Sunday, January 9, 2011
Another Battle Lost
The soldier handed my sister-in-law the triangle of a flag he'd just moments before pressed against his heart, thanking her for her son's service to his country. As I stood in the damp and cold Pacific Northwest winter air, leaning into my seated brother, trying to offer him warmth, I reflected on how we found ourselves in this place just a week into the new year.
Joe, 26, always troubled, often trouble, bright and charismatic, put a gun to his temple while his girlfriend was upstairs in a friend's house, and killed himself on the first day of the new year. My brother and his wife came home from their Christmas travels to the news of her son's death.
The shock of Kathleen's death had just begun to scab over when Frank shared the news. Two suicides in one family, weeks apart, both by young people who had every resource at their disposal and who were loved.
Joe had a military funeral because he served in Iraq. His service there was neither exceptional nor exemplary. His life was neither of those things. Yet his funeral was packed with people who loved him, whose hearts were broken by his death, whose lives are left with huge holes because he's gone.
I have no answers. Only questions. And deep deep sadness.
I wonder at the pain these two young people were feeling that made living seem so unbearable. I wonder at the paradox of them trying to numb their pain with drugs and alcohol, yet those substances smoothing the road to their deaths. I wonder how they could not feel enough love to ease the pain and make staying worth the struggle.
And that's what makes me the saddest. They were loved and they couldn't feel it. They were not alone, yet they got so lost inside, they didn't understand. There were choices, many other choices than the one final and irretrievable one they made, and none seemed possible to them.
I know pain. I've experienced my share of suffering and loss. I've considered taking the path Kathleen and Joe did. I come from a family where alcoholism (both maternal grandparents), suicide (my biological father, the one I never met, shot himself on Father's Day) and denial (my mom escaped into dementia ten years ago with no obvious physical explanation) are standard methods for escaping pain.
Yet here I am at almost-sixty, healthy and thriving. The pain of losing my only child eased by the love and connection I feel from every single person in my life. I don't know why I'm here, and they are not - all those who chose oblivion over the messy wonder that is life. I only know that their passing leaves me with a more tender heart and a renewed determination to shine what light I've been given as brightly as possible.