Life 18 Months After Suicide Loss

Grief is a living thing. It starts one way and then it changes and changes. That is what I am learning as I get further and further down this journey. It does not go away, get better or ever become less painful. It is like ground zero and life goes on all around it, but it is still there like a crater in the ground where the bomb went off.

Today I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts about grief.  (Having a favorite grief podcast by your favorite grief memoirist is part of the weirdness of this new life of mine. Only people who have their own new grief life will know what I’m talking about. )

Well, today the episode of Nora McInerny’s podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking, was about suicide loss. Apparently, September is Suicide Awareness month. I hate that name because I am more than aware that suicide is a thing and that it fucks up everything it touches. Suicide threatens to ruin my life every single morning when I wake up and remember that my son is in a grave up the road from me or every night when I fall asleep knowing that I can mark down one more day of this life which is one day closer to me seeing Anthony again.

This new life sucks. I am not going to even try to sugar coat that. Things are weird here. We talk openly about dead people, they are still a part of our daily reality, we talk to kids about those dead people and we have our own rituals that help us keep the memory of the dead person alive. We also have an irrational fear of forgetting our dead person and it is not weird for us to refer to them as our “dead person”. Anthony is my dead person. He is ground zero. He is gone but yet he is everywhere. He took his own life and in doing that, he blew up the lives of every single person that he loved more than anything.

I listened to a widow on this podcast talk about her husband’s suicide and her ground zero as I sat in my gym parking lot. That parking lot used to be a Garden Ridge. My husband and I bought our first Christmas tree there when we first moved to the suburbs a decade ago. Anthony was so excited about how life was so much better than it had ever been. We bought the biggest tree we could find and hundreds of dollars of Christmas lights to go with it. It was black Friday and Stacey was so happy to buy all the kids Christmas presents. It was the first real Christmas my kids had in their whole lives.

This morning I sat in that space where we bought all those decorations and listened to a woman talk about her husband’s death by suicide relating to what she was saying because my son, the same son who was so happy just ten years ago, is also dead by suicide.

Anthony had driven past this spot in town a lot in his life. It was the way to his apartment from my house. He must have driven down this feeder road the morning he died as he drove Dan to work that morning. One day he was here driving on these roads and then one day he was dead. And the world kept turning.

This morning the highway was full of cars and people going on with their lives. Red mustangs zoomed by.  I am sure he passed by this corner of town a million times in his red Mustang, but today he is in his grave and I am sitting here listening to a podcast building a life around ground zero.

Part of the reason that I ended up deleting all of my old social media is that I realized I am not the same person I was before Anthony committed suicide. Not at all.  I am a completely new person, this is a whole new life and in order to accept that and begin building a life around ground zero, I needed a fresh start. Not one without Anthony but one with the grief that his suicide left behind. Staying stuck in the in-between of my old life and this new existence was exhausting.

I woke up one day fed up with it. I was fed up with my front yard looking like this house had been abandoned a year ago, I was fed up with being overweight, I was fed up with feeling like my chest was going to explode from anxiety and I was fed up with waiting for Anthony to come back. God, I would do anything for that to be possible but it isn’t and being stuck in this mess was not going to make it happen.

I was also pretty pissed off at God and I needed a change in that relationship too because I was also tired of just going through the motions but not knowing what I really believed anymore. I had to ask myself what I wanted out of life. Before Anthony died, I thought I knew what I wanted but after his suicide, that was all blown up with everything else.

So what exactly do I want? Who am I now? Who was I then? Where am I going from here? Where did Anthony go in all of that? Where did God go in it? Where did the rest of my family and my husband fit in it? 

It felt as if I had been stripped of everything and I was starting life over. I almost felt as if I was losing my mind for a little bit, but what I knew was that I needed to take a break from life on social media and do this on my own without opinions or influences or jealousies of mine or my own flaws of thinking that everyone else has a better life than I do.

In my rage cleaning, I ended up with a prayer closet. The first thing I did in this new prayer closet was to have a phone conversation with a wonderful priest who I trust to be honest and blunt with me. I told him that I was devastated and could not see a way out of the anger, despair, and grief.

He gave me a lot of great words of wisdom on how to begin to rebuild. First, he validated my pain which he said made perfect sense because a child becomes a part of their mother while she is pregnant so to be separated from my son is the most painful thing I will ever endure in my life.

I left that conversation with a plan.

I needed to find an outlet for my anger, find time and space to sit in the presence of God for two minutes a day and I needed to find a support group. I also needed to return to the Sacraments. So I joined a gym to release my anger, I’ve been spending time with God more, I went to confession and I have found a support group and plan to begin going this month.

Then my husband and I cleaned our front yard. We cleared the flower bed, planted some plants and we mulched our backyard. I also began to clean the inside of the house and eventually will get around to cleaning the kids’ bathroom which will be a penance I can offer up for the Church. It is so disgusting that it should bring us all a lot of Grace! I am also slowly returning to social media, mostly with new accounts.

And from there I have begun to feel alive again. Alive and still grieving but alive.

That is where I am at 18 months after burying my son, the love of my life and my best friend. I miss him every single second of every single day. I wish he was here. I hate the thought of life without him and all the new gyms that will be built in his absence or the fact that I am eating organic oatmeal and he is not here to make fun of me. I hate not being able to text him a joke I find funny and he responds by telling me how old I am. But this is my new life and I can control how I build it in his honor. It is the only choice I have because going back is not an option and giving up would only add to the pain of my family.
What do I want out of life? I want to help people heal and I want to do it carrying the memory of my son with me every step of the way.  It starts by allowing myself to be healed first.

