Today would be my Beth’s 47th birthday.
Today I’m not going to spend the day drinking and crying as I did last year. Today is not as bad as it was then, nor is it as horrible as it was the year before.
That first birthday in 2009 almost nine months after she passed, I crawled in bed as it was approaching and stayed there for close to two weeks. My husband said little at first and left me alone. I wallowed in her memory, my self-pity, and the pain of loss. I didn’t change my sheets, I seldom bathed, I stared at the walls, looked out the windows, till darkness would once again close in around me and I would shut my eyes and will myself to die in my sleep. I dreamt of her; of all those moments that when they’d occurred seemed so insignificant, but now breathed life into her dead body. I couldn’t hold down food, my ribs and hip bones were beginning to look ridiculously defined as I lay on my back. I didn’t care. If a slow, painful death were my penance for letting her die than I’d decided that I more than owed her that. Guilt had crawled beneath my skin and lay writhing like a parasite trying to devour me from the inside out. All I could think of is that I could’ve saved her if I’d been there, but I wasn’t. That is the picture of a suicide survivor, my friends. Disturbing, but nonetheless very real.
I believe there was a very real possibility that I could’ve allowed myself to die in that bed had my husband not finally intervened. At one point I had his 9mm in one nightstand, a pharmacy of prescribed drugs in the other, a shitty life that awaited me if I crawled out of that bed, and felt I had no reason to go on. The minutes and hours ticked, ticked, ticked, by as I looked from one side to the other debating, plotting, changing my mind, and finally falling asleep from emotional exhaustion again and again. Then one day the door opened, he stepped inside, and told me to get out of bed. He didn’t ask me to come downstairs or ply me with a movie or dinner as he’d tried before. There was no look of sympathy on his face or comfort in his voice. He opened the door, looked at me, and said “Get out of the damn bed.”
“No.” I said, rolling over and pulling the pillow over my head with me.
“Get out of the damn bed!” he raised his voice.
“No!” I screamed back. “Leave me alone!”
“What do you think you’re doing, huh? You think this is going to bring her back? It’s not. Do you think this is what she’d want? You always told me she loved you more than anyone ever had. Do you think she would want you to be like this because of her? Is this how you’re going to remember her? I think she deserves better than that, don’t you? I know I wouldn’t want to be remembered like this.” I could feel him staring at me from beneath my pillow. “Now get out of the damn bed, go take a shower, and come watch some tv with me. I made dinner.” And with that the door closed behind him…and I got up. Make no mistake; suicide takes more than just one life.
Today I’m choosing not to share with you the life she had and the memories I have of her, but my own personal experience with suicide. I believe had she the opportunity to make this choice again, she would choose otherwise. I believe the same of many that did. So I honor her on her birthday by hopefully enlightening all of you. I hope this dispels the myth that any of you may have that with suicide comes finality and peace. It doesn’t.
My stints with this subject go much farther back then just this one. When I was in elementary school my oldest sister tried to take her life twice after the sudden death of her husband. Once she succeeded and was DOA before they pulled her back from the murkiness of death. Now I was young enough that I don’t remember all the details of the events that transpired, but I remember her despondency and mood changes. I remember the reaction of everyone after. I remember feeling cautious, sad, my mother wringing her hands with worry that it might occur again, and she might finish the job as my mother would put it. Several years later in my teens I would once again be visited by this deceptive demon as I was preparing for bed. We heard sirens, lights began to flood through the windows to the interior of the house, and as my mother and I scurried from our rooms and down the hall to see what was happening, officers began pounding on our back door. My mother dressed in her small nightie yelled out to my sister to answer it. This sister, the third in line of us four, was going through a messy divorce and was living there at the time with her two children. The door was barely opened when they barged in, proclaimed they’d received a call that there was a suicide attempt in progress at our address, and as my mother and I both looked at each other confused my sister collapsed in front of us on the floor. I watched them begin to work on her, the stretcher appeared, and then her body seize into convulsions as they were strapping her in; her limbs flailing weightlessly in the air. Had it not been for the good sense of a friend that had been on the phone with her at the time and called the police, my sister wouldn’t be with us today. The amount of Darvon she took that night could’ve taken down several horses.
