An Anniversary That Could’ve Been PreventedPosted: September 17, 2011
It’s been two weeks since my last post. It would’ve been much longer till my next had it not been for Sue Elephant’s Child coming to my rescue daily and helping me extract my head out of my ass. Yep, it was up there a ways. She encouraged me to write through my pain even though I felt I had nothing but doom & gloom bullshit to offer, and assured me that all of you have been there and would have my back. That being said, I’m here…not necessarily with bells on.
First I want to give a shout out of thanks to all those who got involved in the R U OK Day Suicide Prevention effort. You who read my blog know how passionate I am about the subject. Sadly, I did not post as I have my own crosses I’ve been bearing and felt too weak to contribute. Yesterday it occurred to me though that now would be the perfect time to do so, whether it felt right to me or not. Why? The anniversary of Beth’s suicide is in two more days. It will be three years. In honor of her, of the cause, tonight I will do what I have been unable to do till now. I’m posting the Eulogy I wrote for her funeral. I’m hoping the awareness of her beautiful life and unnecessary death will give others a reason to live. It has been edited to remove names of her family for privacy, but otherwise is intact as I first wrote it.
‘A TRIBUTE TO BETH’
I was asked by the family to write something for my friend; my oldest, dearest friend. I found this task daunting at first and struggled with the words. I knew this was the most important thing I would ever do and wanted to make sure it was done well. But how could I pay tribute to this amazing woman and do her justice? How could I possibly put into words why I felt so honored—why we all felt so honored—to have known her and been loved by her? Was I eloquent enough or even worthy to pay tribute to her life? A life I knew she would want us now to celebrate. I worried that perhaps I wouldn’t have the words that some of you might desire to hear, and continued wrestling with this until it became clear to me that it mattered little what others thought, but rather what Beth, herself, would want me to say. I knew what was important to her, and knew she would trust me with this as she had trusted me with everything in her life. She wasn’t a pretentious woman who required elaborate words to lay her to rest, or would even want that. She was just a simple girl from the neighborhood who lived by simple truths she was passionate about. These were the things she would want you to know and how she would want to be remembered.
Beth came from humble beginnings like most who knew her in youth. Riverfront accommodations we would laugh, with gravel roads and sandy trails, bonfires and a place called Coors Canyon; a crazy bunch of kids who called themselves Westenders. This world she thrived in; this place and people the cornerstone from which she would evolve. A world that only exists now in the stories we tell our young. It was there that many of us fondly remember her. The real Beth locked inside these memories that we all hold so dear: Memories of a tomboy who rolled out of bed in the morning and went to school uncaring of how others thought she looked; of the teenager who stood only four foot eleven and slight of frame, but had the sharp tongue and backbone of a giant. She always was—and would be for the rest of her life—more comfortable in the presence of men than women because she had the heart of a rebel. When she wrapped her mind around a thought or opinion it couldn’t be changed. When she wanted something there wasn’t a mountain too high she wouldn’t climb to get it. When someone told her no, she had the uncanny ability to make them accept yes as a possibility. Can’t was never in her vocabulary. She was the most overconfident person I had ever met, and I always envied the way her mere presence in a room demanded attention. Yes, she was all that and more, and I believe that’s what led her to be such a dreamer, because she felt anything and everything was possible.
Many of us remained in our hometown making due with what we had, but not Beth. She believed there was something better that awaited her; that there were so many possibilities for her future yet untapped. And though she tried to conform at first—miserable in this conventional life she’d chose—her character wouldn’t allow it. She wanted more for herself and her children and was willing to risk possible failure to have it. So it came as no surprise to me—or I’m sure anyone else that knew her—when she bravely sought out to seek her destiny with two young children in tow. I watched from afar year after year as she slowly paved a new life, made new friendships, and reinvented herself. She fought through the disappointment of many dead-ends, and struggled more often than not, but eventually found the recognition and success that she had longed for and rightly deserved. She became an example to me that your feet will take you anywhere you want to go if you don’t mind walking uphill a lot. Still, as highly regarded as she became, she never forgot her roots. She always remained more comfortable in a pair of jeans than a business suit, and when she came home to spend a weekend with me I never saw a trace of the successful woman that she’d become. It was just My Beth, belting out a song in the car with me, shooting a game of pool in the local tavern, dancing to the band, or lounging around my house talking well into the night in a pair of boxer shorts and a t-shirt. That was ‘My Beth’. That was ‘Our Beth’.
Though I know that many of us look on and marvel at how much she’d accomplished after having so little to work with at first, Beth herself never looked at what she’d attained from her hard work as her greatest achievement. Rather, it was her children. They had been her greatest success and the most gratifying for her. I never once heard her complain—as many of us tend to do—how much she had to struggle or sacrifice to make their lives easier. She always saw them as a blessing to her, and felt truly grateful to have been given the opportunity to love and raise them. Likewise, when her grandchildren arrived it took this love to a whole new level for her, and I think it surprised her to learn she could love them as much as she did her own. Secretly I believe she was delighted in knowing that she had to be the coolest, grandma ever. Such was her personality.
