Tag Archives: suicide

Words Matter

I didn’t even know the woman, but I bristled when she spoke. Of course, her words weren’t even intended for me and I’m sure she had no idea how capably they would seize my joy and take me back in time to a day I’d rather not remember.

I was standing in the card aisle of a local department store of all places, wrestling with indecision famously. As I read and reread each of the selections I was considering (encouragement for a woman battling cancer and a birthday wish for a dear friend who had moved a world away), I weighed the words contained within each heartfelt message carefully, recognizing their power to connect souls in good times and in bad.

“CARDS DON’T MATTER,” I heard her grouse through clenched teeth, chiding her children who were likely picking out a birthday greeting for a friend or a favorite cousin. “We’ve already gotten a gift, now choose a 99-cent card and let’s get out of here,” she spat, indignation spilling from her lips. “He’ll just throw it out anyway,” she reasoned.

Though a towering wall of Hallmark’s finest separated us and I could see exactly none of what had transpired in the adjacent aisle, the exasperation that wafted over the transom was palpable and left little room for misinterpretation. Without question, it had been a long day and patience was nowhere to be found. Clearly the novelty of traipsing around K-Mart with kids in tow had long since worn off.

Granted, I had been there and done that as a parent, patently consumed by a simple yet impossible wish to be somewhere else in this life besides searching for the perfect gift for yet another Hello Kitty-themed birthday party. That said, I have frequented the brink of insanity while shopping with my brood more often than I’d care to admit, shamelessly enraged by something as ridiculous as a rogue wheel on a cart from hell coupled with my children’s irksome demands: “But we have to smell the smelly markers before we buy them, Mom. We have to make sure they smell juuuust right. And then we have to look for a birthday card with a little dog on it. Wearing a pink tutu. Maddy likes little dogs. And tutus.”

Frustration, I understood.

What rankled me to the core was the premise of this woman’s argument. That “cards don’t matter.” Because sometimes they do.

Like most people who learn of things that are unspeakably difficult to handle, I unearthed this little pearl of wisdom mired in grief and plagued by guilt. As if it were yesterday, I remember rummaging around my brother’s house in the days that followed his suicide, searching for answers or perhaps a tiny glimpse into his troubled world. Granted, I didn’t know him nearly as well as I could have…and probably should have. As I sifted through his CDs and thumbed through his books, eager to gain even a modicum of insight, I stumbled upon a drawer with a handful of cards neatly stacked within. Cards he had saved. Cards that likely meant something to him. Cards filled with words that apparently mattered.

It was at this point, I’m quite certain, that I felt a deep sense of regret and shame, for none of my cards were among those he had harvested. Surely, I had sent him a birthday greeting (or twenty), a congratulatory note regarding his beautiful home or his wonderful job, an irreverent get-well card to brighten an otherwise unenjoyable hospital stay, a wish-you-were-here postcard from Myrtle Beach or the Hoover Dam. Hadn’t I?

Incomprehensibly, I couldn’t remember. All I could wrap my mind around were the missed opportunities and the paltry thank-you note I had written that lay on his kitchen counter. Unopened. The one my four-year-old daughters had drawn pictures on as a way of offering thanks for his incredible generosity at Christmastime. The one that mocked my ineptitude and chided me for failing to mail it sooner…so that he might have read it…and felt in some small way more valued than perhaps he had before. The one that reminded me that words left unspoken are indeed the worst sort of words.

I’d like to think he occasionally sat on his couch and sifted through that cache of cards on a lazy afternoon, warmed by the messages scrawled within—a collection of remembrances worthy of holding close. Likewise, I hope he knows of the countless times since his death that I’ve been overcome with emotion in the card aisle of many a store, pausing in the section marked “brother” to read and reflect on what might have been—an odd yet cathartic sort of behavior.

So as one might expect, the horribleness of that day flooded my mind the very instant I heard CARDS DON’T MATTER. But instead of letting it swallow me whole, I turned my thoughts to why I had come—to find the most ideally suited messages for two special people, knowing they would feel special in turn.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "G" is for Guilt, "S" is for Shame, Love and Loss

Words Matter

I didn’t even know the woman, but I bristled when she spoke. Of course, her words weren’t even intended for me and I’m sure she had no idea how capably they would seize my joy and take me back in time to a day I’d rather not remember.

