Yesterday I wrote on my website about life eighteen months after losing my oldest son Anthony to suicide. It is Suicide Awareness Month and while I do not think I have much to offer in the prevention advice department, I do have a lot to say about what life is like after losing someone you love to suicide.
Anthony was more than just someone to me. He was my best friend, my little brother since I had him so young and my firstborn. He and I were very close his entire life up until he got sick a little less than a year before his suicide. Losing him left a giant crater right in the middle of my life.
When he first died I thought of myself being in a dark hole but the truth is that the hole is the center of my life and most of my time is spent staring at it in disbelief that the bomb that was Anthony’s death really happened. I have slowly begun to build around that hole.
Something that has really helped me start living again is fixing my hair. I know that sounds crazy and probably a little vain to some people, but it is not about vanity really. And in some aspect, it isn’t even about Anthony’s suicide totally. It is about the before.
Before Anthony died I was pretty depressed myself. I did not really know it at the time and I did not know it for a long time after Anthony died because the depression went right alongside my grief even though it had been there first and for a long time before grief ever came into the picture.
I began to let myself go when my husband’s parents died. First, it was his mom and then two years later it was his dad. Shortly after his dad’s death, his best friend died and all hell broke loose in my family. That is when I started trying to gain control of everything around me out of fear of losing my fairytale. That is what I considered my life when I married my husband. We had known each other as kids and found each other after seventeen years and two failed marriages. We became Catholic, got married in the Church, all our seven kids received their Sacraments and we began our Happily Ever After.
Then Death showed up over and over and over. When our marriage began to fall apart due to grief, addiction, codependency and just an overall failure to understand how to be in relationships, I started to stop taking care of myself.
I stopped getting my nails done, my hair cut, buying makeup or wearing real clothes. I wore the same clothes I slept in and I slept in them for days. I didn’t leave the house and I had no friends other than the ones I had online. Most of those ended up being solid friendships but what none of those friends could see was how I was masking everything flying out of control in my life by arguing with strangers in their comment sections. They also could not see what I looked like.
I was eating my feelings and soon I could no longer fit in any of my t-shirts or yoga pants. I outgrew my freakin’ yoga pants ya’ll.
During all this time Anthony noticed that I was a mess. He would look at me and ask “what is happening to you mom?” as I was looking at him and saying “please get some help, there’s something wrong”. Both of us were in crisis and neither of us admitted it to ourselves or each other.
The day that Anthony died was the worst day of my life. Trying on pants at JC Penny because I could not wear my yoga pants to his funeral was not fun at all. I kept thinking how stupid I was to be worried about how much weight I had gained when my son was in a morgue and how that made me such a shitty mom, but that is where I was. In a dressing room crying over my dead son and how I could not fit into a pair of jeans anymore.
After his funeral, I stopped wearing makeup for anything. I wore yoga pants to Mass and I didn’t even care if people judged me. Every shirt I owned ended up with a bleach stain on it because I was also rage cleaning and for a Hispanic grandmother that means using a lot of bleach. I wore those bleach stained shirts out in public without caring. I didn’t cut my hair for a year after Anthony’s funeral. I looked exactly how I felt: like shit. I gained another forty pounds.
All of this was an outward expression of an inner condition and that inner condition was me thinking that I did not matter. I stop taking care of myself way before Anthony died and then after he died I just stopped even caring about myself altogether because I believed that I did not deserve to be taken care of. I did what I had to do to take care of everyone else, but I didn’t lift a finger to care for myself.
A few months ago that all changed when I joined a gym. A priest told me that I needed to find a way to release all of the anger I had built up inside me and there was a lot of it believe me. When I thought about my options in how to release it all, I realized that I have a lot less options now that I am Catholic and a suburban housewife.
I am not able to punch people in the face like I used to, drinking myself stupid was also not an option, dancing on speakers and sleeping with strangers was off the table too so it seemed like going to the gym was really the only valid option I had. By the Grace of God, I ended up at a new gym in town where I got the first month free and a month free for anyone who signed up to the gym and put me down as a referral. I got two people to sign up so that is two months free! SCORE
In the six weeks since I started going to work out, I have felt myself let go of so many things. I have lost weight and can fit into my non-bleach stained shirts and I can wear real pants again. I have started fixing my hair and putting on basic makeup for the day which makes me feel like I am a person participating in life rather than someone who wants to disappear. I feel all around better about myself and realize that everyone in the world can love me, but if I do not love and care for myself then it doesn’t matter because nobody but me can make choices about how I am going to live this life.
Anthony was very much into lifting weights and working out and he always wanted me to go to the gym with him. So this is also something I am doing for him. It is a small part of my old life that I can keep in my new life. I recognize myself when I look in the mirror as his mom and not some disheveled crazy person who wants to die.
Fixing my hair is a tiny sign that I am alive and that I did not die with Anthony. My life will never look the same. I do not want it to ever look the same. I want the hole to always remind me of what I lost the day I lost Anthony but I can do that and still live a happy life. Both of those things mean that Anthony matters. He matters enough to miss and he matters enough to live for.