Life is full of uncertainties, difficulties and change. These unavoidable bumps in the road are the things that build character. While the mind realizes this, the heart longs for the comfort of surety. We choose the lane that offers the smoothest ride and look for the signs that warn of the danger of construction, detours, uneven lanes and speed bumps. There is great comfort in certainty and for most of my life I lived smugly within the predictable pages of my fairy-tale existence. The occasional disruptions were short-lived and only served to make the rest of the story more interesting because everyone knows that fairytales end with “happily ever after.” On April 24, 2013 my storybook life came to an abrupt ending when our oldest son, Taylor, took his life with absolutely no warning at the age of 27. It is a day forever deeply etched in life of our family. It is history only in that it was a life changing event, but a past that forever haunts and influences our present and future.
Suicide – such an ugly word. A word that even in my worst nightmare I never expected to be spoken in regard to my perfect little family dream. After all, we are financially privileged, well-educated and faithful Christians. I prayed daily for our children. I was the stay-at-home mom who taught Sunday School, was an active member of the PTA board, and team mom. Our house was the place where the kids hung out and called me Momma Prince. Our older 3 boys were well on their way to successful lives and the younger 4 were still keeping us busy at home. Yep, it’s the stuff fairy tales are made of.
On October 6, 1985 Tim and I welcomed our first son. I was so proud, but at the same time so scared. I remember walking in the house with him for the first time and thinking, “Oh my! This isn’t a baby-sitting job. I am responsible for this little life. We entrusted him to God and prayed that he would become a man after His own heart. Not that we never made mistakes, but we did our best and Taylor made it easy to be parents. He seemed to have been born an old soul with wisdom and understanding beyond his years. He was compassionate, brilliant, and a gifted musician. His energy and charisma drew people to him and he was a source of joy for all those he encountered. But, while he was a light to hundreds who called him friend, no one knew his battle with darkness. The Mr. Perfect kept his pain, secrets, fear and despair hidden behind a mask of laughter, service and a gregarious personality. When a crack in that mask threatened to expose the small piece of darkness that exists in all of us to some extent, Taylor let the devil convince him that the darkness would supersede his good.
He came to visit me only hours before. I knew that he was hurting and dealing with feelings of guilt and regret. But, he told me that for the first time in a couple of weeks, he actually felt hope. Three hours later I found him. A sound erupted from me unlike any I had ever made, a wail of lament as my heart shattered into a million pieces. And so began our life detour of complicated grief.
All grief drapes its heavy cloak that threatens to smother you and comparisons of grief would be inappropriate, for the worst grief is your own. Complicated grief adds another layer to the cloak because not only do you grieve the loss and its immense sorrow, but you must also face the trauma associated with the loss. The grief becomes overwhelming and seems unending. It catapults you into the territory of an invisible enemy where anger, guilt, and disappointment rage and unanswered questions bombard. Where shame leaves you exposed and abandonment seems to leave you alone in the fight. The battle is fierce and unrelenting and exhaustion makes the fight more difficult. The casualties of the war are many.
I have learned a great deal in the past three years. The lessons are difficult and I have in no way mastered them. There are still daily skirmishes in the battle. Some of these can be fought alone, but some others require the support of family and friends who willingly fight beside me and tend my festering wounds. They serve as the hands and feet of a Savior who was also wounded in battle but won the war. I am a casualty of this earthly war that was not of my choosing, but I will not let myself be defeated. Grief is a formidable foe and shame is a bully, but God is my shield. I am slowly beginning to pick up the shards of my shattered heart. Gradually I work to piece them together with a mortar of God’s grace and love that He has mixed with my tears of sorrow. I’m not sure what it will look like. One thing is certain, it will never look like the old me. It is a work in progress and the completion date won’t be until we reach Heaven’s victory party.
In the meantime, let’s fight together.
PS: Over the next several weeks I hope to address topics that deal specifically with suicide. I would appreciate your prayers. It is such a difficult subject, but in the last 4 days I have had three people contact me about friends who have lost loved ones to suicide. Only someone who has walked its ugly path can offer words of comfort. Feel free to message me.