My first day of high school was August 16, 2010. I woke up that morning about an hour before my alarm went off because I was way too anxious and excited. My high school wasn’t too big, so I knew a majority of everyone already. I think I was more excited to just go hang out with all my friends again, honestly. I had friends in almost every class, so I knew I was starting off my freshman year right. It was a great first day, I was happy, and I couldn’t wait to get home and start again the next day.
-A little back story on my family. –
My family, both Mom’s side and Dad’s side, have always been present in my life. My family is my home. I was close with my cousins, my aunts, my uncles, my grandparents, and even distant relatives. We had family reunions almost every year in Fort Pierce, Florida and I ALWAYS looked forward to it. I was close with everyone, but I was very close with my Aunt Melissa, in particular. Melissa is my dad’s youngest sister. We were closer in age than I was with my other Aunt’s and Uncle’s. She was only 8 years older than I was. Melissa lived with us for a handful of years when I was in elementary and middle school. We shared a bathroom, we shared experiences, we shared a life for a while and became even closer. She was basically my other sister. At some point she met a good guy named Ryan. They fell in love, and she moved with him into a cute little apartment just a few minutes down the road. My siblings and I would go stay with her and Ryan for weekends at a time and we clowned around.
-A little back story on Melissa. –
Melissa was rebellious. She was always putting my grandma through the ringer. She was definitely a wild child with a heart of gold. I remember when I was younger my mom would have to go pick Melissa up from her middle school because she was being sent home for fighting, clowning around, or getting in some sort of trouble. I remember she loved to party.
Even when she lived with us, she was a party girl. She always made sure, however, to guide us in the right direction, and not in the direction she was always heading. She loved us kids, and she loved being our Aunt. She always had a smile on her face, she always knew how to make us laugh, and like I previously stated, I felt such a close bond with her. When she met Ryan things started looking up. I could tell she wanted to take life a little more seriously, and eventually start a family. She was even more of a guiding light, and she wanted to be the best she could be.
-Back to my first day of high school. –
My first day went great, like I said I couldn’t wait to get home and talk about it. I couldn’t wait to tell my parents, and tell Melissa how stoked I was to start this new year. I was in the kitchen right after dinner on that night of August 16, 2010, packing my backpack for the next day. My siblings were in my parents’ bedroom with my Mom, getting their things situated for their next day too. As I am packing my backpack, I hear a knock on the front door. I remember I started to walk toward the front door to check who it was, and to open it, when my Dad intercepted me and reached for the door handle. When he opened the door I saw two police officers, a man in a black suit, and my uncle Ryan (Melissa’s boyfriend). Ryan was uncontrollably sobbing, and right then and there I knew something happened to my Aunt. I felt a dark grey feeling wash over me. I got tunnel vision. I snapped back into it though, because my first instinct was to go to my siblings and console them. I knew whatever was about to happen was going to be traumatizing, because it clicked that the man in the black suit was a coroner. With my tunnel vision in tune, and subconsciously putting one foot in front of the other, I walked to my mom’s bedroom. My mom met me at the door and walked right by me to go see who my Dad was talking to. I closed the door behind my mom and told my sister and brother to come to me. I hugged them both and told them something had happened to Melissa, but I wasn’t sure what. I could see the terror in their eyes. That will always remain with me.
I heard my mom scream a very specific scream that I had never heard in my life. That will also always remain with me. I left my siblings to go check on my parents. My mom met me halfway and hugged me. I remember asking her how it happened, and she told me in my ear “Melissa shot herself. She’s gone.” That will remain with me.
After hearing what my mom said, nothing registered. I had never been exposed to suicide, and around that time suicide was never really talked about. I remember being extremely confused as to why she would do something like that. I remember instantly doubting everything. My grief turned to disbelief, and I thought that it was all a dream. “She would never, she could never. Are they sure?” It’s amazing what shock can do to your body and your mental state in such a short notice. The defense mechanisms that your body performs under stress and shock are incredible.
My Aunt made Ryan dinner that night and left it on the table for him for when he got home from work. She then proceeded to end her life minutes later. A note was left, but my parents never let me read it. Probably for the best because from their interpretation of her writing, she seemed to be in a mental state they had never seen her in before. Melissa was 22 years old.
For a while my parents were concerned for me. I became angry, quiet, I would shut myself in my room, put headphones on and listen to music. I tried for so long to shut the feelings out. I didn’t want to feel it because I believed if I felt it, then it would be real. She would really be gone. However, that WAS the reality. She was gone. Well, one day when I started to feel it, I let myself really feel it. I examined my emotions, I analyzed my emotions, and I started to dig into the questions that I had. The questions that I had never gotten closure to. It’s probably why I was so angry all the time. Instead of searching for the “why”, I started searching for the “who”. As in WHO my Aunt Melissa was behind this facade. I started looking into her past, her upbringing by her father (who was different from my Dad’s, they only shared the same mother), and her friends. I started to connect the dots that she constantly had self-doubt. I remember sometimes when she would talk to me, she would talk badly about herself. She was somewhere else in her own head, and she felt that she would be a burden by seeking help. She was just always the type to put on a happy face and push on until she no longer could contain these overwhelming feelings. She was always such a bright light to me and everyone she knew.
I think about it often, thinking that I wish we all would have known or acted upon finding her real help. Not the “help” she thought she was getting from alcohol, drugs, or lust. What saddens me the most is the time I have lost with her, and that time has continued to push on. Time is not forgiving and will wait for no one. Since then, I have gotten married, graduated college, bought a house, and many other significant life moments. I have thought of her every step of the way. What saddens me the most is I wish I could go back and tell her to just give it One. More. Try. I wish I could tell her how important she was to me, and how critical her guidance was through the most developmental, cognitive moments of my life. How important her friendship was, how great of a friend she was, and how wonderful of a soul she was.
With all of the “should haves”, and all of the guilt we all tend to feel when losing someone to suicide, we need to remember that feeling that way is normal. There is no “book of grief” that we must follow. What is important, however, is how we learn from these situations, and how we readjust our ways of thinking. What this situation has done for me personally, especially being only 14 years old at the time, was make me realize that people don’t need to be expressively depressed, injuring themselves, sad, seeking attention, or showing severe signs of mental illness to be in a state where they make the choice to take their lives. I learned that a lot of people suffer alone, and they mainly do so to avoid dragging others down with them. Personally, in my opinion, that doesn’t make any victim of suicide a coward.
All I can really say is… pay attention to your loved ones, pay attention to what is going on in their lives. Pay attention to their stories, to their body language. Pay attention. Never be afraid to speak up and talk with them. Always give them the option to give life One. More. Try.
-UDC Wellness Expert, Kate Curtis