do not control anything, especially the Creator of the Universe. It means that suffering is possible and none of us are special in not facing the worst kind of suffering but some people do get off the hook on having to face much more suffering than “oh no, my pool isn’t working UGH” or some other Not Dead Kid crisis. And I will never know how exactly the suffering lottery works but I do know that in the lives of a lot of people in the world, I am on the winning end of it because so many people in this world have it so much harder than me. Rebuilding my relationship with God has meant letting go of all the rules that make it easy for me to count myself in the Good People club and others out of it. It has meant knowing that God does not care about my opinion on who is not worthy of His love. He has my back, but He has the back of my enemy just the same. He is God, not my body guard. Rebuilding my relationship with God has meant letting go of a lot of things: expectations, beliefs, judgements and control. It has meant learning that God will die for me but He is not mine to control. He calls the shots and I can cuss about it and kick and scream about how unfair it is, but that isn’t going to change it.

I am still figuring out exactly how to have a relationship with God which means all my other relationships are also still under construction. I do not know what is going to happen but I know that rebuilding takes time and patience and love, so that is what I am giving myself. That is what I am allowing God to give me. Finally.

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Embrace the Suck

Photo from Pixabay

When I hear the words “suicide prevention” what I hear is “you did not do everything you could to save Anthony, you missed something and now he is dead”.  I do not know what other suicide loss survivors hear when they hear those words but that is my experience, which is all I can write about. I cannot try to write anything else, that is what “my truth” means to me. This is my experience and  it does not diminish anyone’s else’s experience(s). I am free to express my perspective without anyone telling me I need to be more sensitive to everyone around me. Me being more sensitive to everyone around me is at the heart of my codependency, which I have paid a lot of money in therapy and books on the subject to try and break free from.

It is my experience that when it comes to grief and suicide most people want the uncomfortable to be made comfortable. They want the easy, safe and neatly packaged response so they can check off the box that says they “did something” and can go back to their nice lives where nobody has hung themselves in the garage. I do not blame anyone for wanting that, I sure wish I could want that, but it does make me seethe with rage because to me, that means everyone wants to forget that Anthony was alive and now he is dead. Not in “a better place”, not “at peace”, not “released from his suffering” but dead AF. In a grave where his mother has to go to spend time talking into the dirt that covers the coffin that holds his dead body she will never see or hold again in this life and maybe not even in the next if she keeps missing mass and hating God.

There is no comfort for me. I wish that I could find a way to not be me so that I could pretend there is some somewhere, but I am not anyone else. I am who God made me and that is a person who sees absolutely no comfort in pretending things are not the way they are.

I was born in the middle of a Texas Panhandle dust storm. It is one of the few details I know about my birth other than my father had been long gone by the time I made my way into the world. I do not know why being born in a dust storm is one of the things that I held onto my entire life, but I did. I have never asked my mother about my birth in adulthood and I am not even sure when or where she told me the fact that I was born in a dust storm either, or if it was even her who told me. I just know that somewhere along my life someone said that I was born in one and that it was dark and a giant spider was crawling on the window of the hospital. The picture of that was seared into my imagination and that is what I think of when I think of the day I was born. That and my grandfather giving me his last name.

A few days ago there was a dust storm in Big Spring Texas which is in the panhandle close to the tiny town I was born in and the pictures of it were all over my Facebook feed. I sat at my computer completely awed at the beauty of it while the comment section was full of people saying how scary it looked. I told my husband that I was really proud to have been born in one of those beauties and I did not understand why. He said “well, when you are born in darkness and chaos, you can handle anything else in life” and for the first time in our relationship (which goes back to when we were five years old) my husband saw me. Not this version of me that I showed him or the version of me that he had made up to make it easy to deal with life, but me, Leticia. Who I am, where I came from, what I have been through and as I am right now. I felt seen and loved and understood. That is how I feel in therapy because I have a great therapist, but she is still my therapist, this is my husband. It is what I have been seeking and somehow I have found it.

I never would have found it if I had lived my life on the plane where I pretend things are not the way they are so I can be comfortable. If I choose to believe the world is a friendly place. It is not. God is love and we are made to love and be loved and to find our way back to God, but that way is paved with suffering because this world is cruel and full of sin and people who cooperate with evil. That is reality. There is an escape from it but that escape comes with a price. That price is never being seen as we are and to never see the beauty of the survivors of evil. And dear survivors, we are beautiful.

In my experience the only way through the grief of suicide loss is reality. To know it is bullshit, to live in the house my son died in, to refuse to do anything that makes it seem like this was a good thing and to fight for my space to mourn the life of a great human being that died senselessly in a way that blew his family’s lives up. His children and siblings were innocent casualties in the explosion that was his suicide and yet, they are now forced to figure out how to live the rest of their lives piecing themselves back together. That is the reality of suicide.

