2016 was a bitch if you were a celebrity. It seems as though a large part of my childhood passed away. From David Bowie, to Prince, to George Michael, to Carrie Fisher, to William Christopher (the beloved Father Mulcahy on M*A*S*H), faces I grew up with were being shown on the In Memoriam segment at the end of the nightly news. Friends and acquaintances talked about their careers, accomplishments, awards, and achievements. They praised songs, albums, movies, television shows, books, and humanitarian efforts. Others spoke of their ups and downs, highs and lows, battles with drugs and alcohol, and struggles with mental health issues. TMZ and other gossip outlets speculated on the causes of death, talked about the wives, partners, parents, and children left behind, and wondered how their legacies would be remembered and preserved.
Unfortunately, for every Bowie, Fisher, Michael, Christopher, or Prince, there was a Michael Thornton, a Brandy Vela, a Grace Loncar, a Natalie Natividad, or a David Molak. They were all students in the state of Texas that took their lives in 2016. Some of them received media coverage, but were quickly forgotten as other world events, or celebrity deaths and foibles, pushed them to the back pages, and eventually out of the news. Maybe there was a fund raiser, or maybe a foundation or an organization was formed to keep the child's memory alive, but it is a safe bet that those left behind by these suicides, and the approximately 40,000 others in the United States during 2016, were not rocking in the New Year last night.
For the families mentioned above, as well as the others left behind, this was their first holiday season without their loved ones. Many may have just gone through the motions of some semblance of a holiday, especially if there were kids involved. Some may have cut back, choosing moderate decorations instead of going full blown Griswold. Others may have chosen to take a pass on the whole holiday, leaving the decorations in the attic and presents unbought. Maybe they attended a party or two and felt as though every person there was staring at them and judging them. Perhaps they made small talk with old friends while what they really wanted to do was talk about their loved one, but don't want to kill the mood. Maybe they will drive past a packed mall and scream from their car, "How can you go about your lives when my child has killed themselves?" In the week between Christmas and New Year's when so many have trouble remembering what day of the week it is, they may lose track of what year it is. As New Year's Eve nears, perhaps they will make plans, only to cancel them. The thought of being around people having fun becomes less appealing the closer the day gets. If they do go out, maybe it will be a quiet evening. For most the best idea seems to be sitting at home doing nothing.
My first New Year's Eve after Peyton's death was spent at a small party held by a friend of a friend. I had no desire to go. I had made it through Thanksgiving and Christmas, did the obligatory family parties, but I needed a break. I just wanted to stay home and do nothing, unwind, and watch pointless bowl games. Instead I found myself surrounded by people I vaguely or barely knew, ate mediocre pot luck food, and watched grown men come damn close to blowing off fingers while playing with fireworks. As a result, I did the only thing I could think of to feel comfortable, I drank large amounts of vodka to try and ease the pain I was feeling, and it worked until the vodka decided to relocate from my stomach after a couple of hours. I have no doubt that last night, some of those left behind followed in my footsteps and chose to numb themselves.
For those new Survivors of Suicide, 2017 will be very similar to 2016 after they lost their loved ones, and that is a total fog. They will have the painful and inevitable "firsts". They will deal with depression, anxiety, PTSD, self-doubt, anger, guilt, sadness beyond measure, triggers, and so much more. Some days they won't be able to get out of bed. Others will be fine until they are hit by an overwhelming emotional wave and end up crying in their office until they are told to go home. They will feel abandoned and left behind. They will want to throat punch a well intentioned friend because they say something they think is helpful, but isn't. And by the way, all of the aforementioned is okay. They have the right to feel how they want. There is no time table to "get over it" or to "move on".
So as we bid farewell to 2016, we mourn those we have lost. But as we move forward into 2017, lets remember to take care of those that are left behind.