There are no answers

At the funeral this morning, i was doing a decent job of keeping my shit together.  Until i saw the group of about five young men – wearing ill-fitting suits, or dark shirts and wrinkled ties with their nicest blue jeans. 

They were standing in the back of the church, waiting to offer condolences to the family… and one of them was sobbing uncontrollably, as another held him tight, and rocked him gently.  A third went for kleenex, as they comforted the weeping boy.

Processing the death of a 16 year-old is never easy.  When the cause is suicide, that challenge is multiplied a thousand fold.

About eight years ago, i was on a business trip with JB when he got the call that his father had committed suicide.  This week, the call came when he was in a meeting on Wednesday morning.  This time?  His oldest son. 

Happened in the middle of the night.  Discovered in the morning by the 13 year-old brother.  Nothing could be done. 

When hearing such news about a friend, first you recoil at the depth of pain and shock for the family.  There is no way to conceive of such pain.  Then you extrapolate, and the haunting thoughts creep in from the sides – trying to imagine the pain, you wonder what it would feel like to get such a phone call… and you shudder, and try to push the thoughts away, but you can’t.

JB has very few close friends, and since he’s relatively new to the group, not many people in our organization know him.  He and i worked together closely for about 20 years, but have been on different projects for the last few.  After his father’s death, he leaned on me as his work confidant as he navigated his grief gauntlet.  

The three of us who do know him fairly well converged at work on Thursday morning to compare notes and strategize…

What do you say?  What do you do?  How can you help? 

There are no words.  There are no solutions.  There are only hugs, tears, and thoughtful gestures. 

The visitation was yesterday.  Two hours of an endless stream of family and friends.  People who had known the parents since high school stopped by to offer condolences.  Work colleagues.  Neighbors.  Students who knew him.  Students who didn’t, but wanted to comfort the family.

One young man, with his father, both wearing their best suits, approached JB toward the end of the afternoon.  The young man spoke awkwardly to JB, stuttering slightly as he said “I went to pre-school with your son.  Because I was different, people made fun of me.  Your son was the first person to be nice to me.”  As JB thanked him for coming, and shook his hand, the young man’s father leaned into me and said “Lucas has Tourette’s…”

Since most of JB’s work is on the road, many of the people he’s closest to are from out-of-town – and several came to town for the visitation yesterday.  At the end of calling hours, there were four of us left when all of the family and friends had gone.  i found myself in the back of the funeral home lounge with JB and two close colleagues who’d flown in for the day.

Asking about their return flight, JB said “I think we’ve got time for a drink.  I’ve got some of that amazing hooch my cousin makes at the house.  Want to hit the bar?” 

And so the three of us sat at the bar JB built with his own hands, drinking apple moonshine.  JB stood behind the bar and read the suicide note his son had left on his laptop.  A highly intelligent and articulate young man, he was not confused about his decision.  Acknowledging what felt like faulty wiring in his emotional circuits, he apologized to his family, and held them blameless. 

So we drank a toast.  JB said “God Bless KB.”  Taking perhaps a bit of comfort in friends, apple moonshine, and the thought that his son was in a better place.

Today, as i left the church and saw those young men grieving and comforting each other over the death of their friend, i wanted to hug them tightly… and tell them that the sun will still rise tomorrow, that they will laugh and smile again, and they will never forget their friend but will go on with their lives.

But they were doing a pretty good job looking out for each other.  Sucks that they have to learn to do it so soon.

60 thoughts on “There are no answers

  1. That poor, poor family. I cannot even conceive of such awful grief. Maybe I’m in the wrong field. I totally adore my patients, and I told Adam that the day one of them commits suicide, I think I’ll have to retire. I feel like I couldn’t take it, and I’m not even their parent. JB sounds lovely. He probably already thought of this, but the 13 yr old might need some grief counseling. (Hell. The parents might, too.) Around here there is even a lovely summer camp for kids who have lost parents or siblings. It seems to help being with other kids struggling with loss.

    I was going to write a post about my 16 yr old tonight, but now I think I’ll just hug him instead.

  2. So very sad to think that whatever seemed so insurmountable right now to this young man may eventually have become something of little consequence, with some time, maturity and the help of those who care. You’re a good friend…

  3. A friend of ours died this way a couple months ago. A suicide counselor suggested this book for me, and to give to his wife. I thought it dealt with the subject very broadly and compassionately. The author has had many suicides in his immediate family.