There is nothing we would not have done to prevent Anthony’s suicide. There is nothing we would not do to have him back. There is nothing in the world that helps us in hearing people talk about prevention. I am sure it helps someone and that is amazing, but for me, what helped me was hearing from people who have suffered this loss and how they managed their way through it. The honest and raw stories of people who were angry and who admitted that it sucks to be here. The people who asked “why” and who listened as I asked “why”. I personally do not get anything from people who have to stay positive or set their heartbreak to the side to move forward. I want to hear from people who move forward carrying that heartbreak. To me, this is the beauty of Mary, she did not act as if everything was fine and she did not think positive, she felt her feelings and she lived with a pierced heart. That is the role model I need in my life and it is the kind of example I want to be for others who need that. Anyone who needs positive affirmations or lists of ways to stay positive have tons and tons of self-help books to dig through to find that. I want my writing to be a blessing to those who mourn and mourning means embracing the suck. I was born into darkness and chaos, I was made for this.

Business As Usual

I am really just rambling today so please stick with me, I’m hoping it all comes together in the end. My blog used to be called “Ramblings of a Crazy Face” and that’s why. It is how I write.

At the beginning of March I went and spoke at the FemCatholic Conference in Chicago. (You can buy the talks here. Honestly, I think that they are all worth the money and mine was not bad even though I almost fell apart in the middle of it.) At the end of my talk a woman who was the victim of sexual abuse as a child asked me how I felt about the current scandal in the Church. I guess from the look of most of my feeds on social media we might wanna start calling it the “last scandal” because nobody seems to remember that we are mad about it still and that nothing has been done at all. My I am bitter so maybe it is just me.

Here’s my answer: I am pissed. In my opinion, this is more than just about the sex abuse scandal though. It is about the way that we as Catholics accept lies when we think they are worth whatever end we are trying to achieve. It is easy to look at the sex abuse cover up and want our Bishops to face the fire for their part or their culture in those cover ups but then we all turn the other way when it is a lie that helps some narrative that we are trying to push, whatever that might be. And we all do it.

Catholicism is a great mask for psychos. People who take jabs at other people and mask it all with “I pray the Lord gives you peace” or other such piety speak that makes you look crazy when you tell other people that it was a jab at you. People with agendas and fakery fit right in when it comes to Catholic media. People who seethe with rage in real life but post pretty Instagram pictures of their rosaries and flowers telling us all how their morning prayer time was so fruitful. In the last nine years I have seen the under belly of our Church and it is ugly. Even in Parish council meetings where people say racist things about Hispanics without batting an eye.

The last time that I was this mad about the PR machine in the Catholic Church I lost a speaking job and was removed from the list of approved speakers for my Diocese. They were “concerned” about me. Then I set all of my social media accounts on fire and burned my platform to the ground. I have 0 desire to be made into someone I am not to do the work God has called me to do. I will not do it.

I have had a hard time articulating what exactly it is about all of this that makes me so ragey. But now I think I have finally figured it out.

After Anthony’s suicide I was on Instagram just scrolling out of habit when I saw so many of my friends just living their lives while I was sitting in a funeral home waiting to start planning my son’s funeral. His body was in a morgue somewhere and I was sitting in a funeral home and my friends were posting videos and pictures of them having fun. At that moment, I wanted to take a hammer to my phone. I hated that little device that showed me how little everyone cared about my dead kid. How they could just go on with business as usual without having their world stop because their son was dead.

In hindsight, I am not mad at anyone in particular about that at all, I’ve been and still am the person who goes on with my life when tragedy strikes another family. We all have our turn in that chair at the funeral home when our world has crumbled and everyone else is going to the movies or eating at Applebee’s or having a birthday party you aren’t invited to because you are dealing with dead bodies and funerals. It is part of life. But we haven’t always been able to see life go on when ours is at a standstill in a funeral home. Now we can.

Now we are all branded and have things to promote even in the middle of someone else’s tragedy, including the Catholic Church. And to me, that seems so wrong. I do not think that Jesus died on the Cross because it was a good content for His brand. I don’t think that His Passion was a marketing move. Or that He died at 3 pm because that is when the most people are online. In the modern world we have allowed the tools to become our masters. And with that comes dehumanizing ourselves into brands and dehumanizing others as brands and mostly we dehumanize Jesus into content for our feeds. That is not how God intended us to grow His following. That is how the Kardashians grow a following.

When I see the USCCB’s social media devoid of any talk about the sex abuse crisis I feel like my pain does not matter. I was sexually abused as a child by a mechanic and those things, those happy social media posts selling some kind of Catholic stuff, still hurt me. I cannot imagine what it is like for people who were victims of clergy. Each one of those “business as usual” social media posts might as well say “we do not care about your pain”. It is a signal that The Catholic Brand means more than the Gospel. A signal that I hear loud and clear. And it makes me angry. There is something more important than all our branding. There has to be, otherwise we are all just fooling ourselves and each other.

At some point I will have to find a place for this anger. I will have to process it and figure out where to put it because I am not going to allow it to stop me from doing what God has called me to do. But for today, I am just going to allow myself to be angry. There just has to be another way to be witnesses of Christ without the PR spin and without being fake and without accepting lies for the greater good. The Truth matters. The Truth has a name and a face. The Truth is Jesus and if we do not believe that then we should all just stop spending so much time pretending we are Catholics who believe in God.