I was standing in the card aisle of a local department store of all places, wrestling with indecision famously. As I read and reread each of the selections I was considering (encouragement for a woman battling cancer and a birthday wish for a dear friend who had moved a world away), I weighed the words contained within each heartfelt message carefully, recognizing their power to connect souls in good times and in bad.

“CARDS DON’T MATTER,” I heard her grouse through clenched teeth, chiding her children who were likely picking out a birthday greeting for a friend or a favorite cousin. “We’ve already gotten a gift, now choose a 99-cent card and let’s get out of here,” she spat, indignation spilling from her lips. “He’ll just throw it out anyway,” she reasoned.

Though a towering wall of Hallmark’s finest separated us and I could see exactly none of what had transpired in the adjacent aisle, the exasperation that wafted over the transom was palpable and left little room for misinterpretation. Without question, it had been a long day and patience was nowhere to be found. Clearly the novelty of traipsing around K-Mart with kids in tow had long since worn off.

Granted, I had been there and done that as a parent, patently consumed by a simple yet impossible wish to be somewhere else in this life besides searching for the perfect gift for yet another Hello Kitty-themed birthday party. That said, I have frequented the brink of insanity while shopping with my brood more often than I’d care to admit, shamelessly enraged by something as ridiculous as a rogue wheel on a cart from hell coupled with my children’s irksome demands: “But we have to smell the smelly markers before we buy them, Mom. We have to make sure they smell juuuust right. And then we have to look for a birthday card with a little dog on it. Wearing a pink tutu. Maddy likes little dogs. And tutus.”

Frustration, I understood.

What rankled me to the core was the premise of this woman’s argument. That “cards don’t matter.” Because sometimes they do.

Like most people who learn of things that are unspeakably difficult to handle, I unearthed this little pearl of wisdom mired in grief and plagued by guilt. As if it were yesterday, I remember rummaging around my brother’s house in the days that followed his suicide, searching for answers or perhaps a tiny glimpse into his troubled world. Granted, I didn’t know him nearly as well as I could have…and probably should have. As I sifted through his CDs and thumbed through his books, eager to gain even a modicum of insight, I stumbled upon a drawer with a handful of cards neatly stacked within. Cards he had saved. Cards that likely meant something to him. Cards filled with words that apparently mattered.

It was at this point, I’m quite certain, that I felt a deep sense of regret and shame, for none of my cards were among those he had harvested. Surely, I had sent him a birthday greeting (or twenty), a congratulatory note regarding his beautiful home or his wonderful job, an irreverent get-well card to brighten an otherwise unenjoyable hospital stay, a wish-you-were-here postcard from Myrtle Beach or the Hoover Dam. Hadn’t I?

Incomprehensibly, I couldn’t remember. All I could wrap my mind around were the missed opportunities and the paltry thank-you note I had written that lay on his kitchen counter. Unopened. The one my four-year-old daughters had drawn pictures on as a way of offering thanks for his incredible generosity at Christmastime. The one that mocked my ineptitude and chided me for failing to mail it sooner…so that he might have read it…and felt in some small way more valued than perhaps he had before. The one that reminded me that words left unspoken are indeed the worst sort of words.

I’d like to think he occasionally sat on his couch and sifted through that cache of cards on a lazy afternoon, warmed by the messages scrawled within—a collection of remembrances worthy of holding close. Likewise, I hope he knows of the countless times since his death that I’ve been overcome with emotion in the card aisle of many a store, pausing in the section marked “brother” to read and reflect on what might have been—an odd yet cathartic sort of behavior.

So as one might expect, the horribleness of that day flooded my mind the very instant I heard CARDS DON’T MATTER. But instead of letting it swallow me whole, I turned my thoughts to why I had come—to find the most ideally suited messages for two special people, knowing they would feel special in turn.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

5 Comments

Filed under "G" is for Guilt, Love and Loss

Words Matter

I didn’t even know the woman, but I bristled when she spoke. Of course, her words weren’t even intended for me and I’m sure she had no idea how capably they would seize my joy and take me back in time to a day I’d rather not remember.

