By Laura Habedank
My life changed forever on Wednesday, October 13, 2010. No one had heard from Brian in days. After a lot of discussion and many frantic, unreturned phone calls, texts and emails, we made the decision to send the police over to his place to do a welfare check. It wasn’t until about 3-1/2 hours later that we heard back from them. That wait was excruciating; but not nearly as excruciating as hearing my Mom say, “Honey, he’s gone.” I hung up the phone and fell to the floor, shaking and sobbing and gasping for breath.
I knew he was going to take his own life. I’ve struggled with that fact every single day in the 3 years since he died. In my mind, having been aware that he had attempted twice before in the previous decade and that he continued to struggle with a fierce depression and feelings of suicidality and still not be able to help him makes me an “accomplice” of sorts. Losing anyone close to you is painful but to lose someone you love at their own hand makes for a very complicated grief. There’s the sadness, the anger, the guilt…the fear you’ll succumb to the same fate out of pure exhaustion from trying to survive the loss. That’s why I was so grateful to have found The Christi Center. I began attending the Tuesday night meetings for suicide survivors only 2 weeks after Brian died; I found myself desperate to talk to others who understood, as I was having trouble talking to anyone else–I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere anymore, I didn’t feel understood and I felt guilty for talking to my friends about it because it seemed to make everyone terribly uncomfortable. I’m also grateful that The Christi Center recognized the need for holding a separate meeting for survivors of suicide; I would have found it very difficult to have been truly open about sharing my grief over Brian’s choice to die while sitting next to someone whose loved one fought valiantly for years against cancer in a desperate struggle to live. And I feared that my grief would have been difficult for them to relate to as well.
I’m not the same person I once was. Some changes have been for the better, some have been for the worse. Some of the less-than-desirable side effects of Brian’s death include panic attacks, a constant feeling of being “different” from everyone else and a crippling and embarrassingly intense fear of abandonment. After 3 years those things still cause me pain nearly every day. On the flip side, I’ve learned a few helpful things having experienced a loss like this–I’ve learned to become far more assertive than I ever used to be. I am clearer about what I will and won’t tolerate in my life. I know what I want out of my relationships and discard the ones that are hurting me or are not serving me well. I have become more compassionate. I’ve learned to not run away from my emotions…I’ve learned that the best way to get to the other side of the pain is to go through it, not around it.
There is a story that Glenn, the leader of the suicide group, told very early on in my attendance at The Christi Center. He told us a story about the buffalo. It was observed that when a storm was approaching, all the other animals would scatter in an attempt to outrun the storm. However, the buffalo instead would turn, face the storm head on and run straight through it. Turns out that, while the more difficult choice, it turned out to be the fastest way through the storm and they instinctively seemed to know that. I think that’s why the story meant so much to me — I felt just like those buffalo. It hurt so much to talk about Brian but in my heart I knew the best thing for me was just to start talking and face my pain head on and not attempt to outrun a grief that no doubt would catch up with me later. The Christi Center offered me a place where I could openly talk about the details I couldn’t share with anyone else and I could sob until my eyes swelled shut and not feel ashamed or out of place or as if I’d “worn out my welcome” for needing to work through my grief by telling the same story week after week. They gave me a safe place to do that and a wonderful group of people with whom to do that.
I still have a lot of grieving yet to do–and I will for the rest of my life–but having the group at The Christ Center really helped set me on the right path for healing my heart.