I prepared for Easter at my Mom’s house last year as usual.  Figured out what we would wear, what we would contribute to the meal, and additionally I bought Easter dresses for Sophia and Vivian. They were living with us while Fred was getting moved and starting a new job.  Fred was staying with his twin brother in Denver during the week and coming here on the weekends and to the house in Greeley also, he was preparing to move and getting things in order.  Chris and I picked up the girls Feb. 21st and Fred was dead a month and a half later.
We always spent a lot of time together, Fred and I, and the family.  Talked daily, no stress, just a loving relationship and damn proud of the man Fred was.  He had so many dreams and plans, things he wanted to do and try.  He absolutely adored Sophia and Vivian. He adored his family.
Easter went well, as usual it was a day of laughing, craziness, talking, hugging and taking pictures.  We just have fun when we get together and everybody just enjoys each other so much.  I remember falling apart in the afternoon, just crying for absolutely no reason at all.  It was bizarre and so random.  I thought I must be tired, taking care of the girls everyday and still working too, it was catching up with me.  Today it just seems too strange and I wonder what the tears were truly about.
It was time to say goodbye, Chris was going to take me home so I could get some rest.  Everyone out by our car, saying goodbyes, telling each other we love them and will talk tomorrow.  And big hugs for Fred, watching him as his Grandpa Jim stood on the sidewalk and told Fred how proud he was of him..how he was doing things right.
Those last moments with my son are moments I replay and treasure.  It was a full day of nothing but love.  The following day, Monday April 5th, started as a typical Monday.  Get up, take care of girls, work on business paperwork, do homework for school, etc…  Busy.  I talked to Fred twice that day, checking in and seeing how he was.  I tried to contact him again later in the day but did not get an answer. I was a little worried, that was not like him.  Through conversations with people who were with Fred that Monday I could piece together that he went to work, worked a full day as usual and stayed late to finish up.  He also sat and talked to his manager at work for an hour or so, telling him about some things he wanted to learn and do at work, things to further his skills and job.  He left there between 6 and 8 sometime.  His brother tried to contact Fred at 8:00 or 8:30pm to see if he wanted to go grocery shopping with him but Fred replied back that he had a few things to do and would see him later.  This is where my entire life turned upside down.
My husband and I looked for Fred for hours, in Denver and in Greeley through the police departments.
Since April 5th my life has suddenly changed.  I have carried my son’s burdens along with my own in this time.  I have felt stupid for not sensing something and not fixing it for Fred.  I will never know why.  There will never be a satisfactory answer or reason in my mind for my son’s suicide.  I cannot change the past, I cannot undo what Fred did.  Even if I could find that one answer, that one reason, it would not make Fred come back to his life.  As I have analyzed and questioned everything I knew of Fred’s life I cannot come up with anything anyway.  His disappointments, disillusions, loses, fears, humiliations, etc… they were all his.  His pain was something that none of us will understand or be able to feel as Fred did.  Something that I may find completely copeable could crumble someone else…and visa versa.
Part of my moving ahead and attempting to heal IS this acceptance, the realization that I will not ever have an answer to this.  But beyond not having an answer, I will never have to lay blame.  One of the most exhausting exercises we put ourselves through is replaying events.  Trying to figure out “what if” scenarios and trying to find where to lay the blame.
I made a list of things I need to do today on a legal pad. Then I sat and stared at it for an unusually long time, I got lost in thought.   I decided to draw a line down the middle and make a new list.  I titled it, “Things Not To Do”.  This list was much longer than my to do list.  Some of the entries, “don’t buy a new car”, “don’t waste time on jackasses”, “don’t lose faith in myself”, “don’t work at a job I hate ever again”, “don’t forget where I came from”, “don’t forget those that helped me along my way”, “don’t put McDonald’s ketchup packets in the microwave”, “don’t buy a dog or a cat”, “don’t look for things that are lost for more than 10 minutes”, “don’t keep things, material things, just because I think I have to”..and it just went on.  “Don’t ignore the ignorable or the obvious”, “Don’t give up”, “Don’t wait”.
