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.

Holy Week 2019

Sooooo how’s Lent been? Good? Ok. Well, for me it began fairly good. My husband was home from Iraq, we got news that we are getting to keep our house and all the bills were paid. It all seemed hashtag blessed.

And then it all went right down the tube because Lent is LONG ya’ll. Some stuff went down with my stepsons that I can’t really share on the blog but it was rough and then my husband went back to the sandbox so that sucked plus tax day was yesterday. Also, grief is weird. It sneaks up on you. Tomorrow will be the third anniversary of my Tio Roy’s death and it is the one that is taking a toll on me this year.

Monday I watched like everyone else as the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris went up in flames and I lost it. I have not been to Mass in three weeks. I was sick, depressed and then one of the Sundays I didn’t go because I had not been to confession and at that point I felt so defeated that I didn’t think there was any use in going. I know I need to go to confession because I am starting to hate everyone. As I watched that beautiful Church burn what I saw was a vision of my faith since Anthony died. That day everything that I thought was real went up in flames. Up until that moment I really thought I was a solid Catholic. I knew my faith, I knew answers to difficult theological questions, I believed that if you served God, He would protect you and your family and I thought my goal in life was to be a speaker who told everyone about all the wonderful things God had done for me. I really thought that I was living the happily ever after fairy tale, sure there was suffering but suffering was a part of the deal and I would say stupid shit like “I fear NOT suffering”. And then Anthony took his own life and poof, it was up in smoke. I often look at my Facebook memories and see the fake piety I displayed and want to punch past Leticia in the face.

I cried in a coffee shop as the pictures of the fire flooded my feed. On Tuesday the picture of the inside began to go viral and there in the middle of destruction stood the Pieta. The Blessed Mother holding the body of her son Jesus. Me and that sculpture go way back to 2010 in Rome when I saw the original at St. Peter’s. I stood there staring at it wondering how it could be so beautiful when it was every mother’s greatest fear. Looking back on it now I can see that even then, seven years before the death of my son, I sensed something that connected me to that statue of the Mother of all mothers. And after the fire that was watched around the world, there she was again. I am also here holding the memory of my son in the middle of a Faith that has been charred by grief.

Then today I watched the Beyonce special on Netflix. It is her Homecoming performance at Coachella last year and it was an experience. She talks about the way her body changed after giving birth to twins and the challenge of being a mother, wife and Beyonce while creating something from nothing and the freedom that comes from having an amazing team part of which is her husband. You would think that a 42 year old grandmother of two, mother of four, grieving mother of one and a wife in the suburbs of Austin Texas would not get much out of the struggle that Beyonce has, but I do. Because it is all of our struggle. The struggle of motherhood is universal. The struggle to stand after a fire rages through our family. In her special Beyonce said that her family is her sanctuary. Just like Notre Dame had a fire rip through her sanctuary, so did I when Anthony died.

I have been hiding from all things Catholic this week, which is kind of difficult when it is Holy Week, but when you are bat shit crazy like me, you do things like that. God is so good and so amazing that He knew I was spiritually putting a hoodie over my head with shades on so He spoke to me the one way He knew would get to me, through a work of art like Beyonce’s concert. The entire thing was God saying He loves me and has always been by my side.

That’s how my Holy Week is going so far. I also read an entire book since I’m off social media. Which can be considered a miracle honestly. We will see what the rest of the week has in store for us all.