    Sorry, I’m not savvy with posting links more gracefully.

    It’s just very hard. My heart goes out to them.

  4. I’m so sorry to hear about JB’s son. It’s good that he has a few friends like you to help him get through this very difficult time.
    The poor 13 yr old son..How devastating it must be for him.

  5. the sun will still rise tomorrow, that they will laugh and smile again, and they will never forget their friend but will go on with their lives

    Wise words daisyfae, and true.

  6. The hole in their hearts will never heal completely, tho I’m told that in time it will ache less.

    The hardest time for the family is yet to come. If you can, encourage people 2, 3, 4 months from now to just stop by, give a call, check in. We who have lost children often feel like pariahs.

    Please extend my deepest sympathies to JB and his family.

    • john – thanks for the words. and i’ll pay attention over the next few months to make sure they are feeling some love. i hope that the hole in your hearts aches a little less today than it did yesterday. as always, hugs to you and the entire Yogi clan…

  7. Too many children deciding they are better off dead nowadays. It is so sad. Your post made me cry for my own friend who’s teenager shot himself, for JB, for all the sadness. So well written, Daisy. You must be a fabulous friend to have on one’s side.

  8. I’ve been thinking about this for awhile and i still just draw a blank, make sense of the senseless, you can’t and it baffles me why these young kids do this, you think they have everything to live for but what do we really know.

    • no sense. no answers. and nothing of any substance that can be done to really make it better for the family. this kid wasn’t confused, though. i don’t know whether there’s comfort in that or not…

  9. I’ve had to bury a 10 year old brother. I was only 13 when he drowned. As difficult as that was (hardest thing I ever had to do) I can only imagine it being, as you say, 1000 worse when the cause is suicide.

    Sounds like you are way ahead of the advice; but, keep your friend close. He and the family will need all the support you can muster and then some.


    • thanks for sharing. JBs family has had more than their fair share of tragedy – also burying one of JBs brothers at 11 years old (also drowning), and then the father died by his own hand almost a decade ago. i hope you’re doing better… take care.

  10. Every time I hear about something like this I remember a particular friend who checked out early. There were easily 500 people at her funeral, any of whom would have gladly helped her if they could. I can’t imagine how much it hurts for that to feel like the only remaining option. Beautiful post, by the way. Sorry you had to write it.

    • The young man was obviously in a lot of pain, and it all stayed inside. Don’t think anyone knew. Just wonder why he didn’t write it all down BEFORE he decided to check out…

  11. so very sorry. Lost my 30 year old nephew to suicide in July and friends 20 year old son to car accident in October. It’s been a bitch of a year.

    • And there are still no words… but i ping JB every couple days to say “thinking about you. let me know if you need anything”. but those words seem so hollow…

  12. Fucking Christ. I’m going to be the asshole, here, because I’m not going to pretend otherwise.

    My best friend’s mom committed suicide four years ago, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more pissed off at a human being in my fucking life. I could have fucking killed her for killing herself. And I really liked that woman. I liked her a lot.

    Another friend’s boyfriend killed himself in college. Fuck that guy. I had an acquaintance kill himself just in December. I didn’t really like him, though. He would kill himself. Dick.

    Suicide makes me extraordinarily angry. I’ve helped people through it to the best of my ability, but I’m not the most empathetic person in the world, I’m not good at showing vulnerability, and usually I sit there cursing the dead in my head and try to be as supportive to my friends as possible, making sure they know it’s not their fault and that they’re loved and trying to hide my intense pissed-off-ed-ness.

    See? I don’t even know the kid, and I want to punch him and hug his father and brother. Poor JB.

    I’m sorry if this is disrespectful. I don’t mean it to be. I just get so mad.

  13. I feel like an asshole now. I understand there are so many factors going into situations like this that I will never, ever, ever comprehend. It’s just so damning and irritating and I hope JB and his family the best, and I hope they stay strong, and I hope they love life, and I hope they don’t blame themselves. Ever.

    • not an asshole, rassles… out at dinner tonight, having an e-mail exchange with JB. i wanted to kill something. this pain was unnecessary. these folks are destroyed – certainly for the forseeable future. and there’s nothing. FUCKING NOTHING that anyone can to to fix that…

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