As I drove home from work this past Monday, I began to reflect on a photograph shown on the news last weekend of a small child hugging his father’s gravestone. I imagined what it would feel like to try to explain to my office manager every September 23rd that I would be unable to come into work because I was visiting your grave… except for the part about how we did not bury you.
Your remnants reside in a glossy, wooden box in your room — a box far more refined than you ever would have wanted or appreciated. It creeps the hell out of me to think that what was once your body is now a mere fistful of ashes.
We donated your brain “for science,” and if I correctly recollect, we gave away your other organs, too. I have no idea which organs were harvested, but that hasn’t stopped my morbid fantasies from running rampant. As much as I hope that the fragments of your limp, frail frame have helped other people live better lives, it’s eerie to think that parts of you could belong to them now. Someone’s body functioning with your liver, another with your kidneys, a third with your stomach, a fourth with your corneas…
I wonder how I would feel if I ever met someone who was using one of your discarded organs. Reducing, reusing, and recycling at its finest, I suppose.
We still haven’t decided where to scatter your ashes, so you remain in one of the only places you were ever truly happy, the place where you chose to die: your bedroom.
This week, I realized that your bedroom was the only room in the house which came with attractive carpeting — that rich royal blue, in contrast with the stale, dried mustard color adorning the floor of Mom and Dad’s bedroom, and the overcast grays of my room, the family room, the old guest bedroom, and the rec room.
Your self-destruction continues to stun me. Despite the heartbreak of your demise, what continues to sting most painfully is to hear Mom and Dad lament over how they think they failed as parents. Apparently, a reminder that their firstborn is thriving in adulthood isn’t sufficient.
When you died, I didn’t believe in mental health counseling. I was puzzled how pouring my heart out to a stranger could ease the grim nature of your death. “This just in: Bullied teen suffocates himself while home alone. Mother screams; stunned sister attempts to resuscitate corpse. Futile efforts quickly matched with depressing reality.”
That was until I took a college counseling class. The professor was a nut who should have been barred from administering standardized tests, but being forced to devote twenty minutes to ranting about my life in a private room with a sympathetic partner became surprisingly meaningful and cathartic. More importantly, it forced me to finally confront my feelings about your death.
It is what it is, and I can’t make your story any less sad. What I can control, though, is how I choose to react to the aftermath.
I don’t know if I will ever feel ready to counsel people about death, and particularly about suicide, but counseling, in general, is still going to be a fantastic fit for me to devote the rest of my working life. Had you not killed yourself and knocked the wind out of me with this unique pain, I wonder how much lesser my ability to empathize with other people’s struggles would be. The pain has shaped me for the better; no doubt about that.
Happy 21st birthday, buddy. I miss our family feeling whole. I’m sorry I ever took that feeling for granted, and I’m even more sorry that I couldn’t give you whatever it was that you needed.
I love you. Please come home.