The Love That Lives On

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Parenting is so weird. You just have sex, a baby is made. Then one day you go to the hospital and give birth to a tiny human that the hospital lets you take home. Even if you are only seventeen years old and are an only child who has never held a baby or changed a diaper in your life. And just like that you are responsible for making sure this tiny person does not grow up to add to the number of assholes in this world. You also have to make sure they eat good food, grow up healthy, do not wreck their car or become a drug addict. It is really a lot when you think about it because really, you just wanted your baby daddy to like you, you were not really prepared for parenthood. But here you are and suddenly looking the window of your seventh floor hospital room holding your newborn baby, you are scared of heights.

There are all kinds of books to help you get ready for a baby, a toddler and even teens. But there are hardly any books on how to parent adult children. What happens when you reach the point in life where they are adults and do not have to listen to shit you say? What happens when they are old enough to make all their own choices but because you have been their mom their entire life, you know they are stupid. Not like, stupid stupid, but just too stupid to do things that land them responsible for another human life when all they wanted was a little love and sex seemed like the way to get that. You know, like you did when you became their MOTHER.

There are not many books on how to handle parenting adult children. How to respect your adult children, keep quiet when they are finding their way in the world and swerving on the road of life. Discerning when to say something and when to just let them find their way. It is not easy to know when to let them fall and when to swoop in and save the day. It is an entirely new phase in life and there are so many variables. But at least you can watch others and talk about this new phase in parenthood.

Parenting a dead child is a totally different story.

There are no “what to expect when your child dies” books. There are grief books and there are now even people on Instagram who are being open and honest about what it looks like to mourn a child. There are support groups too. But there are no books explaining how to navigate through the questions that come when one of your children dies.

How do you answer questions like “How many kids do you have?” or even “How old is *insert name of dead kid here*?”. Do you keep them the age they were when they died or do you keep adding to that number with each birthday. Do you even celebrate their birthday after they die and if so, what does that look like? Who is in charge of keeping up their grave? For Catholics, do you go to every mass offered for them? It is an obligatory mass or do people get to decide if they want to go?

All of these are things that come up and each one of them is a blow to your grief. And you figure them all out blind with no roadmap because nobody has written one.

A few years before Anthony’s suicide I went on a road trip across the country to Philly to see Pope Francis. There were many times on this trip that I was driving and did not know what to expect ahead of me because I had never travelled these roads before. I was so scared and it was really bad for a control freak like me to let go and surrender to the road ahead of me. In West Virginia I lost my shit and had to pull over to pull myself back together and wait out the rain. In hindsight that trip is a lot like the journey of Grief that I am on now since losing Anthony to suicide.

I am scared and I lose my shit a lot to the point of pulling over and taking a timeout before getting back on the road. I know where I am going, that is to do my best to get to heaven and pray Anthony is there for me when I get there, but the in-between is full of unfamiliar territory. Sometimes the road is dark and winding in front of me which scares the shit out of me but then the sun comes out and I get a grip.

I have decided to always say I have four kids because I do. Anthony is still my child. I also say that he is 25 years old because no matter what, Anthony still IS and the years still go by. Time is a tool for the living and I am still alive so I will use it. I am his mother so I take responsibility of keeping up his grave and we have dinner as a family on his birthday where we let his children blow out the candles on his cake for him. He mattered. His life was a gift and that is what we celebrate on his birthday. It is not easy. To be honest, it tears me up inside, but Anthony’s life is worth celebrating. The most important lesson I learned though is that just how I figured out how to be his mother even though I was seventeen and had no experience with babies is how I will figure out how to be his mother now that he is dead. Both situations are fueled by one thing: the love I have for my child as his mother. That lives on.

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Embrace the Suck

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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.

One Step At a Time

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Grief is different for everyone and each loss is also different. There is no worse grief or easier grief, it is just different. Some people seem to be “fine” but they are really in denial. Their brain will not allow them to think about or face the loss of their loved one. They are not choosing to ignore the fact that their loved one is dead as they go on with life, as usual, it is a defense mechanism. Some people dive into work to distract themselves and they do really well at whatever they put all that energy into, some people have brain fog and forget to make sure the slow cooker is plugged in. I am the latter.

My grief is very specific. It is suicide loss of a child who took his own life in my home with a side of the trauma of leaving him in my house and finding his body hours later. Not to mention that I was already riddled from the trauma of being sexually abused as a child, verbal abuse and being bullied most of my childhood. Anthony’s suicide was trauma on top of a mountain of trauma. I remember the exact moment that I saw my husband in the kitchen screaming and I knew that he had found Anthony and that Anthony was dead by suicide. The information all just came into my brain like it was being uploaded onto a computer. I told my husband to get himself together and then it was like a switch went off in my brain that turned me into a robot. I instantly started making a list of things that had to get done: I needed to get dog crates, secure the dogs, call 911, call our priests and then when I was sure that Anthony was dead I had to call into work to tell them that he, his brother and I would not be in the next day. We all worked together, and I had to call in for us.

I had to call in dead for Anthony, which is so crazy and whoever thinks they will have to do that? But my point is that I did it and I did it all calmly and matter of factly. I asked the paramedic if Anthony was really dead and when he said “Yes Ma’am, he is”, I just took a deep breath and went into the kitchen to wash the dishes. This was not an action that I choose to do, my brain decided for me that accepting the fact that my son was dead in my garage was too hard to face so we were going to do something else. I didn’t finish the dishes because the police had questions for us and I was rerouted after that to my mission to have our priests bless Anthony’s body. It was on the list of things that had to be done. Then I had to drive to my mother’s and check on her and Anthony’s little family. All of it was on a list in my mind that is still going to this day twenty-two months later. My brain and daily routine have been forever changed by that switch that flipped the moment that I realized what was happening.

I finished the dishes the next day. In the sink was the plate that still had the food Anthony had not finished at dinner less than 48 hours before. He was dead but there I was washing the plate with food that he had served himself on it. Again, my brain flipped a switch because that fact was too difficult to look at and feel. Typing it makes my heart race and I can feel the switch flipping.

This was the second year that I and my family celebrated the Holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s since Anthony’s suicide. The first year we all tried so hard to pretend like it was ok and to keep his memory alive in our celebrations. This year we did not try to do anything. We all knew that Thanksgiving was missing the crazy person who would click his fork on his giant teeth at the table until one of us told him to knock it off. It was so quiet and that was more depressing than anything, so we decided that Christmas was going to be very low key. We were going to lean into the depression. And we did. We went to eat Chinese Buffet for Christmas dinner, we laid around and watched our favorite family movies like Nacho Libre, Shaun of the Dead and the Big Lebowski. My daughter and I also watched Birdbox which was so good but a bit triggering.

Losing my amazing son Anthony to suicide has been the hardest thing I have ever lived through. I look back on the past twenty-two months and I do not know how I made it. I see so much love from people, I see a lot of meltdowns, I see moments when I could not think or breath, but I also see that I made it. Somehow, I am not sure how I have made it from that day when I was figuring out how to call into work because Anthony was dead to today. One breath, one prayer, one moment, one word of encouragement from a friend, one hug, one mass and one step at a time.