I was standing in the card aisle of a local department store of all places, wrestling with indecision famously. As I read and reread each of the selections I was considering (encouragement for a woman battling cancer and a birthday wish for a dear friend who had moved a world away), I weighed the words contained within each heartfelt message carefully, recognizing their power to connect souls in good times and in bad.

“CARDS DON’T MATTER,” I heard her grouse through clenched teeth, chiding her children who were likely picking out a birthday greeting for a friend or a favorite cousin. “We’ve already gotten a gift, now choose a 99-cent card and let’s get out of here,” she spat, indignation spilling from her lips. “He’ll just throw it out anyway,” she reasoned.

Though a towering wall of Hallmark’s finest separated us and I could see exactly none of what had transpired in the adjacent aisle, the exasperation that wafted over the transom was palpable and left little room for misinterpretation. Without question, it had been a long day and patience was nowhere to be found. Clearly the novelty of traipsing around K-Mart with kids in tow had long since worn off.

Granted, I had been there and done that as a parent, patently consumed by a simple yet impossible wish to be somewhere else in this life besides searching for the perfect gift for yet another Hello Kitty-themed birthday party. That said, I have frequented the brink of insanity while shopping with my brood more often than I’d care to admit, shamelessly enraged by something as ridiculous as a rogue wheel on a cart from hell coupled with my children’s irksome demands: “But we need to smell the smelly markers before we buy them, Mom. We have to make sure they smell juuuuust right. And then we have to look for a birthday card with a little dog on it. Wearing a pink tutu. Maddy likes little dogs. And tutus.”

Frustration, I understood.

What rankled me to the core was the premise of this woman’s argument. That “cards don’t matter.” Because sometimes they do.

Like most people who learn of things that are unspeakably difficult to handle, I unearthed this little pearl of wisdom mired in grief and plagued by guilt. As if it were yesterday, I remember rummaging around my brother’s house in the days that followed his suicide, searching for answers or perhaps a tiny glimpse into his world. Granted, I didn’t know him nearly as well as I could have…and probably should have. As I sifted through his CDs and thumbed through his books eager to gain even the slightest suggestion of human insight, I stumbled upon a drawer with a handful of cards neatly stacked within. Cards he had saved. Cards that likely meant something to him. Cards filled with words that apparently mattered.

It was at this point, I’m quite certain, that I felt a deep sense of regret and shame, for none of my cards were among those he had harvested. Surely, I had sent him a birthday greeting (or twenty), a congratulatory note regarding his beautiful home or his wonderful job, an irreverent get well card to brighten an otherwise unenjoyable hospital stay, a wish-you-were-here postcard from Myrtle Beach or the Hoover Dam. Hadn’t I?

Incomprehensibly, I couldn’t remember. All I could wrap my mind around were the missed opportunities and the paltry thank you note I had written that lay on his kitchen counter. Unopened. The one my four-year old daughters had drawn pictures on as a way of offering thanks for his incredible generosity at Christmastime. The one that mocked my ineptitude and chided me for failing to mail it sooner…so that he might have read it…and felt in some small way more valued than perhaps he had before. The one that reminded me that words left unspoken are indeed the worst sort of words.

I’d like to think he occasionally sat on his couch and sifted through that cache of cards on a lazy afternoon, warmed by the messages scrawled within–a collection of remembrances worthy of holding close. Likewise, I hope he knows of the countless times since his death that I’ve been overcome with emotion in the card aisle of many a store, pausing in the section marked “brother” to read and reflect on what might have been–an odd yet cathartic sort of behavior.

So as one might expect, the horribleness of that day flooded my mind the very instant I heard CARDS DON’T MATTER. But instead of letting it swallow me whole, I turned my thoughts to why I had come–to find the most ideally suited messages for two special people, knowing they would feel special in turn.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Love and Loss

If Only You Had Known

Today I can’t help but be reminded of that awful chapter in my life…and in the lives of so many who were affected my my brother’s passing. Depression is an unmerciful beast and those who battle mightily against said beast (http://thebloggess.com/2012/01/the-fight-goes-on/) deserve both our deepest compassion and highest praise.

