How They Lived by Blake Friis

posted in: Uncategorized | 24

Four days before Christmas, when I was seven, my mother suffered a devastating brain injury in an automobile collision. For the next six years, her recovery was an inspiration to everyone around her. She never regained her pre-accident self, but in many ways she became something better. I believed she was the toughest person in the world. Then, three days after my 13th birthday, she ended her life.

There is a lot of information out there about suicide. You can research the causes, the aftermath, prevention and coping techniques. But one thing you don’t understand until you experience it up close is the way that type of death affects the way you feel about the life lost, and about yourself.

I thought suicide was something that only happened to people who were mentally weak or selfish. When the toughest, most selfless person I knew took her life, it created a series of questions that only one person could answer, and she was gone.

Every birthday I’ve had for the last 21 years has been accompanied by the lingering cloud of the anniversary of my mother’s suicide. For most of those years, that meant focusing on my perceived shortcomings as a son.

Last year, I started volunteering for the local chapter of the AFSP. At the first meeting I was asked about my mother. I started to describe the circumstances of her death until I was stopped by the woman who leads the chapter.

“No, don’t tell me how she died. Tell me how she lived.”

Mamas Boy

That was such a turning point in my loss journey. Last week, I was able to celebrate my birthday with my wife and two young sons without the lingering cloud, because for the first time in two decades, I don’t see the anniversary as a time to focus on her death; I saw it as an opportunity to focus on her life. I don’t try to figure out what her death says about her or me. I think about her toughness and resilience, and the way she loved me while she was here. Because she, and all those we’ve lost, should be remembered for how they lived. That celebration makes it easier to attack the way they died, and try to prevent others from having to fight this battle.

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24 Responses

  1. Vicki
    | Reply

    This was great! Thank you.

    • Blake Friis
      | Reply

      Thanks, Vicki!

  2. Heidi
    | Reply

    Truly, appreciated this reminder today.
    (Shared on our Shadows Presence FB page.)

    • Blake Friis
      | Reply

      Thanks, Heidi! I look forward to following your page.

  3. Barb Mares
    | Reply

    Loved your message. My love to you. Barb

    • Blake Friis
      | Reply

      Thanks, Barb! You make a huge impact on so many people. I’m excited for another great walk this fall.

  4. Dianna Matzo
    | Reply

    Thank you; at times it is hard to resist the tendency to focus on my sister’s death as it is still a very fresh memory. But when I focus on her life and the good times, I find I can even sometimes laugh now. It’s only been 14 months, so it is still a novelty to smile or laugh from the heart. I’m learning.

    • Blake Friis
      | Reply

      Thank you for sharing, Dianna. Every situation is different, but I can tell you I’ve been learning for 21 years. I doubt that ever stops for any of us. But it will get better with time if you continue to speak and share. We are (sadly) a large community, and we’re here for you. Celebrate your sister, and don’t fear your own vulnerability.

  5. Mary Moody Whetstone
    | Reply

    Thank you, Blake for the reminder. It does help to put more balance in the memories of a life that was much more than their death.

    • Blake Friis
      | Reply

      Thanks, Mary!

  6. Julie
    | Reply

    Thank you. Inspiring

  7. Isn’t it amazing how one person’s comment can change completely the way we’ve always thought about something? Blessings to the woman who leads your AFSP chapter, and thank you so much for sharing her wise words with all of us!

    • Blake Friis
      | Reply

      Thanks for the kind words! It really is amazing. Those seemingly simple words made a huge impact on me after 20 years of trying to work it out.

  8. Carol Borrelli
    | Reply

    That is so beautiful and poignant. Thank you for sharing!

    • Blake Friis
      | Reply

      Thanks, Carol!

  9. Letha
    | Reply

    This was helpful, as you said loss is loss but to focus on the life of that person puts someone in a happier place.

    • Blake Friis
      | Reply

      Thanks, Letha!

  10. JoAnn Abbott
    | Reply

    Thank you so very much on sharing how my sister Barbara Mares’s words have helped you to have beautiful living thoughts of your mother. She is a very humble lady and she needs to hear more often that her strong dedication to help all who have loss a love one is really making a significant difference to help cope with going on with life .

    • Blake Friis
      | Reply

      She’s incredible! My life is better for having met her. And there are a lot of people who feel the same.

  11. Cindy
    | Reply

    So well written, goes straight to my heart. Thank you.

    • Blake Friis
      | Reply

      Thanks, Cindy!

  12. Deb Pratt
    | Reply

    What a great reminder! I lost my dad to a terrible accident and was there when it happened! I kept reliving the it and tried to get answers! My sisters life was taken at the hands of someone in 2009! Till this day nobody has been held accountable for it! I don’t want to feel empty, angry and confused without them, I want to feel blessed to have them!

  13. Peggy McElderry
    | Reply

    Very well written article Blake. So, glad you have worked through your memories and have a family of your own now. Your mom was a good person and went through a lot.

  14. […] Originally appeared on The Gift of Second. […]

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