Can you really ever function like “normal” when you have lost a child? They didn’t go to Grandma’s for the Summer. They aren’t away at School. No extended foreign exchange programs or any other plausible situation that would keep them from home. No Calls. No texts or replies on Facebook. There is simply nothing. They are not here anymore.
Brendan died. Brendan is dead. Brendan has passed. Brendan is lost. Brendan is gone. No matter how I say it, I cannot really grasp it. I don’t want to. Every time I give credence to the truth, I fall into a seemingly black hole of despair. Thus, I move from one day to the next. Trying to forget that I have not heard from him since that day. Trying to forget that I have not heard from him in 6 months. Six Months without as much as a text. Seeing it in print as I attempt to convey these complex emotions into printed form is completely overwhelming. My heart has propelled in my throat like a jumbo jet launching from O’hare airport. Churches, friends, colleagues, politics and everything involving the planet has dissolved into a blur.
My head swims with every decision I have ever made. No matter how many times I question my parental actions, I never question what my life’s new purpose has become. My son’s free spirit and all loving legacy will be cemented by the long-lasting community outreach through his foundation- The Brendan’s Smile Foundation.
When his foundation was conceptualized, I didn’t realize how much the political and socio-economical dynamics of the community influences the notion of Suicide. It is a leading cause of death and Illinois is ranked NUMERO UNO for attempts. Why didn’t I know that? Did the schools know? His poor High School was getting hit particularly hard. FOUR SUICIDES ATTEMPTS IN 2 MONTHS! Three of them were completed. Where was the Emergency Broadcast System? Haven’t we been forced to endure that obnoxious technicolor eardrum bursting alarm for the past 50 years? At a minimum, I expected the school district to issue talking points to the parents and teachers. I saw nothing. Sickened, I made 3,000 flyers and walked door-to-door. Our Grassroots campaign was born.
People thought I was crazy. Technically, they were correct. Now, I can look back and chuckle at the thought that my child finally drove me to the Nuthouse- Not to belittle the situation or the importance of mental health. Unbeknownst to me, Operation “Save Shawn” was in full swing. After “graduating” from the hospital psych ward, I was admitted to the hospital partial hospitalization everyday from 9am-3pm for major depression disorder and complicated grief. My parents took shifts in the evenings. My mother stayed at the house from Sunday Night to Thursday. My father ran the shift from Thursday to Sunday for 3 months. Yes, for three full months, my parents and husband vigilantly protect me from me. Regulating my medication, hiding the alcohol, making sure I ate and slept properly, they did it all. If it wasn’t for the help of medically trained professional, prayers, and love from my family and real friends, I would not be here today.
Presently, it still takes all of my strength to perform life’s mundane tasks. Grief is exhausting. By month 6 of my son’s passing, I have tried several coping mechanisms. I previously mentioned the ‘hiding the alcohol’ earlier in this post. The first coping skill was that timeless classic. Alcohol is a dangerous tool. The reason why is pretty obvious. Fast, Cheap, available at the closest store near you, most importantly, IT WORKS! Who doesn’t love a margarita for Cinco de Mayo? TEQUILA!! After a bottle of Tito’s, I can sufficiently tolerate the aroma of my putrid body odor and pass out without crying out to God in pain. Jack and Tito were my best friends. Always there to drown my sorrows and numb the senses. It was great. Alas, all good things must come to an end. Especially when the good thing involves a depressant, like alcohol, after you have been diagnosed with Depression- No bueno. In a nutshell, my process with alcohol looked like this… Step 1, convince yourself that you are functioning like “normal”. How in the world could I have a problem? I am just trying to cope with the death of my child. Do you know what it takes to be able to get dressed? Please don’t mention my neglected hair. Step 2, try to justify the consumption. How dare anyone question my methods? It is only the small bottles. Alcoholics drink big bottles. Step 3, Listen to your mother tattletell to your therapist that you are an alcoholic. Step 4, Said therapist tells you that your depression will get worse if you keep drinking. Get worse? How can it get any worse? I would rather take off my clothes and roll naked on cactus-covered football field than experience a worse version of my depression. Thus, I quit and replaced it with Flyering.
Flyering to the Rescue
What is the Flyering? I coined the phrase, Flyering, when I initially started the grassroots campaign. Through Parking Lots and Gated Neighborhoods, I went out every day to try to bring suicide awareness to our community. I was Tom Cruise on Mission Impossible. I tiptoed past security guards in gated communities and hurried through school parking lots. All with the mission of trying to place as many flyers on cars and mailboxes as humanly possible. If the community was going to turn a blind eye to this epidemic, I was going to turn it back. I met so many supportive people. Those shared stories of loss, resources, and mental illness have largely helped focus our goals as an organization today. Not all experience were positive. Even in my own circle of relationships, the criticisms never cease to amaze me. Selfish and Not A Real Parent tend to stick out the most. My all time favorite was at Christ Church of Oakbrook.
Not the Church Too
My son loved Christ Church of Oakbrook. He had attended for several years and his final services wer held in its sanctuary. After trying to correspond with the youth minister and several others, I decided that instead of trying to work within the confines of the church I would simply put flyers out in the parking lot during service. No big deal. People can look at the information and make their own determinations. Shortly after I started placing the flyers on the cars, a parking lot security guard questioned my activity. After he obtained clearance from the church attorney (who knew that the church has an attorney on staff for Sundays), I was given the official go ahead. About 20-30 minutes later, some old white haired self entitled brute started to remove the flyers from the cars. That’s weird. Why would he do that? I never got his name, but I can vividly remember the brown sportcoat and an Alabama tie. Marching toward me with his chest puffed up like a peacock during mating season, this poor excuse of a Christian, told me to collect the flyers from the cars, leave, or face arrest. Yep, the CHRISTIAN church elder threatened to forcibly remove a grieving mother from the parking lot by armed men. Nice. Very Nice. I am sure that is exactly what Jesus would do. Asshole
The Answer is Yes
Why is it always a struggle to create social changes for the better? Why is the idea of better so diametrically deposed from one group to another? Do we need to really create an entire social movement to convince our each other that validating mental illness is a necessity for our country’s prosperity? Yes, parents need to know the risks and how to prepare our kids. Yes, teachers should know the signs of a mental health decline. Yes, first responders should be trained to assess for mental illness and provided resources. Yes, I should be provided a HIPAA waiver for my adult child in cases of illness, injury or threat of life. Yes Yes Yes. Looking at every social change we have experienced in this country, it required a fight. Fighting for Civil Rights and Gender equality have been ongoing battles for the last 100 years. How far have we gotten? How long will it take to make a difference in mental illness? We already know that half of our federal government voted to decrease mental health availability this year. People ask how long are you going to do this. It must hurt. Yes, it hurts. Every 40 seconds another mother, spouse, or brother is hurting from the same loss- a suicide loss. That hurts even more.