As a family we have over the past 7 years refrained from talking about Aaron’s death. Rarely have I had conversations with any of my children about his passing and how it happened. If they talk about it among themselves I wouldn’t know.
As time passed each of us learned to deal with this tragedy in our own ways. I never broached the subject with my kids nor did they come for advice or a shoulder to cry on. In retrospect I wish I could have coped better, at least for the sake of my children.
At our yearly Family Day when we gathered each year near the date of his death. One year my ex-wife brought a picture of Aaron and placed it in the center of the picnic table as a reminder of why we were there. One of her older daughters lovingly rebuffed her and told her it wasn’t necessary because we all knew why we were there. His picture remained in place that day but never showed up again.
Our conversation at these outings was never about Aaron. It didn’t have to be, he was there with us, in each of our hearts and thoughts and we all knew it.
Someday I would like to be able to talk to each one of his siblings and get their story to get a better understanding of how Aaron’s death affected them, the things that they went through, the anguish, heartbreak and their own personal grief. Did they carry any guilt blaming themselves in any way, did they harbour any hidden memories that were too difficult for them to face. What fears did they encounter the days, months and years that followed. Did his death bring them closer to their siblings and our family in general or did they drift away inwardly if not outwardly.
As I reflect on their part in this family tragedy I was encouraged when I started to think about the physical ways that each one of them wants to remember and honour their brother.
Each year many of them meet at his headstone at the local cemetery on his birthday. I didn’t know this until my wife showed me a picture posted on Facebook of them gathered together one year. One of my boys who apparently couldn’t make it the year the photo was taken, had his own face superimposed in the photo and posted it himself to show that although not able to make it in person he was there in spirit.
At Aaron’s memorial we had a small photo of him printed and laminated and passed out to all who came to remember him. Each one of my kids has this photo either in their wallet or purse and even on their refrigerator in the their kitchen.
Quite a few have gone to the extreme of getting tattooed with his name or other messages on their bodies, keeping him forever remembered.
I am not a big fan of tattoos. I have none myself but I have come to terms with the fact that this day and age it seems to be ingrained in our western culture not much different to social media.
So when one of my daughters turns up at a family gathering one year with a huge tattoo on her outer thigh I was really taken by surprise and to be honest my reaction was not a great one. Then when she told me to take a closer look I saw it was a picture of Aaron permanently inked on her leg. It was her way of honoring his life.So how could I argue with that.
When my youngest child who is now eighteen told me she wanted to get a tattoo I froze. She is what is known as a “clean skin” and the last I thought would go down this road. She consoled me with the fact it would be a little one. When I asked what she was thinking of getting she proudly stated, “Aaron’s name”. Another one of my girls has a little message on the back of her neck with Aaron’s name so anyone standing in line behind her will know that whoever this Aaron is, is very special to her.
The boys went about it in bigger ways having their memories of him emblazoned on their chest or arms.
There is a story behind each tattoo, each visit to the cemetery and their personal bigger story locked away in each of their hearts.
Their outward manifestation of their love for Aaron needs no explanation or discussion.
Someday I hope to be able to have the courage to ask what lies inside their hearts and how that fateful day affected them.
Someday I will ask, but not today.
Writing this blog has set me free in so many ways. Telling my story has taken me from being a victim of circumstances that were beyond my control, to being a survivor of the loss of a loved one.
When I first started putting my words on paper, ideas were plentiful and it was evident I could write what I wanted at will. I couldn’t hit the keys on my computer fast enough. For once in my life my brain was working faster than my body parts.
My story is a journey I was reluctant to go on. Taking me away from my normal life, my family, my friends and just about everything associated with the life I once lived.
Within I became a hermit, a recluse living in my own world that was causing me to drift further away from family and friends,while going through the motions of living a life that appeared, at least to me, normal.
Brooding in an inner world where the lights had been turned off, I would venture out from time to time only to have my eyes blinded by the intensity of the sun’s rays. I would then retreat back into my lonely world as fast as the speed of thought.
Six years later someone decided to turn the light on in my darkened world. I took that as a sign, it was time to come out of hiding and face the world. I then had this insatiable desire to tell my story. For the first time I wanted to talk about a life lost and its effect on me. It is only then that I realized that there are millions just like me who are going through a similar process and are on a journey in search of healing.
These past months of writing has liberated me and I have discovered a peace that I hadn’t experienced for as long as I can remember.
I was not only on my way to recovery but I hoped it would take me back to a place I call normal or at least the way it was.
It was working beautifully with my muse working overtime keeping me creatively inspired, each word keyed at the speed of thought, each paragraph edited simply enough to be readable, and spell-check at my beck and call. The wall I had systematically built around my heart was being torn down piece by piece, word by word.
I knew within that I had to finish the ‘book’, as I would refer to telling my story. It had a beginning and therefore it had to have an ending. To me it seemed simple, the ending was becoming a survivor, someone who passed the test and came out the other end beaten and battered but alive.
I had this feeling inside that my job would be complete and I could get back to ‘normal’ when I finished the ‘book’. I just needed to keep writing until there was nothing more to say.
Then the unthinkable happened. I couldn’t finish another paragraph if my life depended on it. It was taking me longer to come up with ideas for my story and unfinished posts were starting to gather dust. I had hit ‘writers block’ at full force. My muse decides to go on holidays. My fingers were developing cob webs and my mind was drifting back into the old ‘normal’.
