I was on an emotional high. I just graduated from high school and was headed to college in a few months. I found a great paying summer job which would enable me to save cash for college expenses and also go on some random trips with friends and family over the summer. Things could not have been any better.
And then it hit me. I was blindsided.
I never saw it coming. It happens to everyone else's family. It could
never happen to my family, right?
Suicide = heartbreak.
My cousin, Megan, was a ball of energy. She was always laughing and making others laugh. Her smile was infectious and her hugs were epic. She graduated a year ahead of me from high school and enrolled in the Air Force. We stayed in touch while she was in the Air Force but it was sporadic.
The last week I spoke to Megan was as clear today as it was back in 2002. I spoke to her on a Monday evening while visiting my aunt. I knew my cousin was struggling with the transition of being in the military as well as being thousands of miles away from family.
I was working a full-time summer job and requested off on Thursday for a youth group day trip to Six Flags. While at Six Flags, I said to a friend that I did not have peace about my cousin’s struggle. Yes, she seemed cheery on the phone on Monday evening; however, I knew she was struggling for months. Six Flags with my youth group was fun and it was a nice distraction from the current events.
On Friday, I went to work at the brick plant like I did all summer. I worked from 7 AM-3 PM and then headed over to my church where I worked part time for several years as a janitor/maintenance person. In hindsight, I was at the most perfect place I could be on that evening. While cleaning the multi-purpose room of the church, my dad walked into the room. His face was drained--he looked as white as a ghost. Dad told me the news that my cousin had taken her own life. He then told me that my family was with my aunt up the street if I needed anything and he left. (This was in the days of no one having cell phones)
This had to be a nightmare, right? I was in shock. Horrified. Shaken. Frustrated. Heartbroken. One of my friends (Nate Voorhees) was working with me that evening. He overheard the conversation and slipped into the room right as Dad left. The world that I knew it had turned for the worse---or so I thought. My friend tried to comfort me and I could barely speak between the tears and trying to explain what had happened. He was relentless and he sought out one of the pastors there at church. Pastor Dianne (children’s pastor) was at the church and working on Vacation Bible School stuff. Pastor Dianne prayed with me and promised to keep on touch that week (which she definitely did!). I finished up my work and headed home that evening.
On Saturday, I spent most of the day with friends and family. I cannot recall everyone who I saw that day but it was a lot of people. Word made it’s way through the youth group and youth leaders about my cousin’s death. Phone calls, emails, and AOL Instant Messenger conversations (remember those days?!?!) occurred. A long day was over.
Sunday was vital.
I knew I needed hope. While I had a lot of support since Friday, I needed to hear and feel hope. During the pastor's sermon that Sunday, I went where I needed rest. I went to the altar. I felt a few familiar friends around me in prayer. Then it felt like an army. I let it all out. Anger. Hurt. Confusion. Hopelessness. Tears. Chaos. Between all of this, I heard countless people praying over me. The church service ended and I eventually pulled myself up from my spot on the altar.
I looked all around me and saw a lot of people. Memory fades me on how many people were there--I do remember who was there. These people were instrumental in the days leading up to my cousin's funeral.
The funeral was on Saturday. A viewing took place on Friday evening with another viewing Saturday followed immediately by the funeral. Many friends and family showed up. I delivered part of the eulogy which was rough given the fact I followed the PowerPoint slideshow with the Beatles' "Let It Be" playing in the background. After the burial, the cousins on mom's side (immediate family) went to Baltimore and spent time at Inner Harbor for the evening.
As weeks passed. And months. And years. The pain of losing someone close to suicide doesn't go away. Obviously, it is much more manageable now than almost 13 years ago. Our loss is much more realistic at major holidays and on the anniversary of Megan's death. I still remember our last conversation and the hugs she gave. Death cannot take joy away.
The power of community was what helped me and others endure the pain, the questions, and countless tears. No one can thrive on their own despite what our self absorbed culture tells us. No one can process loss by sitting at home and stewing with anger and heartbreak. It takes community to lift others up when they cannot see out of the rabbit's hole they fell into.
Suicide is a real issue. I was fortunate that I never encountered it until my cousin's death. One thing I encountered was the number of folks who had lost someone to suicide. The power of community was vital to overcoming such a tragic loss. When you encounter pain of your own, just remember that there may be a time where you can use that pain to help someone else who is going through what you encountered.