Monday, December 12, 2016

Why Christmas Hurts So Damn Much For Survivors Of Suicide

I hate Christmas. The mall is full of nothing but women and children. All you hear is "I want this.", "Get me this.", "I have to have this."... and then there's the children. And they're all by my store 'cause they stuck the mall Santa right outside ringing his stupid bell. As if you need a bell to notice a 300-pound alcoholic in a red suit. "Ho, ho, ho," all day long. So, nice as can be, I go outside, ask him to shut the hell up. He takes a swing at me. So I lay a hook into his fat belly and he goes down. Beard comes off, all the kids start crying and I'm the bad guy. - Al Bundy, Married with Children

First of all, I don't hate Christmas. There are some great things about the holiday.  I enjoy having two weeks off from work, Jack in the Box's eggnog shakes, watching my daughter's face light up Christmas morning, hearing John McClain say "Yippy Ki Aye Mother F*cker" to Hans Gruber, my wife's prime rib and mashed potatoes, free flowing booze (the good stuff no less) at her office Christmas Party, Zu-Zu's petals, and who doesn't love seeing Scut Farkus get his ass kicked over and over again as A Christmas Story rolls for 24 straight hours.

For me, and many others like me, Christmas hurts.  It isn't the commercialism, the bickering (Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays), the crowds, the lines, the perpetually happy people or the continuously angry, the parties we don't want to go to, every sitcom doing a spin off of A Christmas Carol, or even commercials featuring shallow adults jumping up and down because Santa brought them a luxury SUV.  For us, it is because we lost a loved one to suicide, and now we are faced with a never ending series of events that we will never get to experience with them.

I understand that other people have lost loved ones, and the holidays are rough for them as well.  I lost my mother unexpectedly in July of 2005, and that first Christmas without her was difficult, and   I know several people that have lost children to everything from accidents to cancer, and for them I pray daily, but for those left behind as the result of a suicide, the pain is usually worse.

Maybe our loss hurts so much because of the sudden trauma of it.  There are those among us that saw the signs, or previous attempts, and were not taken by surprise, but for the majority, it was a sucker punch to the gut.  If Peyton had been hit by a drunk, had his body ravaged by cancer, fallen off his bike and hit his head, or walked into a CVS and been shot by some tweaker trying to steal Sudafed, at least I would have an answer or explanation.  As it stands, I, and many others, have no reason, no explanation, no nothing.  Instead, we spike our eggnog and replay the situation over and over again in our heads.  We sneak off to the bedroom and cry into our pillows.  We watch It's A Wonderful Life and wish our guardian angel would give us a do over.

Many of us survivors of suicide want to skip Christmas all together, but alas, many of us can't. We have other children, family, and other obligations that will not allow us to just walk away.  We are forced to get out ornaments or stockings with our loved ones names,  We shuffle through Christmas cards and pictures with their smiling faces that hid a pain we can't even begin to fathom.  We see a gift at the mall that would be perfect if they were still with us.  We force ourselves to watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer with one child and imagine what it would be like to have our loved one sit next to us in wide eyed wonder one more time.  We look out the window  Christmas morning and see the neighbor's kid in their pajamas and robe riding their new bike only to have to turn away before the painful memories come flooding back and bring us to our knees.  We go to Christmas parties and pretend to be happy only to chug down the free flowing booze in hopes that, at least temporarily, the pain goes away.

So as you travel through your neighborhood looking at the colorful lights, knowing that Shlomo's family doesn't have lights up because they are Jewish, but Cathy's and Hannah's and Cassidy's and Lauren's and Haley's and Issac's and Johnathan's and Grace's and Brandy's and Matthew's and Hunter's and Trayvon's and Jack's and Hunter's and Peyton's families don't have them out because it just hurts too damn much.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Rest In Peace Brandy

'I love you so much just remember that please and I'm so sorry for everything.'  Brandy Vela's final text to her family

On November 29th, the pain became too much for Brandy Vela to bear and she shot herself in the chest while her terrified family looked on.  

The 18 year old senior at Texas City High School had endured relentless online bullying and harassment.  Her tormentors use encrypted apps in order to send her messages, set up false profiles on dating websites saying she was offering herself up for sex.  According to reports, she changed her number, but that didn't stop the harassment.  Eventually, it all became too much, and Brandy felt that the only way to escape the pain was to end her life.  

As I watched the story unfold on the local news, so many memories came flooding back to me, as Peyton had dealt with bullying and harassment at school as well.  But the person I could truly empathize with was her brother Victor.  As he looked into the camera and addressed those who had harassed his sister, "I'm glad you got what you wanted. I hope this makes you happy," but it wasn't what he said, but how he said it.  His voice was full of the anger and sorrow that would be natural in someone who had lost a loved one so tragically, but the look in his eyes told me that who ever bullied his sister to death had better hope that the authorities found them before he did.  

To the Vela family, I can't begin to express my sorrow for your loss.  I can't say I know what you are going through, as we all grieve differently, but I can empathize with you over the senseless loss of a child. The fact that bullying played such a central role makes it more familiar.  I know right now, that it feels as though your whole world has been turned upside down, and you have no idea how you can go on after what happened to your daughter. I can also imagine that you want frontier justice for your daughter, but there is a better way.  

After I found out that Peyton had filed a harassment complaint against another student the day before he hung himself, I was livid, especially when I found out that nothing had been done.  I don't know whose ass I wanted to kick more, the kid who taunted him or the administrator that did nothing.  The desire to inflict bodily harm was there, and at that point, jail did not scare me.  If I couldn't get my pound of flesh, I was also willing to sue the living sh*t out of the district and the parents who had raised a child who would willing harass a stranger.  All I wanted was some one else to suffer the way that I was at that point.  I wanted others to feel pain whether physical financial, or emotional.  Just as you do right now.  

However, over time I realized that no matter how ever much immediate satisfaction I would have gotten dragging an 8th grader, or administrator, into the hall and kicking their ass from one end to the other and back, would not have brought Peyton back.  The blood lust dissipated quickly, and my thoughts turned to putting my own life back together again.   

In fact, when I did speak to the principal of Peyton's school, my thoughts about the young man who had tormented Peyton had changed from violence to concern.  Unless that child was a sociopath, he was going to need help, and lots of it.  I imagined how he felt knowing that he was the final straw that sent Peyton over the edge.  Now he was going to have to spend the rest of his life knowing that he had played a role in the death of some one.  That in itself will be hell enough.  

I also realized that the administrator that dealt with Peyton's complaint had his hands tied by a slaws that all too often allows the guilty to roam free, and a education system more concerned with test scores and public image than with the children they are entrusted with. I am sure that they wish they could have done more to help, and knowing they lost one of their students is a burden they will have to bear. In no way will I ever  be able to forget what happened to Peyton, or what role his tormentors played, but I had to learn to forgive.  I already had enough on my soul without having to deal with the anger and hatred.  I had to learn to turn that into something positive rather than letting it eat away at me.  If I was able to forgive Peyton's tormentor, then perhaps the Vela's will some day forgive Brandy's as well.   

However, to the people that tormented Brandy to death, I do hope that the authorities locate you, and when they do, they prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.  Some one will have to serve as an example, and it might as well be you.  As you sit in jail, let the idea of what you did to Brandy and the Vela's eat away at you.  You were cowards that hid behind technology to torment another human being to the point that they actually thought ending their life was the only solution.  For that, you deserve to be punished.  Perhaps some day, the Vela's and society will be able to forgive you, but let's hope a jury isn't.