I had to do something an hour ago that I never anticipated having to do. I had to help my son dress for the funeral of one of his friends. I watched him put on black dress pants and a white shirt and a beautiful gray sweater and I thought, how grownup he looks. How handsome.
I wanted to cry.
After he left, I did cry. I felt such anguish at sending Michael off to the funeral. (He was taking two of his friends though, so he didn't go alone.)
No 19 year old should have to go to the funeral of one of his friends because the boy killed himself. It's horrific.
When I was in my early 20's two of my childhood friends killed themselves. They were not close friends of mine but they had been in classes with me in school. We had played together, eaten together, sung songs together, laughed together -- for years. Then they grew up and had to deal with heartache and they found life so unbearable that they ended it.
I remember well the absolute horror and sadness I felt for them. My friend "L" had made a bad marriage and had a toddler she was trying to raise alone. She shot herself, after taking the baby to her parents' house. My friend "J" and I danced at a wedding of a friend, laughing and reminiscing, and just a few years later, unable to find a job, he put himself in the path of a train. The only way I could deal with it was to write about it, and my poem "The Lost Boy and the Train" was published in the UT literary magazine.
I have had dark times in my life, times when life was really awful. I have never come close to feeling such despair that I couldn't see my way out of it, though. I was blessed to be born to parents who had strong faith in God, and incredible love for me. When things get dark in my life I can always talk to my mom. Always. She raised me to come talk to her when I was upset.
Watching Michael grieve for his friend since he heard the news last Sunday has been a special kind of hell. As parents we always want to spare our children from shock and grief. We want to shelter them. Watching them in pain is worse than feeling it ourselves.
Michael has been through so much in his young life, from the loss of his birth family and culture to the loss of his hand. He lost an older brother to suicide. Alesia chooses to stay away from our family and he hasn't talked to her in many months, so she is essentially lost to him. SO many losses in such a short time.
I told Michael today, gently, that his friend should have seen a counselor to help him deal with his feelings before things got so bad he thought suicide was the only way out. Michael said "We didn't know how he felt. None of us knew! He never talked about his feelings." I said softly "Well that's why it is SO IMPORTANT to talk about your feelings, not bottle them up." I wasn't trying to be confrontational, just trying to get Michael to think.
A few days ago I gave Michael a composition book and a new pen and urged him to write about his feelings. I cannot afford to take him to a counselor right now. He hasn't opened the book.
I'm praying for him, praying for his friends, praying for the family of the boy who died.
Michael has been talking to his friends a lot. That helps. He doesn't want to talk to me.
I like the quote above because it's an apt metaphor. If we let the awful stuff out there in the world get inside of us, we will sink. We have to bail out those feelings. We have to unload them, because only then will they seem less enormous.
I unload by writing, talking to my mom, sometimes talking to friends. I pray. It all helps.
I just wish schools and churches did a better job of helping teenagers find ways to cope with their feelings, so tragedies like this can be avoided.
[FYI - Mike's friend who died has a Go Fund Me page if you'd like to contribute to the funeral expenses.]