When I was very young, I fell in love with a guy for the first time. He was older, a kid my dad sponsored in Alcoholics Anonymous. I didn’t understand much about the complications of his young, addiction-addled life. I only knew that he was the first guy who knew me for who I really was and liked it. He treated me like an equal, like an interesting and precious human being deserving of attention. I fell hard, full of innocent hope and optimism. Then he killed himself.
It was one of the most difficult experiences of my life, and I went through it at such a young age. It was awful, but it made me who I am. Here are some of the lessons I learned from dealing with the suicide of a loved one:
- It taught me to be okay with showing pain. I was too young to know any better, so I wore my scars on my sleeve. I told people around me what had happened, not because I wanted pity, but because how else would I explain away my tears? It was horrible, and it was sad, and it affected me deeply. I don’t know if I ever truly recovered. I was a sweet young mess, still in eighth grade, trying to cope with losing someone I cared about very much. I couldn’t help but express that.
- I learned to express myself through writing. This was perhaps the first time in my life that I used writing to cope with my struggles. I wrote a book of poetry as a project for my English class, and if I could find that book now I’m sure it would make me bawl. I’ve always communicated best with the written word. It took me a long time to figure that out, but looking back, I see that it all started with trying to suss out my gut-wrenching pain over my friend’s death.
- I began to understand the impermanence of life. It was a harsh lesson, once which sadly I would revisit again over the next few years. People die. It’s the way of the world. No matter when or how, it’s gonna hurt. It’s easy to think that you should keep yourself from loving others because you’re going to lose them, but is that any way to live? Better to appreciate the short time we all have on this earth and never take it for granted.
- It helped me to grow spiritually. I had never had much need of a spiritual base in my life until then. I was very young, and I didn’t understand any of that very well. Suddenly, I was bereft and searching for meaning. Why had this happened? Why would he do this to those he loved? Why would the world take him away from us? They were big questions, and I was suffocating under their weight. I had to began searching for some sort of comfort that was larger than myself. I found spirituality the hard way.
- I learned that life is too short to pretend I don’t care. It doesn’t just apply to caring about someone else romantically. I mean caring, period. Life is worth giving a lot of damns about, because we only get a short time to accomplish so many things. It’s okay to be yourself and have a voice. It’s okay to speak up for your passions, whether those be hobbies or causes or other people. Care deeply and wholeheartedly and fiercely. There’s no other way to be.
- It taught me to be caring and sensitive towards those in mental and emotional pain. It was an important and valuable lesson to learn at a young age. I have a great deal of pain of my own, so I never judge those who are going through their own crap. It’s always best to carry compassion and understanding in your heart. You never know when it will be you going through some horribly heavy times.
- It showed me how horribly suicide affects those left behind. Ironically, I’ve struggled with depression and suicidal tendencies for most of my life. While it is sometimes difficult to manage, I’ve never been able to stomach the idea of actually going through with harming myself. I watched the way my first love’s suicide affected his friends, his family, and my father. I went through the aftermath of it myself. How could I possibly put that burden on anyone that I care about? I couldn’t, and I believe that knowledge saved my life more than once.
- It made me tough. Like it or not, hard times made me stronger. I went through a lot of rough stuff as a kid and teenager. It made me who I am today. I have definitely had to spend time in therapy to break down the walls I’ve built. At the same time, I’m resilient and loving and fierce and devoted. I’m a fighter. I’ll never let anyone tear me down, because I’ve worked too hard to survive.
- It made me closer to my father. My dad and I have always been tight, but going through a tragedy together strengthened our relationship. We were both dealing with our own pain, but somehow managed to be there for each other. I could never do to him what my first love did. I saw how it broke his heart. I saw the guilt and sadness he felt, and still feels, every single day. I saw him break down, and cry, and it taught me that it’s okay to have emotions even when you’re a grown-up.
- I learned to appreciate the people who are in my life here and now. The biggest lesson of all was that time is fleeting and life is short. You have to see and value what you have while it’s right in front of you. It may not be there tomorrow. I make sure to show the people I love that I care about them as frequently and genuinely as I can. There’s no point in wasting time pretending you care about those you don’t. I put my energy into being my honest self and loving those I’ve chosen as fiercely and honestly as humanly possible. I know that he would be proud of that. I know that he’s proud of me.