Part of me wants to believe that your death was preventable. That something someone said or did could have kept you from making that horribly irreversible decision to end your life six years ago today. Perhaps if circumstances had been different, you too would be poised to usher in the warmth and sweetness of springtime in a few short months and together we’d be putting winter’s chill behind us.

But another part of me realizes that it couldn’t be so. Too many hardships had come your way and the weight of your world had simply become unbearable. No, I’m not making excuses for what you did. I’m merely slipping into your shoes for a while so that I might come to grips with how ill-fitting they actually were—to shoulder your burden for a time, if only to acknowledge its oppressiveness.

I still long to understand and to “feel” the reality that was yours.

Don’t get me wrong—I don’t find the “what-if-ing” game pleasurable in the least. The pain and sadness I feel as a result of thinking things might be different if this or that had happened is inconceivable. Yet, I persist. And without question, the events immediately following your death led me even further down that path of certain uncertainty—because it revealed to me, for perhaps the very first time, the profoundness of your impact on this world. I just can’t stop wondering if all this could have been avoided if only you had known the true measure of your worth….

Nothing could be clearer in hindsight.

For starters, over the span of the two-day event, more than 1,000 people (YES, ONE-THOUSAND PEOPLE!!!) came to pay their respects, to say goodbye, to offer oceans of comfort—and to share with us how you had touched their lives forever. It soon became very apparent that you had done just that. The endless line of callers, both young and old, snaked its way through the door and all the way out to the street, continuously—for five full hours. That steady stream of mourners endured both the cold and eventually the darkness just to be near you and to deliver those all-important words—that you MATTERED to them. You had made a difference in their lives and would never be forgotten.

Of course, friends and family already knew you mattered. Or at least we thought we had a handle on how greatly you had influenced others. But I doubt anyone could have ever envisioned such an outpouring of love and support—such a tremendous tribute to you as a person. I think it stunned us all. Naturally, I felt proud of the man you had become; but at the same time, ashamed that I hadn’t recognized it myself. I regret not giving you the praise you surely deserved.

Your students were the toughest to console. It was pure agony to look into those sorrowful faces—so young, so innocent and so completely devastated by their loss—and ours. You were their guide, their inspiration and their rock in many cases. Some wore broad smiles and bore the gifts of tales that indelibly touched our hearts—of time you had spent…of lessons you had taught…of hope you had instilled. Others arrived teary-eyed and spent, with loads of baggage and intolerable grief at their sides. Still others carried anger and resentment in their hearts and truckloads of questions on their lips. Tell me, won’t you, how were we to explain the inexplicable? To assign meaning to that which seems completely senseless? To order their disordered worlds—along with our own? It was an impossible task to say the least.

Parents, counselors and staff members were there too—as much for the kids as for themselves. Together we tried to assure them that “things would be okay,” that you “would always be watching over them,” and that they “should continue to try and make you proud.” High schoolers are tough sells, however. No surprise there. They wanted you—not a bunch of words. And a rewind button—not the ugliness that had become reality. It killed me to see so much disappointment and so many broken spirits. I can only hope they’re faring better now.

Needless to say, hugs were plentiful that night as were the tears.

Still more profound…scores of individuals have visited your gravesite, now bursting with the scent of pine and new fallen snow. A multitude of lovely mementos have since joined the dozens upon dozens of sweet-smelling roses that dressed your casket in a blanket of red on the day of your burial.

More recently, I learned that many have driven to the canyon itself—to quietly lay bouquets at its very edge, the site where you willfully and tragically ended it all. No doubt, some felt it more fitting to toss their floral offerings into the cavernous abyss below, so that they might somehow reach what remains of your spirit, now mingling amidst the soft and silent snowflakes.

Some of your students not only left flowers but also carved initials and heartfelt messages into that infamous Grand Canyon railing you breached. Perhaps, to them, it will offer some comforting assurance that their words of farewell will never be forgotten. Nor will the bonds you shared be erased.