I miss you Anthony and I hope you know how much I love you.

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When Your Nightmare is Over

The house

Luke 4:18
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring glad tidings to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free

Every Spring growing up I would spend my days walking around a field full of Texas wild flowers, new bunnies and beautiful Texas sunsets. I would sit on a painter’s scaffold with piles of books and notebooks around me as I listened to the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing. I would dream of the day that a handsome man would come and take me away from this place. No matter how beautiful the scene around me was or how great the wild flowers smelled in the air, I wanted out of there. I never really understood why, I just knew that I needed to be saved.

Yesterday I went to visit my sick Tia in the hospital and it occurred to me just why I love her as much as I do. My Tia is an amazing woman who always has sought to help whoever she could. And when my uncle found me on the side of the highway when I was 14- and had run away for the fifth time since I turned 13- he took me to his house without even asking her. I wasn’t her niece, I wasn’t her problem, he could have taken me to my house and told me he had to discuss it with her and she could have said no. None of those things happened; he took me home with him, she fed me and made a bed for me. Just like that. Yesterday I told her that I loved her for that and was so thankful for her taking me in and for teaching me how to pray when I was little. She didn’t sit me down and tell me the words to any prayers, but what she did do was sit in front of a picture of Our Lady and pray. She set the example, not by lecturing but by doing.

The reason they took me in was because I had finally had enough of secrets and I told my uncle exactly what had happened to me as a child. As I passed the KFC where my abuser, my mom and I would go every other Saturday while I was growing up, so many memories flooded my brain. I wondered if a lot of people know what it’s like to have some of their greatest childhood memories be laced with the face of the person who raped them for years when they were little kids or if that was something that I only understood. As much as I wanted to hate him, I couldn’t because so many of my memories of him are of us having fun or him buying me things, like two ponies. Because that is what abusers do, it’s called grooming and the guilt from it lingers way after the abuse is over.

On the drive down to see my Tia I read a story of three Catholic Churches in Australia being set on fire and some actress saying that she was “elated” that those places of torment were destroyed. While I love my faith and I know Who lives inside Catholic Churches and what they are, I knew exactly how she felt. I would be elated if I saw the garage where my abuser both fixed cars and raped 5 year olds burn to the ground. I get it, even though it grieves me to know that 3 beautiful Catholic Churches are now gone when it wasn’t the Churches but the evil that takes over men that was the cause of so much pain.

For years I have dreamt of the moment that I would walk up to my abuser and tell him just how much my life was ruined by what he did to me. I imagined what his face would look like when I told him how much of a perverted fuck he was and how I wished him to burn in hell. As my husband and I turned down the road towards the house that I grew up in I knew that it was time to take a walk in that field full of wild flowers. I knew somehow that Jesus was asking me if I wanted to be healed and I was saying yes and the answer to me healing was me walking up to that door. A part of me was sure that he was dead. He wasn’t in the greatest of health when I left, so I kept telling myself it was no big deal. Surely he was dead, someone else lived there and they would let me look around when I told them I had grown up there.

I knocked twice and there was no answer. All the signs around me made it clear that he was still alive and he was in there. My heart was racing and the sirens in my head were all screaming at me to leave. Then my husband knocked and I heard his voice “Who is it?”…. silence. “Do I just say who I am?”, I asked my husband who looked like he was trying his best to not freak out too. He shrugged and I said “My name is Leticia, I grew up here and I would like to walk around with my husband”. Then the door slowly opened. This was the door to the room where my abuse began. I knew exactly what that room looked like when I was little and would go running in and out that door as a happy child who just wanted to chase butterflies and feed my rabbits. Who was that little girl? I had not been innocent in so long and I just wanted to catch one of those memories so I could see what she looked like. Then he spoke and my brain could not even grasp what was happening. Finally I asked “Are you Manuel?” and he said he was and opened the door even more where I could see him standing there in a white tank top and no pants on. Suddenly the picture of him over me flashed before my eyes and I started to cry. I told him that I knew what he had done to me and that I forgave him. I have no idea why none of the things that I wanted to say to him had come out and why they were replaced by the words “I forgive you”, but they were. I knew that I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing the damage he had done to me. I wanted to be brave, but instead I was just a little girl asking if I could go for a walk in my field. For 12 years it had been my field. Where I played and read books. Now, in order to share it with my husband, I had to ask this man for permission.

He didn’t deny what I had accused him of nor did he say he was sorry. He just chuckled and said that I was free to walk around as much as I wanted. So that’s what I did. I walked among my favorite flowers, in my favorite place, hand in hand with my favorite person. When we were done my husband opened the door of his silver Dodge truck, put me in it and drove me away from that nightmare once and for all. That was a moment that I had dreamt of from the first time that Stacey kissed me when I was 13 and it had finally come true.

I put that man in the hands of God Himself to deal with. I can’t even bring myself to pray for him anymore. He will not take anything else from me.No more tears, no more sleep, no more room in my head, no more. Enough is enough. I have lost relationships because of how hard I am to handle from the wounds he left me with, I have drank myself blind and missed out on so many parts of my kids’ lives, I have given man after man pieces of my dignity out of the false sense of what love is and I have lost so much sleep from nightmares about what he did to me. It was time to put an end to it. To hand it to Christ and nail it to His cross and leave it there. Christ walked with me up to that door and every person and every stuggle I have had in the last two years gave me the guts to go with Him.

My husband was the hero that God Himself chose to take me away from there and I am so lucky to have him.

Revelation 21:5

The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”Then he said, “Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.”