loss

Bell Let’s Talk Day

In 2012 I witnessed a suicide at work. Most of you know this (and are probably sick of this story. Too bad. The perks of being friends with me is I get to annoy the living shit out of you fuckers.)(you’re welcome!). I talk about it because *I* need to talk about it, but also people need to hear it. I’ve had people, complete strangers, tell me that my talking about it made them second guess their own suicides. They had never considered what their suicide would do to other people. They never considered what their suicide would or could potentially do to a stranger or their families. In essence, my talking about it helped a few people choose life.

I witnessed a suicide at work and it sent me into my own depression and PTSD. It is absolutely terrifying feeling so empty inside, feeling nothing, feeling like you could die and not caring either way. It is terrifying not feeling love, happiness, sadness. It is equally terrifying for loved ones to witness this absolute emptiness. They feel helpless and don’t know how to help.

The worst part of witnessing the suicide, besides the obvious witnessing OF the suicide, was that I worried I was taking too much time off work. I was worried about what my coworkers were thinking and saying about me. I was worried they were thinking I was milking the system. Did they review the cameras and watch me? Did they judge me? Did they laugh? Was my pain amusing to them? Did they have sympathy? How insulting to my own mental health that I even took their opinions into consideration.

After taking 5.5 shifts off work, I went back. While I was off work, only one person contacted me to see if I was ok (besides two lawyers at the firm where she worked). I get it. What the fuck can you possibly say to someone who just watched someone plunge to their death, who watched a life extinguish, who watched one of the worst things happen. How I wished they’d tried. Nothing makes you feel more isolated than having people not reach out to check on you when they know you’re suffering.

The first shift back was the most horrible day at work. I could feel all eyes on me and I felt such an intense pressure. I felt like everyone was judging me. It’s unfair that I thought so negatively of people, my coworkers, some of whom I consider family, but when you ARE so isolated and hurting so horribly, you don’t think logically. Having my two bosses greet me back at work, however, made the day harder in a good way. Having them there to make sure I was ok and that I was ready to return, those fuckers made me cry.

Please please please know that you are not alone. That you are loved. That I need you, if you are considering killing yourself or if you are suffering alone, to take a second and think of me.

*picture included is a week after the suicide. I’d slept just over 20 hours over the course of one week (the average human should get 55-63 hours of sleep a week).

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Double Helix

All at once, I am overwhelmed. I have been so horribly distracted by cancer that I have been able to avoid the coming of this day.

I knew it was coming, it was an inevitability, as time always is. But to be distracted from this day in this way. It’s not how I wanted to be distracted. It’s not how I wanted to not feel this crushing heaviness. And yet it’s been there the whole time, getting heavier and heavier, as it always does, until it finally breaks like a migraine. The pain finally ceases to exist, I can feel more clearly and without weary.

I was doing fine, opening doors, passing windows, seeing faces, and then there it was, so abrupt. Walking up a flight of steps and I couldn’t breathe and you were there. Just there and I could no longer avoid you. I could no longer pretend that we weren’t here, in this place, with these emotions. We were here, as we seemingly always have been.

I stopped to try and catch my breath while the tears fell, my hand on the freezing cold bannister, becoming colder and colder, but I’m so lost in emotions that I barely registered the cold until it became painful. Even then I could barely lift my hand from the rail. I was frozen in place, forced to face emotions I’d not been prepared to deal withd, emotions I knew were down there, emotions I tried to put off, so they were hidden in a box labelled “Stephanie”. I’d been too busy, distracted, worried about other things and so you were stuffed into a box, meant to be dealt with another day, hopefully, possibly much later than today, hopefully, possibly, never having to deal with again. But it always surfaces today. It’s always here. You’re always here. We always are.

No matter how much time passes, no matter how many days go on, no matter where I am, whether I think I’m ok or not. Today I am not ever going to be ok. Today will always be Today. You are still no longer here, I was still your witness, and I am still building walls with my tears, your loss the foundation. Today will always be those things. Your loss, your pain, your life. Today will always be about you and how your life affected me. How your death changed me.

How intertwined our parallels will always be.

Recovering

Sitting here, on the 14th floor in the break room, the wind is pushing against the patio doors. It sounds across between someone is pulling violently on the door to be let in – which is creepy because it’s 4:44 in the morning, and I am alone – and a slam of a body hitting the pavement.

You come back to me when I least expect it. As often as I think of you, willingly, unabashedly, and as easily as I would scratch an itch, it’s the times when sounds and smells remind of your death that I find most shocking. When I’m reading a book and I heard a deafening thud, or walking down the street and it smells like worms, when I see someone who resembles you. Which I’ve been doing a lot of lately. Women I encounter and their faces are similar to yours. Bright smile, but sad, as well. I wonder if they, too, have a depression they’re hiding from the world. You come to me in these unexpected moments and it causes my heart to skip a beat. Like I’ve somehow forgotten the past 6 years. (Writing that down makes me pause. Has it only been six years? It feels like much longer. Like I’ve lived with you for the whole of my life)

I am grateful for your sister. I worry that my thoughts and feelings about you, that people don’t want to hear them. That my pain is a burden. That if I were to talk about you, how I feel, how I’m trying to cope, trying to recover, that I’d just be annoying them. That they would listen to me only because they feel guilty for not wanting to listen. And whether they actually feel this way or not, I don’t know. It’s my perception. But I know your sister doesn’t judge me. She’s there for me on a level I can’t even truly put into words. Its something I can’t describe at all. I know that we are forever bonded by you. It’s because of her that I was able to let go of so much pain. I was finally able to breathe when she emailed me. She brought me peace. A peace I never would have found on my own.