My family has a history of depression that while I was growing up was not diagnosed. Because of this, it comes as little surprise that several years later I would attempt to do the same. What could push a girl at seventeen who is smart, very pretty and popular to want to overdose on a bottle of pills? The love of a boy, that’s what. Looking back I don’t believe it was ever my intention to do myself permanent harm. Rather, I wanted to get his attention. A ridiculous breakup, I heard he was with another girl, I went into my friends basement and swallowed an entire bottle of Extra-Strength Tylenol. Again, the good sense of a friend would come into play and save a life. An adult was called, I was rushed to the hospital, and into the emergency room. There was no Ipecac syrup that would be administered. I had swallowed an entire bottle of a substance that was capable of shutting down my liver, and they worked frantically inserting a tube into my nostril that wound it’s way down to my stomach to pump the poison out. The pain of that experience is still cringe-worthy. My face felt completely inflamed, I could feel the cartilage in my nose crackling, see blood coming up through the tube as they fed it slowly in a few inches then back out, over and over again, making sure they’d gotten it all. If I hadn’t been serious about it before, I wished for death at that moment. This boy who’s attention I desperately wanted would eventually become my first husband, and give me many more reasons to want to take my own life for years to come. At one point if it had not been for my then, two year old daughter, I would have. Today I look back and realize how undeserving he was of not only my love, but also the life I might’ve lost because of him. No one…NO ONE…is ever worth dying for!
There would be others:
An old friend who was having a hard time and had a history of drinking too much to try and ease the pain, shut his garage door one afternoon, crawled in his car, and sat in it while it was running till his life ran out. I would unpack the things I’d prepared to take with me to Sturgis that weekend and attend his funeral instead. I guess I don’t have to tell you that all our friends we partied with and shared most of our teens with were there. No one was laughing though. He had thought himself alone and that no one any longer cared. If only he’d reached out to one of the dozens of people that were present to say their goodbyes and tell him they loved him. I was to learn soon after that when they found him the car door was open and it appeared that he’d been trying to get out.
I watched my ex-fiance, the love of my life, heavy with sadness nearly crumble at this funeral, and also at another friends who took his life by shooting himself. I was also present, and the one that had to give the bad news to one of my best friends–a club member–later on that his girlfriend had taken her life. She had gotten her second DUI, had made it clear she wasn’t going back to jail, and made sure she didn’t have to. Each one that took their life had something in common…they left behind people who loved them. None realized they weren’t alone.
So here we are. We’ve come full circle. We’re right back to Beth. Beautiful Beth with her naughty smirk, her wicked sense of humor, her clever ideas and never-ending love and support. Beautiful Beth who pulled herself up by her boot straps, ventured far from her meager beginnings, and succeeded in a career where I had failed. Beautiful Beth who raised her children to serve God and their country, while mine have chose the lesser roads with one now sitting in prison. Beautiful Beth who didn’t know how truly magical she or her life was who ended it, while I still struggle in mine that pales in comparison. Beautiful Beth who chose to die, while I choose to live.
Her death tore at my insides with painful spasms. It shrouded me in guilt that I couldn’t shake free. It caused me to slide down the wall and beat my head up against it in frustration at searching for answers to questions that had none, more than once. It crept into my head, made me question my sanity, as I could sense her in darkened corners of my house, and hear her whisper my name. I became afraid to climb my stairs at night to use the bathroom for fear she would be waiting for me, come out of the shadows, and ask me why I hadn’t saved her. I loved her and cried for her. I hated her and cursed at her for hurting me, herself, and others. Then came a point I begin to sit for hours in the darkness anticipating her arrival, for I hoped she’d take me with her. For what seemed like forever she twisted around inside of me and made it impossible for me to live. I finally went to her grave, I sat there, I told her to stop it she was scaring me. I finally found some peace.
There is no finality with suicide…only aftermath.
One important thing I should mention. They didn’t find my best friend tucked away in the comfort of her bed as if preparing for the eternal sleep that would finally ease all her years of pain. They found her face down on the floor as if she were trying to get across the room. We believe at the last minute she was attempting to try and save herself.
“Happy Birthday, HomeGirl. I hope you’ll be pleased with this message. I love you!”