Beth had always been about family. The ties that had bound them together while growing up never loosened, though they had all chose different paths for their lives. Many nights I would listen as she told me entertaining stories, recalling how life had been at home: How they drove their parent’s nuts, the ingenious ways they’d end up in trouble, different personalities that clashed, and after arguing the humorous degrees they would go to in sabotaging one another. She told me who would take sides with whom in the family; stressing that it was she and her older brother who always had each others backs. For the remainder of her life he would continue to be the most significant relationship she had, and the most important person in her life other than her children. They had a special bond that few of us will ever experience; an unspoken language of their own that helped them understand each other in a way that none of us ever would. She recalled these times as the best in her life, and spoke proudly of her family name and that she came from such colorful people. They could fight amongst themselves, but were quick to forgive and back the other when someone outside the family disrespected or caused pain. “God help the person who got in the way of one of us” she would say, “Then you’d have all of us to deal with.” Anyone could see that she got her strength from her mother, sensitivity from her dad, and everything else that modeled her life from her two sisters and two brothers. That was the stock in which Beth came from and how she continued to live her life.
Beth never faltered in defending family, friends, or someone she considered the underdog. Even now I can’t begin to recognize all the people who were important to her and whose lives she touched. Only you know who you are and what she meant to you. But I know we’ll all agree that she was a person who painted a picture of encouragement that could give you hope in even your bleakest moments. The one who would take the time to help you answer all the difficult questions you had about your life. The first one that was willing to give support and offer assistance, and the only one left standing by your side when everyone else had failed you. She never considered taking any credit for this because she didn’t know she could. To her, being a good friend was just something she should do and a way she should live. She was ignorant to selfishness. I always had, and still do find that her most remarkable trait. She set very high standards that few of us will ever attain in that area.
I believe that Beth’s extraordinary faith in people and herself came out of her unwavering faith in God. On many an occasion we discussed the politics of religion and man’s interpretation of the Word. Our beliefs seemed untraditional to many, but we felt that living in untraditional times warranted it. That many believe we should all conform and live by someone else’s idea of striving for perfection, but that this is an impossible task. Man, himself, is fickle and not worthy to judge another. None of us can be what everyone else expects, so you much search out God’s answers for your own life, and if you open up your heart and listen He will guide you in knowing what is acceptable and unacceptable for you. He loves those clad in ragged, blue jeans who kneel alone to pray, as much as those well-dressed who attend church. He is there in the presence of and gives hope to those that society has rejected and disregarded. Not all of us have led cookie-cutter, picture-perfect lives, but all our worthy to find salvation if we ask. Jesus didn’t sacrifice his life for this man’s sins, or that man’s sins, but for all men’s sins if only we believe. And though it may not seem to anyone else that you are living the life you should, or following the proper guidelines laid out that normally would define a typical Christian, God alone knows your heart. This heart speaks louder to Him than any of the times you’ve failed, or may fail again while walking in faith. I have no doubt that Beth found favor in the eyes of the Lord. He gave her what He describes in the Bible as the greatest gift of all…Love. And she shared it with everyone.
I will selfishly grieve over the loss of my friend who will no longer laugh with me, wipe my tears, or be there to share good times and bad. Our friendship had been the longest, sustainable relationship that either of us had known aside from our families. Many times we talked about how men come and go, but that we could always count on each other to be there till the end. We figured it would just be the two of us finishing off our years together once we were old, side by side in rocking chairs. I am pained that her rocking chair will now sit empty and I’ll have to go through life without her. But she made me believe that life is a journey that doesn’t end when your body tires of this world. Rather, a new one begins. And I know that as her father now has taken her hand and is introducing her to this amazing new journey, someday she will be there to do the same for me. So I won’t say goodbye, just “See you later, Home-girl. I love you!” which was how she always left me.
My hope now is that you take some of the magic that had been her life, and use it well. I know she would want to tell you that life is too short to carry grievances, or take anything or anyone for granted; that a time will come when you won’t be able to right all the wrongs or let that person know how much you love them, so do it today. She knew how difficult it was to forgive, but was wise enough to follow her heart and reaped the rewards that it gave her in the end. So honor her memory with me the way she would’ve wanted: Respect and love one another.
Today, three years later, these words I wrote for her then feel just as powerful. My love for her just as strong. My pain over this loss still life-altering. Sadly, she loved everyone but herself. She was her own worst critic. Never forget, Life is precious my friends and all of you are irreplaceable.