Today was spent with family.
My mother and I went to visit my aunt and uncle. We knew why we were going….they probably knew as well. Yet no one really spoke of the reason for the visit.
A year ago, their son…my cousin, took his life.
He wasn’t much older than me so let’s just say in his forties. He lived in Texas with his wife and three children. No one knew he was struggling with anything. He never reached out for help. His wife found him when she came home from work…it was too late.
I remember getting the call at work from my mother. Actually, it was a voice mail I’d received and I knew something bad happened because she said “It’s a family emergency…call me immediately!”
I called her back as soon as I got the message. Her voice was shaking and I was feeling sick before I even knew what happened. My first thought was my father. Then she said that her brother (my uncle) had called to say his son was gone. As if it didn’t register….or I didn’t want to believe it….I said, “Gone? What do you mean gone?” She told me he’d committed suicide.
I remember just sitting there with the phone in my hand at my desk listening to my mother’s voice but not really hearing her words or comprehending them. Everything stopped after the word “suicide”. Did I really hear that right? How could this be? What is going on? My close friend was currently in the hospital after attempting suicide and now I’m hearing that my cousin is dead. I was shell-shocked!
I hung up and walked dazed out of my office. I remember sitting in my car trying to remember the last time I’d seen my cousin. I really only saw him at big family functions because he lived out of state. I can’t say we’ve been a close family but still….it was family and this was unbelievable to me. Maybe because it was so sudden and unexpected. The last I knew, he was a happy guy with a beautiful family. Great job. Made good money. No one knew he was battling anything emotionally. It took us all by surprise.
Today, my mother and I along with my aunt and uncle sat by the pool talking about everything under the sun….except the elephant among us. At one point, my uncle wanted to take us on a “tour” of his newly decorated home-office. He was proud of his framed memorabilia that was neatly hung on the walls. One by one, he explained the coin collection, his football framed art, and even a picture of him in the motorcade next to JFK. He took great pride in his military accomplishments and his time as a police officer.
I remember being especially interested in the collection of his grandfather’s medals, a telegram his grandmother received when he was killed in France during WWI and the actual cane he used when he was wounded during the war.
There were also pictures of his own father in uniform when he served in the Navy along with his medals in a beautiful cherry colored shadow box.
Then he handed me old pictures to look through of family and as I leafed through them I saw my cousin in several. Again, reminding me of why we were there today….to spend time with two people that had holes in their hearts from the loss of their son.
How ironic that I sat among timeless photos of my grandfather and great-grandfather and their time spent fighting for their country and in my hand I held photos of a very young man that fought in an entirely different battle. One that we don’t see in photos. A battle that isn’t commemorated by medals because you either survive them on a daily basis or you don’t make it out alive.
I want to share my family’s story in light of Suicide Awareness Month. You truly never know the battle someone is facing….tomorrow doesn’t always come for everyone.
And to my cousin, I love you…I miss you…I will always cherish the times we shared. Rest in peace….I will see you again one day.