I’ve written about the influence on stories in my life before…how I am made up of a million of them and that each has it’s own purpose. Well a story that has been heavy on my heart this past year was one I didn’t know I wanted to share until recently. However, since I’ve started telling some stories, I think this one needed to be written.
A year ago in November something happened that completely turned my world upside down. Remember me talking about turning point stories? This was just that. In order to protect this person and the hearts that are all attached to the situation, I am obligated to withhold the names of those individuals and will only be discussing my reactions and feelings surrounding the events. But on that warm November evening I remember getting a phone call that blew a hole through my stomach which would never quite heal…someone close to me had tried to end their life.
I’ve never collapsed before, I’ve never fainted, or thrown-up from fear, but at that moment, I wanted to do all of those things. My emotions jumped like a cat chasing a laser pointer, never truly catching one set of emotions. My first feeling was relief, he was alive. My next was anger, how could he do this to me? My third was heartache, how did I not know his struggle? My last was fear, is he going to try again? I teetered on all four of these emotions for a long time, crying so much that my eyes swelled shut. To say that my life was altered would be an understatement, it was like someone had taken a bomb, planted it in my life and then up and walked away as it ignited.
As life continued on from the travesty, I was given a week before I was to come face to face with my loved one. I have never loved and appreciated the beautiful souls that occupy my daily life more than I had during those days. I was a zombie and I could not be alone. By the time I was able to sit and have dinner with him, my body was merely an exhausted vessel to get me from Point A to Point B.
When I think back to this time that I got to sit and talk to this man that I loved so dearly, I remember all I could do was worry about what questions were appropriate to ask. Can I ask why? Can I ask what were you thinking? Am I allowed to be mad, sad, terrified? I didn’t want to trigger something or offend him… but when the time came, what I remember saying the most was that “I love you.” I had never wished and prayed so much for those three words to sink into another human beings head so much as I did then. I was wishing for my love to be enough; I was wishing for his will to live.
The reasoning was given, the help was found and the wounds started to mend. The thing about suicide attempts is that even if their heart is still beating and their brains are healing, the bystander’s wounds don’t ever fade. Most days everything is fine, there is always a low murmur in the back of my head. However, nothing can describe the flash of fear at every text that isn’t responded to, every argument that ends with tears, or conversation that becomes serious. It is and forever will be, a constant state of “what if.”
Now I hate stories that have no resolve, no final conclusion of what the story all means. So this is what this story means to me. This past year at my elementary school, we have stressed the importance of empathy. We have discussed and reflected on the many faces of empathy and the influence that it has on a classroom environment. When my life changed so drastically, once my initial shock subsided, I was only left with empathy. I wanted to relate to his suffering, I wanted to try to understand it the best that I could. But I couldn’t. Because that’s only one type of empathy. What I needed to do and what I ended up doing was listening. I listened to his story and his heart. I acknowledged that I couldn’t relate, but what was most important for him was that I listened and I heard what he was saying.The truth is, I cannot wish for his desire to keep living, to keep moving forward, but I can listen to his words, I can support him in receiving help, but I cannot fix it for him. He has to want to fix it. This is a hard concept to swallow as a teacher, as friend, as a daughter, and as a sister, but it is one I have come to accept.
My heart mourns for all the souls that chose to leave this world, but it also hurts for the people still living, the people who are left with the memories of that person. I cannot imagine the agony of that sorrow and I am truly sorry. As much as I have faith that my loved one is better, that he is going to be ok, I still pray he maintains his will to live.
And so I leave you with this. Never underestimate another person’s struggle and the pain that lives behind their eyes. Be strong. Be loving. And above all else, be empathetic.
“People don’t always need advice. Sometimes all they really need is a hand to hold, an ear to listen, and a heart to understand them.”