Yesterday was a paradoxical day that began with me attending the funeral for a friend’s husband who took his own life last week. The service was an absolutely beautiful way to honor this man’s life. My friend did not want to enshroud his death in secrecy, so she was very open and honest about the way his life ended. During his funeral she and their pastor both spoke of suicide and the devastation it causes and the pastor spoke to how his family and loved ones can try to pick up the pieces now. As my friend was so courageously giving her husband’s eulogy, their 2 year old son went up to the altar to be with his mom. I will never forget the image of this woman, standing there fighting back tears, holding her young son on her hip while she spoke loving words of her husband who was with her one minute and gone the next, and trying to process life without him now.
Each person spoke of this man’s friendly, laid-back, soft-spoken nature; of his fierce loyalty and dedication to his family; of his quiet humor; of his brilliance as an IT person as well as his incredible musical gift (he had his own band and played in the church band each Sunday). He had a loving wife, three beautiful children, a job he was good at, a close-knit church family, and a way to express his creativity that he passionately loved (music). Looking at his life from all angles, it seemed as if he had all the ingredients needed to make a contented, happy life. He had a solid family, a strong social network, a creative outlet, a job. He did not appear to be isolated, suffering from a tragedy, or any number of life stressors, which makes his death all the more inexplicable. One can only assume that he was suffering silently inside with a darkness that few of us can even imagine. For almost 20 years I have worked with people with mental health diagnoses and still, I just do not understand suicide. Some say that suicide is a selfish act, but after this past week’s events, I have come to believe that a person who takes his or her life must believe that there is no other answer to whatever they are struggling with, and that they are protecting their loved ones from a darkness that is deep and frightening. Their suffering has to be much worse than we can possibly imagine because the path of destruction and devastation that is left in the wake of suicide in the lives of the loved ones left behind is tremendous. So many people expressed the shock of his death and “if only” they had known he was suffering, if only they had reached out to him. But it seems that he did not reach out for help or let anyone know he was struggling.
We cannot insulate ourselves from tragedy. All we can do is honor our suffering by making something good come from it. In this case, what good can come from this man’s untimely death? I encourage anyone reading this to just reach out – reach out to someone you know who is struggling, reach out to an old friend, reach out to someone with whom a bridge has been burned and try to mend it. We all get such a fleeting amount of time on this planet. Let us try to make the most of each and every minute we are given here – to enjoy the blessings that we have, to lighten the burden of another, to make this world a little bit brighter. That is the lesson is for all of us in this man’s desperate and final act.
The outpouring of love to the family in the wake of this man’s death was comforting in a way I can hardly describe. So many offers of support – help with the kids, carpooling, lunches, dinners, money, a shoulder to cry on, and more. It further supports my deeply-held belief in the goodness of others. There IS good in this world, if only we have the eyes to see it.
After the funeral, I rushed back home, where people were already arriving to my house for our annual Labor Day party. It was surreal to go upstairs to change out of my “funeral attire” and put on cookout clothing; and to try to change my mood from a somber one to a festive one was difficult to be sure. But perhaps some good even came out his funeral yesterday, at least for me. When I arrived home, my husband was clearly a bit stressed as he tried to finish up the last of the party prep tasks. He tried to unsuccessfully to light the grill and got very frustrated. When I asked him why he was so upset, he said it was because he just wanted everything to be “perfect.” Ah, perfection. It can be the downfall of us all. There is nothing perfect in life, but many times we strive for it (to no avail). I reminded him of this simple fact and suggested instead that he focus on the real goal of having our party, which was for everyone to have fun and enjoy themselves as we said a ceremonial goodbye to summer. Several minutes later, the grill fired up on cue and the rest of the day went off without a hitch. Everyone had a great time, the kids played and splashed in the pool, the adults sat around talking and playing volleyball. But particularly on this Labor Day, I stood still several times as I looked around and took in my surroundings. I really noticed things; kids from 4 to 17 having fun in the pool together, the heat of the sun on my skin, the music, different adults reconnecting with each other or meeting for the first time. I watched people enjoying the food and playing volleyball. I specifically watched the kids in the pool and remembered each of them at their various ages and saw a little photo timeline in my mind’s eye. I felt deep gratitude for my kids’ friends who came to have a good time with them. I deeply appreciated each of them at their current ages, knowing that all too soon they will be grown up and on their various ways. I looked at each of the adults at the party, many of whom have been a part of our lives for decades and I realized that nothing is promised or guaranteed. These people have been a part of my life for a long time but they could be gone tomorrow as well. Time has its way with all of us and I felt grateful for the presence of each person at my house yesterday. And then I remembered that THIS is what mindfulness is all about. This is it. It is really that simple. Taking a moment, stepping back and taking in all that is around you. It doesn’t take that much time and is not that difficult, but it does take a commitment to doing it. Regularly. As I mindfully went through my day yesterday, my heart felt full to overflowing, and it is the way I want to live each day of my life.
Just before falling asleep, I said a prayer of Thanksgiving for having dear friends and family, a life that I love and cherish, and for not knowing the darkness that my friend’s husband lived with. In his honor, I will recommit to doing all that I can to try to make this world a better place, to try to lighten someone’s burden whenever I can, and to deeply appreciate this precious life that I have been given.
Will you join me?