As I wrote this there were people all over the world experiencing their own troubles and crisis.  When I picked up my pen, someone else was picking up a gun to fight for their beliefs.  When I made my list, someone else was hiding in fear.  We all have our own fight we are fighting.  Fred’s was internal, a battle I could not see.
My crisis is in the bubble of stigma.  Stigma of suicide, stigma of grief, stigma of being different.
Stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation.  A mental or physical mark that is characteristic of a defect or disease: the stigmata of leprosy.  A place or point on the skin that bleeds during certain mental states, as in hysteria.”  So, stigma is a brand, burned into our skin, into our minds and on our hearts.  Some stigmas are visible, some are not seen.  Stigma is just another fancy word for hate.  Stigmas create bullies.  Stigmas hurt and are some people’s “politically correct” way of discriminating.
That may be a huge stretch for some, putting stigma in the same category as prejudice, but why wouldn’t it be?  Tell me the difference of sitting at a table, room full of people, everyone is white and I am Asian or Black, sitting alone.  Maybe no one comes over to my table for the reason of skin color.  Sitting at the same table, myself, lost my son to suicide and labeled as the sad suicide lady.  Room full of people, no one comes to the table, no one knows what to say or do, no one wants/or can approach.  The feeling at the table of the lonely is the same.  Maybe the feelings of the people not approaching are different…..but both stigmas hurts just the same.
I made a third column on the legal pad and listed the things I stigmatize.  The list was short but I stopped and thought about suicide stigma.  Is that something I would have added to this list before my son died?
Stigma around suicide started back “During the early years of Christianity, many believers chose suicide over the difficult life of religious persecution. In fact, some early Christian writers maintained that a self-chosen death was a goal for the genuinely pious to aspire. The number of Christian martyrs and mass suicides rose so quickly that the ruling Jewish faction decided to forbid eulogies and public mourning for those who died by their own hand. This action began the stigmatization of suicide in Judeo-Christian culture. The first church-led condemnation of suicide occurred when Jewish leaders refused to allow the bodies of Christian suicide victims to be buried in hallowed ground. The few Christian condemnations of suicide came from the notion that suicide was to be despised because it was the action of the betrayer of Jesus. Thus, suicide developed a “guilt by association” because of Judas’ death by hanging.” (taken from http://www.injacobsmemory.org/history-of-suicide.html)
The stigma remained through the centuries, people punished if attempting suicide and failing, families stigmatized for loved ones completing suicide, graves not marked, people not honored, complete erasure of life due to the cause of death.
“The early 19th century saw the development of a new approach to the study of human society. The development of sociology began with a case study of suicide. In 1897 Emile Durkheim published Le Suicide, the first application of a social analysis. In this writing, Durkheim argued that suicide was not just an individual choice. He suggested that society at large acted as a contributing factor to suicide. Durkheim laid the groundwork for the fields of sociology and suicidology, as well as the foundation for influencing a change in the way society views suicide. One of the reasons suicide is less stigmatized today is the understanding that outside pressures, or societal stressors, can contribute to suicidal behavior. Durkheim introduced a concept that increased awareness about suicide and helped to begin destigmatization. The second major factor to influence change in attitudes about suicide was the development of psychology. Sigmund Freud introduced the world to the concept of psychosis and suggested that mental disorders were truly medical conditions. The notion that mental or emotional distress could be caused by natural, physical factors helped pave the way for changes in civil, criminal and religious laws concerning suicide. Many countries began to abolish laws that made suicide a crime. In 1983, the Roman Catholic Church reversed the canon law that prohibited proper funeral rites and burial in church cemeteries for those who had died by their own hand. All of these developments have been instrumental in shifting attitudes about suicide in modern society.” (taken from http://www.injacobsmemory.org/history-of-suicide.html)
Today, we fight to decrease the stigma and educate about prevention while increasing awareness around suicide.  For those left to live after a suicide we feel a stigma and we live the crisis first hand.  In the depths of pain is how grass-roots movements are made, this is where foundations and 501-c organizations are born.  Whatever the cause, the stigma, the purpose….when there is a protest, a group created, and an awareness communicated….a social crisis is being fought for, a resolution is being sought, a group is attempting to make a difference.  For me, educating on what it is to be a suicide survivor and the difficulty of the journey is how I spread awareness today.  I had never asked myself what stigmas I personally buy into.  Never felt the need.   But today as someone who feels stigmatized, I feel the need to do something about it.  Maybe the stigma you believe is that all people with blue skin hop on their left foot at midnight every night so this makes them stupid.  Maybe I believed that too.  I can’t say now, in the throes of where I am, I cannot tell you my thought process before my life suddenly changed.