I am still recovering but I know that it’s ok. She makes it ok.

Letting Go…

Tattoo Day, in pictures. It was too image heavy to send in an email – I kept trying but it kept freezing up the app.

Sewing on the go train.

My view into the city.

Carbing up in Union Station. You need a good amount of carbs in your system, otherwise your blood sugar levels can crash – essentially you’re putting your body through trauma so it’ll fight what it deems to be an attack on the system. Some people report being extremely healthy after a tattoo session because the body is fighting to protect itself and thus becomes stronger immunity wise.

In the subway for a quick three stop ride. Normally I would’ve walked it but we’re pressed for time here.

Ugh. So much for pressed for time. Construction on Dundas!! That means I’m on a bus and buses make me pukey with how jerky and overheated they are. Also, construction. I hope I’m not late!!

So I didn’t get a shot of the front door. Oops. Also I made it on time!

Here’s what we’re covering up. It’s a 21 year old, poorly applied tattoo. I *could* have had it fixed but … that seems like too much work.

Here’s a panorama of the tattoo shop inside, where the tattoos actually get applied. The front of the shop is not visible in this picture but there are gorgeous plants out there that Ben (co-owner) is a master of taking care of. He’s the plant whisperer!!

Jacqueline’s area is in the corner on the far right, against the wall.

Note how it looks more like an art studio than the typical tattoo shop. It’s clean, friendly, and inviting.

Alright. This is the stencil. We’ve applied it to the leg but she’s realized the entire old Tattoo won’t be covered so she’s going to draw a leaf or petal with a toothpick and then she’ll trace the lines to cover that area.

Meet Jacqueline!! She reminds me of my friend Kate. You spend the day with either of them and they’re like the antidote to a shitty world or a shitty day. You leave there feeling lighter, refreshed, cleansed of the bullshit you don’t realize you’re bogged down with. I could spend all day with J. She’s incredible people. I know you’d love her.

Alright. It’s go time. Are you ready??

Outline of the flower is done. We chose purple because we needed to cover up the blue but we used four different kinds of purples…so it’s got depth and it’s just so pretty.

The flower is done!! You can’t even tell there was a crappy tattoo there before!! Also, her green leaves are incredible. I don’t know if this picture does it justice.

Switch positions and onto the hands, water, and petals. So this is a tender spot and where I start trying to find a way to accurately describe what a tattoo feels like after 6 hours. And I’ve got it. The burn you felt during a vaginal delivery is how a Tattoo feels after 6 hours. Raw. Hot. Sharp. You start attempting each Lamaze breathing exercise you know, and you invent your own, and then you have to remind yourself to continue to breathe.

The hand of the survivors with water flowing through their hands and fingers. Water is cleansing the soul, flowing through the fingers and it represents letting go.

Omg are we done yet ha ha she’s getting more ink for the hand of the one who has passed on. I’m sure my face was hilarious around this time.

Ok, here we go. We’re nearly done. She’s just doing the last of the hand now. The next four pictures are the completed Tattoo.

You can see how swollen my skin is. I don’t bleed much, I hold colour extreeeeeemely well, but I swell up like a balloon as soon as the machine turns on.

A lot of symbolism can’t be seen. The flower petals that have fallen are actually lighter in colour than those ON the flower, representing a loss of life over time, as time passes. The hand that is barely visible represents the hand of the lost loved one, always a reminder that she’s there, in my life, and always a part of me, of us. She unites us, in what was a hard and awful way but is now a beautiful way – there’s love, respect, friendship, and perhaps a need, too. I don’t know what I would’ve done without this friendship. It has made my burden easier to carry.

And so while the Tattoo looks sad, it’s about letting go of that sadness. Recognizing what happened, and not necessarily moving on (because I don’t know that you can), but accepting it for what it is. It will always be there but it doesn’t have to be a burden anymore. At least for me. It’s a transformation. Love, water, life, and death.

Unresolved 

When you witness a suicide, you’re changed forever. You’re altered. It’s almost as if your DNA has been changed because things are no longer the same. The way you think, the way you feel, the way you approach life. The things people say. What once meant nothing to you now has more meaning than breath itself. Because sometimes you are left breathless by the tiniest of happenstances. 

I navigate around tall buildings and size them up. Where is the roof? Where would a body land should someone decide to kill themselves? I approach my own and plod forward, pushing myself to walk where she died. At times I am sleep deprived, still afraid of silence, still waking up to non-existent people standing over my bed. I still feel her around me, no longer a pest but a guide. It is not actually her that I feel but the shadow of her, burned into my soul. She is with me, always. 

