I never meant to be here, in this place, this space. I was never meant to be here. But still, I am.
We entered this world somewhat late, my twin brother and I. It was late in the pregnancy, late in the month, late in the year…Hell, it was late at night! It was a Thursday. He was first, I was second. But they named him Kent, and me Karl, so I always got to go first at school because “A” is before “E,” and somebody decided alphabetically was the best way to do things. Drove him NUTS! I’ve always loved being second, though. My favorite coffee mug is from Dr. Seuss. It says: “Thing 2.” He reveled in being number one — never let me forget it.
He left us on another Thursday, almost 44 years later. That was 13 plus years ago. Although I’m a grown man, I suddenly found myself feeling like a little lost boy. I had never known a day in my entire existence when he wasn’t a part of my life, my identity, my world. Kent was gone, but I was still here. It was really weird; something I had to get used to.
Thus began my journey, and my new role as a suicide loss survivor. I never meant to be that guy. I didn’t know how to be that guy. But I knew that I had to learn how to be that guy. And I remembered from way before Kent died, on the occasion of another hideous loss, one of my old football coaches telling me, “You’ll be ok, you’re a survivor…” Well then, this would be a test!
It’s been a strange and painful journey, but one I couldn’t avoid, and one I’m actually glad to be taking. Early on I was just shattered, and I sucked up all the empathy, knowledge and wisdom I could get from those who had gone before me. I was so thankful that there were people out there who had been through this and were willing to share and help. As I struggled on, I did find some answers — and many more questions, too. With the realization that I never would have all the answers came some solace — and the realization that my role as a suicide loss survivor was a new life path.
As survivors of suicide loss, at first we think we’ll get over it: put it behind us, carry on. That is absurd. This is simply too big. One does not “get over” this loss. I’ve learned, and I tell others, that the goal is not to get OVER it; the goal is to get BETTER at it. Better at living in this new role, and better at accepting what happened. Better at talking about it, even: at sharing memories.
People say the strangest things to me (and they will to you too): “Aren’t you over that YET?” “Why are you STILL going to THOSE meetings?” “Are you still doing the walk?”
Yeah, and I’ll tell you why: because I’m still here, and he’s still gone. I still go to support group meetings and help facilitate them. I still go on outreach calls to visit people who have just lost somebody to suicide. I still answer calls in the night from people who’ve just lost somebody, or fear they’re about to.
It takes work, and some hardy shepherding sometimes. But it’s worth the effort. If you’re a suicide loss survivor, I will say this: you’re going to be okay. You’re going to survive. We’re going to help you. And someday, you might just be a positive beacon for somebody else.
If you’re a long term survivor, I’m sorry for your loss. Thanks for finding a group to be involved with, a school to counsel, a walk to participate in. Thanks for being tough and resilient, and for being willing to be open and bear your soul to others and talk about your loss. Thank you for still being here.
International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is November 19. Find an event near you.
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