Suicide: One-Time Event, Lifetime of Grief by Steve Austin

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I was fourteen when my Aunt Missy killed herself. It was the last day of June in Alabama when a police car pulled up to our new house, which was still under construction. I remember how hot those 2×4’s were, as they baked in the sun. Per the officer’s instructions, we loaded up in the minivan and drove down the hill to the fire station where my dad worked, so Mom could call her parents. Very few people had cell phones yet, and my Momma wasn’t one of them. I’ll never forget the way she screamed, “My sister!” as she dropped the grey receiver and it swung out and slammed back against the concrete wall, there in the lobby of Fire Station #1.

She’d been missing three days. And this wasn’t her first attempt. She’d had many episodes in recent years and as hard as my grandmother tried to help, there was nothing else anyone could do. Even with all the training I’ve taken and books I’ve read, I don’t think you can stop someone who is bound and determined to end their suffering. And even though we all carried the eerie expectancy of that dreaded phone call, my mom’s sister was dead, and my cousins had just lost their mother.

I was a pallbearer at the funeral. It was my first time to be a pallbearer, and carrying my aunt in her final resting place was an unusual burden to bear as a preteen. I remember letting go of the metal handles as we set her mauve casket down, my lip quivering as I turned around. I walked right into my Dad’s chest and sobbed as my head landed there.

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Aunt Missy was my favorite aunt: tall, thin, blonde. Beautiful. She looked like she’d just walked off the set of The Dukes of Hazzard, and she had the most infectious laugh. I loved to stay at her house during the summer with my cousins, her daughters. We would play in their above ground pool until all day long and by the end of summer, we’d be as dark as a glass of iced tea. They lived just up the hill from my Grandparents’ house and we would walk along the dirt roads between the two houses, often.

In the immediate aftermath of her suicide, the days crawled by. I remember being visited by the associate pastor from our church and the question at the forefront of everyone’s mind was, “where is Missy spending eternity?” We’d heard mixed signals about what happens to someone who willfully kills herself. The days are blurred together in my memory, but the loss left a hole in my heart that only Aunt Missy could fill.

Eventually, life went on. Her birthday is still marked on the calendar at my mom’s house, and so is the day she died, year after year. Just last week, we shared tears and laughter, thinking back on the past nineteen years without her. But she’s not a topic of daily conversation anymore. Mom goes over and visits her grave on rare occasion. She never talks about it. She says she thinks of her sister when she sees a butterfly, but how often do you actually see a butterfly?

Aunt Missy was the only person I knew with mental illness, though no one ever called it that. I had never attended a funeral of a suicide victim before hers. For a fourteen-year-old, only very old people, like Papaw Thompson, died, unless they were sick with some rare illness. I never knew a brain could be ill.

As a teenager, I expected grief to be over in about six months. A year, max. Nobody tells you that grief can last a lifetime.

 

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“Suicide: One-Time Event, Lifetime of Grief” was originally written by Steve Austin for Patheos. To read more from Steve, check out his website, I Am Steve Austin.

14 Responses

  1. Vicki
    | Reply

    Thank you.

    • Steve
      | Reply

      Thank YOU for reading and responding, Vicki.

  2. Carol Borrelli
    | Reply

    Your love for your aunt is so apparent in this piece. I can feel your pain in your writing. I pray for the peace which surpasses all understanding for you, and believe wholeheartedly that you will see her again in heaven. What a beautiful reunion that will be!

    • Steve
      | Reply

      She was my absolute favorite. Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words. I can hardly wait to see her again one day! 🙂

  3. Carolyn Cleveland
    | Reply

    Sometimes they tell you it lasts a lifetime,,,and you can’t fathom feeling that way forever. Doesnt seem possible to feel that way forever.
    I think it comes in waves,,i try to get on top of the wave and ride it out to a smoother water to wade in.
    Thanks for writing this. It’s great!
    I wish you peace.

    • Steve
      | Reply

      Oh, Carolyn. Bless you. The waves are rough at times, even after all these years…but in some strange way, I think our grief honors our loved ones.

      Thank you so much for reading and connecting!

      Peace to you as well,
      Steve

  4. Dianna Matzo
    | Reply

    Thank you. Your piece reminds me of a cherished quote by Charles Dickens:
    “And can it be, that in a world so full and busy, the loss of one creature makes a void so wide and deep that nothing but the width and depth of eternity can fill it up.”

    • Steve
      | Reply

      Oh my gosh, Dianna! I love that quote!! Never heard it before, but TOTES stealing it. Thank you!

  5. Kate
    | Reply

    I love your vulnerability, honesty, caring and generosity Steve. Thank you, friend.

  6. Rebecca Huff
    | Reply

    Beautifully written. It has given me a different perspective and I thank you for that. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Diana cook
    | Reply

    My son took his life 2 yrs 4mo & 2 weeks. Not an hour goes by I don’t think of Greg. I believe a part of me will grieve until I take my last breath. One more thing yes there is a lot of opinions about where they went. I don’t for one min believe that a loving God would let someone who was so desperate with a mental illness or addiction suffer anymore. They spent their time here suffering so I believe God took my son my baby my only child to live with him until,I get there. Your article was very interesting. Yes we remember every little detail. I do. Tks again for post.

  8. Spencer
    | Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing this!

    Hits close to home!
    Wishing you peace!

  9. mark
    | Reply

    Just lost a young man in my son’s class this spring 8 days before he graduated…..very painful for our small Community. May I share this with his mom? She is struggling emmensly with him being gone.

  10. Rose
    | Reply

    Tomorrow is the 18-month anniversary of my husband’s suicide. I am still crying buckets of tears.
    I am glad you still talk about your aunt. We talk about Storm. Sometimes, I make people uncomfortable talking about him, but I don’t let that stop me. They live in our hearts.
    Thank you for sharing.

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