Tonight, so close to her anniversary, a contractor needed access to the very roof she used to end her pain. I asked one of her (former) coworkers where the roof access was and advised there’d be contractors accessing the roof. 

I don’t know if they’re as hyper aware of people being on the roof since she died but I know I would be were I them. 

But then the contractor jokingly said to the coworker that when they were done they’d jump off the side of the building. 

Something changes inside you when someone you know kills themselves. You are forever altered. And the look on her coworkers face was evidence of that. He is forever altered. I bit my tongue and didn’t tell the contractor off because how was he to know? How could he? You don’t know what another person has seen or felt and we cannot traipse around the world, for all our given years, on egg shells. Life is meant to be lived, enjoyed, loved. A simple comment that has such intense meaning for us but none to him. It shouldn’t be held against him. 
And yet, it affected me still. More than I wish it could. And so I cried, losing my appetite as my tears fell into my pasta, I cried because I so wish his comment and her death could wash over and away from me. There is no 12 step program to death and grief. There’s no timetable of expectancy when it comes to loss and suicide. It just exists within you. Your DNA. Your fibers. It’s as much a part of you as your freckles and scars. 

Tonight, after I took that first step in overcoming my fear of heights, I sat down for my lunch break and cried. When I could breathe again, when I let it wash over me, I checked my email. There was a message from a complete stranger who had read my writing – not even the good writing that has been hidden from view – saying that my writing was a gift. How could you have picked today, of all days, to contact me?, when I chose today, of all days, to take that step out there?

I am forever altered, yes, but on this day my heart is full. 

memory and memories

Time is a thief. I have memories of my childhood that are beautiful and sweet but minute details have failed me. How a lamp looked. How tall someone was. What their teeth looked like when they smiled. Details that seem unimportant are lost to me.
Feelings we remember. We’ll never forget how something or someone made us feel. And we’ll never forget what it feels now to look back on a memory, as we remember it, as we experienced it, and as we experience it now.

Smells can instantaneously bring back to us our forgotten memories. The sandbox in our kindergarten class. The smell of my Nana’s perfume. The smell of my grandparents property in the springtime. I remember these things and suddenly feel in awe of how amazing the universe is.

But I feel cheated when I cannot remember, without assistance, the dimple in someone’s smile. When I can’t recall what my favourite lamp looked like. What hung on the walls above a couch. What the upholstery looked like on a favourite chair. It feels as if my brain and memory are cheating me out of a piece of my heart. These memories are insignificant in the grand scheme of things yet these minute details are the pieces of a larger puzzle. To lose those means to lose a piece of magic from my life.
It’s tragic that you can forget something that was so beloved for so many years. It’s a reminder of how easily we forget, and how much we take for granted: memory and memories.

The battle is ever constant.

Observe
verb
2. celebrate or acknowledge an anniversary.

Origin: late, middle English. From old French observer. From Latin observare‘to watch’.
Trauma
noun
1. a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.

Origin: late 18th cent. From Greek, literally ‘wound’.

Suicide
Noun
1. the act of killing oneself intentionally.

Origin: mid 17th cent.: from modern Latin suicida‘act of suicide,’suicidium‘person who commits suicide,’ from Latin sui ‘of oneself’ + caedere‘kill’.

Enlighten
Verb
*give (someone) greater knowledge and understanding about a subject or situation;
*give (someone) spiritual knowledge or insight
*archaic shed light on (an object)

Origin: Middle English (in the sense ‘make luminous’; formerly also as inlighten): in early use from Old English inlihtan‘to shine’

Language
noun
1. the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way

Origin: Middle English: from Old French langage, based on the Latin lingua‘tongue’.

Words can never explain or define our lives, our pain, our traumas, or our historical stories and the meanings behind them. We use words because we cannot yet convey to another person what it is we feel, how deep our love is, how deep our well of pain goes, or how, in the face of fear or danger, we found real bravery. We are as yet unable to pass on feeling from one person to another in the same way that we can easily pass on a word, a phrase, or a book. In this way, we can only use small symbols, letters, words, to pass on what it is we’re going through, what it is we live through, what it is we want to tell someone, how it is we want them to feel.

Some choose not to pass those words on at all.

We can never find the meaning or the origin of our feelings in the smattering of a few letters pressed together. We can never find the cause or the reason in those defined terms. It is, at best, a lame attempt to convey or understand. We will never find in them understanding or true knowledge – those we must find within ourselves. We will never know the why behind the words and their causes, what impact they’ve had on the writer and the reader.
We can and often do seek solace in those words, however. As writers and as readers.

I think of you, the words you chose not to share, suffering instead in an absence of words, in your silence; the words pressing forth from my own soul, in a chemical reaction to your silence and action, written words – an attempt at understanding my own pain and the torment I go through; the words shared with me from loved ones, mine and yours. In turn, I choose to share my words in hopes of enlightening others. I cannot ever understand but hope I can offer understanding. For others, yes, but mostly myself.

I have forgiven you. Now I must forgive myself.