The point of this post today is make you aware of awareness.  Opening your mind is not a bad thing.  Supporting a cause is a good thing.  No matter what your cause is, you being involved in it spreads awareness and represents one more step towards a solution.  Maybe your cause is so big, like suicide stigma, that there is not an end or solution in sight.  Maybe what you are fighting has been chiseled in history and our minds through generations and social rules of right and wrong.  We still have to try.  The human spirit by definition is considered to be the mental functions of awareness, insight, understanding, judgement and other reasoning powers. It is distinguished from the separate component of psyche which comprises the entities of emotion, images, memory and personality.  And further, belonging to something is key for happiness in our lives.  What do you belong to?  A church, a group of friends, a family, a club?  Belonging to something that makes a difference in others lives, well that is a double bonus.  We can work towards improving our situation on a wider scope, for people like ourselves, feeling what we feel or experiencing prejudice or stigma as we do.  It does not have to consume us, but for some it does.  It does not have to become the only thing we talk about, we can balance it.  We can walk away from it at times, and we can question the purpose of our memberships.  Often people change focus, terminating one cause and taking up another as experiences change our daily lives.
I have been part of many causes over the years and belonged to many groups.  Women’s rights (NOW), League of Women Voters, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, health clubs, country club, bowling teams, Rape Crisis, Book clubs, church, etc… the list can go on.  Today I belong to a different cause, still holding membership to many of the above listed but my new cause taking a higher priority.  People do not want to talk about my cause, they don’t know how, they want to avoid it.  And then there are those that already take space inside the bubble with me, stigmatized as well.
We look out, among the living, us suicide survivors.  We long for complete lives.  Some of us missing a child, some missing a spouse, others missing a parent, grandparent, sibling, friend.  Whatever the relationship, we stand inside the bubble of stigma trying to make a difference one person at a time.  We live with the brand on our foreheads, the large S, the mark of shame to some of society.  We are often embraced, building bridges from our bubble to the ground.  Fear and shame cause us to close completely off at other times, shutting the door to our bubble, protecting ourselves and each other.  We do not want anyone to feel our pain, it is too painful.  But, we want the world to understand our pain.  We want the cycles to stop and hopelessness to cease.  We want to put the word and act of suicide away on a shelf, a thing of past history that we all overcame.  Not overcome because of a stigma, but the stigma itself overcome.   And the reasons, (and there are so many…), overcome, to show those susceptible to darkness that inside of our darkness there is a great light.  Kind of like my post about pain being a gift, those that feel hopeless and then overcome that lost feeling to live healthy and productive lives can educate and provide tools to those behind them.
I urge you to find your memberships in life, your cause….Use what you know and what you feel to help those struggling with where you have already been.  I needed Fred to make me aware of his pain and inner struggles, and someone needs you to help them.  Everything is a cycle, a circle that keeps spinning and awareness is a two-way street.  Those in pain need to make others aware and those ignorant to the pain need to listen.