By: Emily Miller
There is never a time in my life when I don’t remember Aunt Karen being there. As long as I was in this world, growing into a person, Karen was there. She lived right down the street from me and she was the perfect hybrid of a mother and friend.
When I was little, she used to take me out for pizza runs, the movies, and endless zoo trips together. One of my earliest memories of our adventures was when I was about five. We were sitting in a pizza parlor and Karen said to me, “You know I’m not hanging out with you because I’m watching you. I asked you to dinner because I enjoy your company and our conversations.” As a precocious child, I can’t even begin to tell you how much those words meant to me.
Growing up Karen was always there for me. She came to my shows, and birthday/graduation parties. We spent countless hours on the phone talking or texting. One summer, she even bought a pass to Mountain Creek water park so she could drive me and my best friend up there during the week.
One night, I called Karen at 12:30am crying because I had just seen my dad taken away in an ambulance and I was now sitting in an empty house. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I was calling so late. Not only did she pick up the phone, but she was at my house within five minutes. We stayed up late until my mom got home eating potato chips and chocolates, because that’s who she was.
Two months ago, Karen took her own life.
Even as I typed that, I began to cry. I’m still not over it. She was the person I ran to whenever things were wrong. I could not possibly believe she would never be able to take care of me again. I would never hear her laugh, she would never hold me while I cried.
I would never be able to speak to her again. I would never be able to pick up the phone and say:
Karen I think I broke the AC which way am I supposed to turn the dial?/ Ian Somerholder got a new girlfriend do you think it will last or do I still have a chance?/ I’m currently locked out of my house with no shoes on, please tell me you are home/ I’m staring at an injured swan what do I do?
I am finally at a point where talking about it doesn’t completely break my heart, so I decided to write some things down. Because the internet was surprisingly shallow when it came to advice about speaking to someone whose gone through what I have. These are the things I wish other people knew when dealing with me and suicide in general.
1. It’s okay to say the word suicide.
I realized very quickly in the aftermath that a lot of people were afraid to say the word suicide in front of me. I don’t know if they thought it would be too difficult of a reminder to me, or if it was their own issues with the word that prevented people from fully vocalizing suicide in front of me, but it was unnecessary.
Some people didn’t talk about how she died, others just seemed to ignore it. For me though, it was absolutely impossible to talk about her death and not talk about the fact that it was a suicide. I was quite open about it. Mental health is an ugly illness that is not discussed enough. We need to open the dialogue about suicide in order to bring awareness to it. We do that by being open and honest. She had a disease. It was not her fault.
2. Suicide & Death are not the same thing
My aunt/godmother Gail, had passed away a few years earlier. I didn’t think anything could be more painful then watching the slow demise of someone you love slip away because of dementia. I was completely wrong.
There is something worse than death, and that’s suicide.
Suicide is knowing that the person you loved, felt so alone, so depressed and so desperate to change their situation, that they thought the best solution for everyone would be to no longer exist in this world. There is no heartbreak quite like that. The pain. The guilt. It does not go away.
One of the hardest things throughout this process was when people tried to rationalize my emotions by sympathizing with me through their own grief.
“I know what you’re going through, losing someone is hard. When I lost my grandmother I…”
I know it’s stupid, but that sentence hurt more than I can properly express. With death, more often that not, that person did not chose to leave this world. That person did not want to go. Karen was a young beautiful warm caring wonderful person. And she decided to leave. People saying they know my pain because there grandmother died of heart failure were just simply wrong.
What was worse, was people would use their own grief and compared it to mine. Certain people in my life were not understanding with where I was in my grief because it did not measure up to theirs.
“When my mother died, I found the best thing for me was to go back to work immediately.” “Why are you crying? Is it still over your aunt? Hasn’t it been a while?” “I know you aren’t strong, but I need you to act strong.”
At this point, this has turned into a rambling about how everyone grieves differently and don’t use your own experiences to compare to others, and yes. That is all true and a statement that needs to be expressed. But going back to my original point, you cannot empathize with suicide unless you have felt it first hand. You can sympathize, but until your heart breaks from it, I sincerely mean it when I say, you will never know or understand the hurt that is suicide.
3. I knew she was sick, and that’s okay
One of the most common things people would say to me in the aftermath was, “well it’s not like you could have done anything, you didn’t know she was sick.” The thing was, yes, I did know she was sick.
Depression is a disease, and she fought it for a while. I always knew Karen could have ups and downs. But she was doing everything right. She was aware of her struggles. She was seeing a therapist. She was on medication. She had hobbies to keep her busy. She had checked herself into a mental health home before.
So yes, we were aware of the situation. It doesn’t mean that anything could have been done differently. Sometimes a person just looses the battle.
Suicidal thoughts can come and go. People who die by suicide don’t always have suicide on their mind. Just as cancer can go into remission, mental illness can resurface.
There are moments when I feel the guilt behind that statement. Like because I knew, I should have done things differently. But I know in my heart that that’s not true. A text from me that day, may have delayed her in that one moment, but whose to say what she would have done the day after. I of course still blame myself on weak days, but I know she wouldn’t want me to and so I try to stop.
4. You don’t need to know how she died
Almost every person I spoke to asked me how she did it. It was the immediate follow up after I said she committed suicide.
I understand humans have a morbid curiosity with death. But with suicide, it’s almost certain the person left this world in a violent fashion. Do you really want to know that information? Do you really want the person with a broken heart to relive that moment by telling you?
Karen left this world in one of the worst ways imaginable. I have grown to accept that she is gone and that she committed suicide. The why she did things the way she did, I have come to terms with. It’s the how, that still haunts me.
In conclusion, I’m not okay. I’m sad. I’m moody. I’m distant. And sometimes, despite my better judgement, I still randomly burst into tears for reasons I cannot explain. But I’m learning that this is all okay.
I’m getting through this on my own time, in my own way. Thank you to everyone who has understood and been absolutely wonderful to me at moments when I didn’t deserve it. And to those who have been less patient, I’m sorry, but I hope you understand a little better where I’m coming from.
Lastly, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is an amazing organization. They are helping to end the stigma, and bring this fight out of the darkness. If you are suffering, look them up. If you want to make a change, donate.