I needed to take a deep breath and figure this thing out. It was not time to raise the white flag of surrender. There was a reason that I was becoming stagnant and I refused to believe it was just ‘writers block’.
I wasn’t going to try to write another word until I understood what it was that was blocking me.
It’s been several days now since writing the above. I had to take a ‘time out’ to sort out my thoughts. I had to come to terms with something that was holding me back but I wasn’t sure what it was. There was no use in waiting for my muse to come back off of holidays, she wasn’t coming back until I addressed the elephant that was in the room.
Up until this post I had been operating under the impression that surviving the death of a loved one was the main goal, it wasn’t. Then I proclaimed that I was no longer a victim of suicide and not longer trying to survive. Let the world know that I am as survivor. I have reached the summit. I can get back to living my life as a normal human being. I am healed.
So why the ‘all of a sudden’, I can’t put two words together to make a sentence. I wasn’t going to budge until I got an answer and I believe I have. The mental block was only there to slow me down, actually stop me in my tracks. I had come to a crossroads, not in my writing but my life. If I thought that being a survivor of the loss of a loved one was the ultimate goal, I was way off base. It was never meant to be the goal, only a marker in the next step of my life.
I had a decision to make. Accept my new label of survivor as the be all and end all, try to reconstruct my life and get back to normal or take the next step. I had to come to grips with the fact that this journey will never end no matter how many mountains I climb. What I discovered about myself was a little scary but exciting and exhilarating at the same time.
I realized that I would never be content, happy or even at peace with myself unless I continued to move forward, which meant leaving my old life behind and anything that would hold me back including any excess baggage that I needed to leave behind to move forward.
I had worked very hard over the past years to eliminate the intense grief, guilt, confusion, anger, blame and all the other emotions and labels associated with suicide. Now it was time to give my Aaron a hug and let him go, not for his sake but for mine and those around me.
By continuing to hold onto the past I am effectively making the future non-existent. I know deep down inside Aaron would want that too. He would want the best for me. He doesn’t expect me to sit around and mourn his life as though by allowing myself to move on completely would be nothing short of being a traitor to him, my son.
He would want me to take all the valuable experiences and lessons of life I have accumulated over the last years and turn them into something useful, for others.
But in order to do that there is a price to pay, there is a very important decision that has to be made. I have to let go of the past, I have to forsake what I have been holding onto these past years. I need to let Aaron go so I can move forward. As simple as that.
He is already where he is meant to be. But my desire to keep him alive in my mind and heart, his memories fresh and at my fingertips will not hold him back but keep me from moving forward.
Surviving is not enough, leaving my old life behind is the next step in this wonderful journey that has been given me.
Today, I have made my choice.
In the beginning stages of my journey I had developed some bad habits. Fear was at the top of the list. Fear that I would lose another son or daughter to suicide. I starting monitoring some of their movements with the precision of a tracking device. Watching their every move, their every word, the tone in which they spoke, their attitude. I questioned everything, where are you going, who are you going with, when will you be back, how long will you be out, what is so and so like, where does she live.
They were teenagers for God’s sake. Their alter egos were all over the place, it was impossible to track them all. With all good intention I tried to nip the problem in the bud, confront what could only be described as normal teenage behavior that sent alarm bells ringing in my head.
I was on a mission to stop the next suicide attempt in my family at any cost. I was out of control. I started using strong-arm tactics and I am embarrassed by my actions, and downright horrified because it could have caused some serious damage in their young minds.
When I believed that those I was closely monitoring were moving out of the sphere of my comfort zone I would say to them, “I lost one child already, I am not going to lose you too”. I was so fearful of losing another I was willing to say anything and the sad part about all this was that I believed it. Fear turned to hysteria. Now I may be over emphasizing my actual actions but that is how I felt inside. I was terrified to lose another and willing to do what I thought was within the framework of my parenting responsibilities.
My kids were as affected if not more by Aaron’s death and here I was putting unfair pressure on their lives because I was fearful for their well-being.
One day I had a wake up call. When one of my teenage daughters was acting out and I gave her my, “I don’t want to lose another child” bit. She retaliated by giving me a well deserved verbal slap on the face. She said, “dad, not everything is about you”. I froze. She was right. I had made losing Aaron about me. I took it personal
That dressing down was the best thing that could have happened to me. I thank God for my kids, they are so forgiving.
Fear was the reason I acted the way I did but guilt was the driving force that lead me to the fear.
Unfortunately guilt comes with the territory of having a loved one take his or her life. We can feed it with fear or we can learn to keep it in its place. It’s there ready to pop it head up and devour us if we let it or we can allow the process to run its course and let guilt naturally fade from our lives.
I am a different person these days. Time and the desire to continue my journey no matter the obstacles brought me to higher ground.
The day the guilt vanished was the day I became a survivor. The day I saw my self as a survivor was the day I stopped being a victim.
If we continue to carry the guilt with us we will never be able to understand what we are fighting for. We are fighting for the survival of our lives, to be able to continue to function in a world that has turned upside down on us.
Guilt carried long enough, will make us believe that we are responsible for the death of our loved one. That is when we play the victim.
I played the victim for too long, I carried the guilt around all these years privately blaming myself for my son’s death.
My guilt and victim tag vanished in one day when I proclaimed to the world;
I am not the victim here, I am a survivor.