There are still days when my heart feels like a plastic bag of broken glass. There are still places where shards poke through their flimsy container, causing tender, hidden areas to bleed. How else can I describe what it’s like to lose four members of my family to suicide in my lifetime, the latest being my younger brother Rodney who decided at the beginning of 2018 that he just couldn’t do another year?
I am not an expert on suicidal thoughts. But they did move into my emotional neighborhood right after my daughter Aiyisha took her life in 2010. She was only 20 years old. That is when William and Lilith Suicide came knocking on my mind’s door posing as concerned neighbors. First, they plied me with emotional espresso, so I wouldn’t be distracted by sleep. Then, as they sat with me, the Suicides patiently explained that if I could just summon up enough courage to throw myself off our third-floor balcony, then all my desperate feelings of separation and loss would magically disappear. Once freed from my body, Bill and Lil promised I would be able to find my lost baby girl in the great beyond.
This made such seductive, logical sense I seriously considered it, but I kept stopping short whenever I asked myself, “Well, what if I mess it up? What if I don’t actually die, just injure myself very badly or end up paralyzed? How will my disabled wife and I live with that?”
After a significant amount of time, I thanked the couple for their concern and showed them out. They seemed disappointed but politely thanked me for listening. They have since moved a few doors down but still reside in my building. Every now and then when I am taking clothes to or from the laundry room and peering over that balcony, I swear I can see Bill and Lil Suicide enthusiastically ushering me over the ledge. Each time they do, I picture myself in a wheelchair that my wife cannot push. I make them go away by calling out in my spirit, “No, not today, not today, not today.”
Some people’s level of sensitivity does not permit them to move through the injuries and pain most of us somehow learn to live with.
There are those who believe people who commit suicide are faithless or weak. I do not. Some people’s level of sensitivity does not permit them to move through the injuries and pain most of us somehow learn to live with. James Kavanaugh wrote, “There are some who are too gentle to live among the wolves.” Others are too bruised and wounded or their resiliency tank is on “E” in a moment of crisis. It is even more difficult for those who struggle with mental illness.
I am not an expert on depression. But I do know Aiyisha struggled with it from her early teens. While I tend to greet each day with excitement, I realize that she very likely did not. I was clueless about the kind of soul-draining effort it took for her to get through each day, especially at the end when she was tumbling from psychic and physical wounds after the breakup of an abusive relationship. It had been too long since she had taken her meds, and there was no counselor in her life to help sort things out. Our last conversations showed she felt a great deal of shame for having “let us down” by dropping out of college to go off with this person. The love we tried to communicate could not get through. She left no note, so exactly what she was thinking remains a mystery. After she was found and rushed to the hospital, she fought to come back to us, but too much damage had been done. She lost this last battle. Did she feel she made an impulsive mistake? Maybe. Do I feel comforted by this possibility? I do not.
I am not an expert on suicide or depression. But I do know how it feels to have a heart of broken glass where shards poke through and cause tender places inside to bleed. I also know when someone dies by suicide the unbearable pain they were carrying alone explodes, and then it becomes a tsunami of suffering whose waves engulf all the people who truly cared about them.
Coming up for air means somehow learning to live with a longing to hold my lost one.
Coming up for air means somehow learning to live with a longing to hold my lost one, if only one more time. It also means dealing with hurtful things that well-meaning Christian people say like, “I don’t know why God is testing your faith.” I never think God is giving me a test, or that God is orchestrating my life’s tragedies.
I am not an expert on God, either. But I do know God gave Aiyisha Lindiwe Asilee Hassan to us through divine joy. God then received her from us with holy tears, a broken heart, and a divine runny nose. She was placed into hands safer than ours, hands much gentler than our own.
God has been using tubes of grace glue to slowly put my shattered heart back together. There are interstices in places where grace joins the pieces, allowing more light to come in than before my heart was broken. In the Japanese ceramic art of kintsugi, it is believed that breakage and repair is a part of the history of an object rather than something to be disguised. Scars are not signs of brokenness but evidence of healing. I know now even cracked glass can reflect divine, perfect light.
God has helped me to be public about my pain so I would not get stuck in the netherworld of secret shame after my loved ones’ suicides. I even know the sound of God’s shouts for joy whenever I resist the Suicides waving and smiling at me and I scamper through our front door, place my back against it, and slowly exhale, breathing out my mantra, “No Bill and Lil, not today, not today, not today.”