There are certain moments in your life that, even in the moment itself, you know will forever define you as a person. These moments often come without warning, but you’re conscious of their significance as well as their fragility. You don’t get the luxury of a pause button, but you also don’t realize the expansive amount of time you have to take in the moment itself until you’ve spent it. You feel the pressure of the air around you, weighing you down to react immediately, yet months later you’re still in a state of shock — these pinnacle moments in your life are as short as any other moment, but they linger as if only a fraction of your life is in slow motion, the rest continuing at its usual speed.
In my experience, this defining moment was a popcorn-string of moments across the 48 hours that I knew my uncle to be “missing.” I was told he was missing, but I was not given the scary details; I was full of blind optimism, awaiting his return while my family was already making funeral plans, just waiting for what they already knew to be affirmed by the Delaware State Police. Now, almost a year and a half later, it continues to change in how it has affected me, therefore the “moment” itself grows longer and longer.
My family has always been a close one, and I became especially grateful for that after going through this experience with them. Suicide and depression are no longer taboo concepts for my family to discuss, and it’s encouraged that we seek help in each other rather than suppressing anything. We drew closer to each other, always having someone to remind us that this wasn’t our fault, this wasn’t a reflection of how we had treated him, and this was not something that we let go unnoticed and unknowingly enabled. With the idea that this is a lasting memory, always being reconsidered in our minds, it’s important to have someone that can reassure and comfort past a point of when any other, unaffected person would consider a time at which you should have “gotten over it already.”
Perspective has become a very important thing to me. I can hyper focus on my uncle’s death and suicide, or I can remember him for all of his, albeit shorter than anticipated, life. My uncle is not defined by his suicide, nor should any suicide victim be. A memorial service is a way of coping with a death, but the remembrance is to be done on what their living consisted of.
I do not see my uncle in the pale, closed eyelids in the cold funeral home, nor do I see him in the box of ashes kept next to my grandparents’ bed. I see him with gold-rimmed glasses, an overgrown beard, and a yellow polo that no one ever found when going through his closet following his death. I do not think of the night of his death, I think of the nights spent at the dinner table together, nights at the beach, and dancing at bar mitzvahs.
There are no golden rules to how to cope with a death of any kind. However, when it comes to being the survivor of someone else’s suicide, there are certain universal truths. Take time. Do not rush yourself to heal, forget, or forgive. Do not resent yourself for taking longer than others would like you to, resent them for trying to dictate your healing process. Allow it to change you, do not resist the changes that it brings to who you are and who you continue to become. Above all, always believe in love. Always believe that they love you and that your love will forever reach them. Never give up on forgiveness — no matter who is on the receiving end. Let yourself hurt, and then allow yourself to heal as well.