More evidence still of your apparent worth on this planet was the bizarre, yet moving turn of events on the morning of your funeral. Oddly enough, a bomb threat, rumored to be in your honor, was made that day. As a result, school was canceled and more people were able to attend your services. Standing room only, as I recall. I have to think this would have made you smile (despite the felony charges that could have been levied against someone who apparently ignored the risk that day).

I truly do wonder…that had you only known how many people would be affected by your absence (and how greatly those same individuals would suffer), you might have decided not to take your own life. But then again, perhaps it was inevitable.

Sadly, we’ll probably never know.

Copyright 2006 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under Love and Loss

Bittersweet

Just completed a survey on grief, which, of course, triggered a deluge of grief all over again–inspiring me to re-post this…

www.melindawentzel.comThey say something good always comes from the bad. I heard that a lot in the weeks and months following my brother’s death. And for a long time I found the cliché positively detestable. I hated hearing what I believed was a lie. As if well-meaning friends and family didn’t know what to say, so they just slapped on something that appeared fitting for the occasion, filling the void with words that not only fell flat, but stung each time I heard them.

How were they to know such statements would do more harm than good? Surely none of it was intended. Maybe they figured the more I heard it, the closer I’d be to believing it. Perhaps they thought I’d be comforted in the knowledge that someday, somehow, someway—something good would come about as a result of losing someone so dear to me. Robotically I nodded my appreciation and understanding and put on a perfunctory smile, but down deep I harbored a sea of doubt.

The sweet scent of his cologne, as I leaned in to kiss him one last time, still lingered in the corners of my mind. The haunting memory of his pale hands, cold and lifeless under the warmth of mine, was as fresh as the marmalade skies last evening—only more indelibly cemented. Thoughts of standing there next to his rose-draped casket and running my hand along its silky oak finish—as if my touch could protect him and keep him near me forever—were still too vivid and too painful to believe something good would ever be a byproduct. The hollow clang of the church bell, singing its sorrowful song, rang ever clear in my ears as did the soloist’s heartfelt rendition of Our Father. I knew then and there that life would never be the same, so to listen to everyone’s spiel on how this would eventually turn into something good seemed to me an asinine thing to do.

Suffice it to say, there was little anyone could say to convince me otherwise. Strangely enough, it was my youngest children who first opened my eyes to the possibility that, in fact, something wonderful could arise from a circumstance so indescribably horrible. All I had to do was drink in the magic of their innocence and undeniable wisdom as it unfolded before me.

Ironically, one of the initial glimmers of hope arrived on the morning of the funeral—although I didn’t view it as such then. My husband graciously shared with me something one of our twins had answered while dressing for the occasion. “Come on, Hon,” he coaxed, thinking it might be a struggle to get one or both to the church in time. “We need to go and send Uncle Jeff to Heaven now.”

“But Daddy, he’s already there,” she stated with an air of assurance far beyond her years, literally stopping my husband in his tracks just long enough to wipe his eyes and marvel at the gravity of her words. “Wow,” was all I could manage in response.

The girls drew special pictures to include as parting gifts for their uncle—ones we promised to tie up with pretty pink ribbons and carefully place next to him, amidst the river of satiny folds lining his casket. “Uncle Jeff’s gonna put ‘em on his refrigerator I’ll bet,” chirped our curly-haired wonder to her blue-eyed counterpart.

“Hey, God doesn’t have just ONE refrigerator, silly; He has LOTS and LOTS! Maybe even 100!” she fired back, prompting a discussion I had never myself imagined having—but they did.

“No He doesn’t; He has MILLIONS!” the other corrected. And so it continued; but not once was it suggested that refrigerators DIDN’T exist there in that special place, or that God hadn’t thought it would be important for uncles to display the artwork of favorite nieces. Maybe that’s precisely what my husband and I needed at that moment—to learn that hope and faith and unwavering belief dwell within beings barely old enough to tie their own shoes. It happened again when they penned letters and expected us to mail them to Heaven. Of course, we did just that—using two “Heaven stamps,” in lieu of tying them to balloons—the preferred method.

Something good had indeed arisen, albeit bittersweet. But sweet nonetheless.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live. Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom.

Copyright 2006 Melinda L. Wentzel

3 Comments

Filed under Love and Loss