Rattle the Stars Executive Director Kim Bryan has graciously shared with us her journey of suicide loss, below. She is one of many who have had to endure similar painful experiences. Join Kim and others Saturday, Nov. 18, as Parkland College recognizes International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day with a program and discussion, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Room U140 of the Student Union.
When the Cubs disappointingly dropped game five to the Dodgers, I breathed a small sigh of relief. We’re a family of Cubs fans: my husband was sucked in at age 7 in 1984, I acquired fandom through 20 years of marriage to a die-hard, and my kids were all born into it. We even named our youngest daughter after Ryne Sandberg (she has yet to decide whether she loves or hates it). We made a regular pilgrimage to the Eden that is Wrigley Field, and even braved the cold to wish her a happy 100th birthday. As much as I would have loved to see my beloved Cubbies repeat this year, I was glad to be spared the pain that comes with their success.
In April 2016, just as the magical season was getting underway, my 19-year-old son died of suicide. Sam had battled depression for several years, and after the dreadful disease drained every ounce of his happiness, it moved on to those who loved him. When Sam died, my world went dark. For the entire regular season, the Cubs were the farthest thing from my mind. Just getting up and functioning each day was exhausting, and every spare moment I had was spent questioning the last minutes, hours, days, years of Sam’s life trying to figure what I could have done differently, better, to save him.
By the time October rolled around, I was just beginning to pay attention to the rest of the world again, and the Cubbies were certainly demanding attention. But with every win, I was secretly hoping they would lose. The little voice in my head was begging them not to win, not now, not this year. When they won Game 6 of the NLCS, I cried. I cried, not out of happiness, but out of grief and loss. It was really happening. The Cubs were going to the Series, and he was missing it. How could he miss this? It was all he had wanted since Neifi Perez tossed his batting gloves over the dugout to him at his first Cubs game. Despite my best efforts, they just insisted on winning. When Rizzo made the final out, and the world erupted in celebration, I sat stone-face on my couch, not able to move. I finally managed a hug to my husband, but no words would even come. This was just adding insult to injury. Six months after suicide stole my son from the world, his dream came true.
A few days later, my family made another pilgrimage to the Eden that is Wrigley Field. I was determined that Sam was not going to miss this. We put on all our Cubs gear and took the worn-out Cubs hat that Sam wore every day for years, and we joined countless others in writing our tributes in chalk on the brick. Even though I know it was eventually washed away, it was comforting to know that his name was on that wall. A piece of him was there at Wrigley celebrating his beloved Cubbies winning the World Series. We hugged and cried and reminisced about the great times we had had there. We stayed as long as we could, and then begrudgingly left for home, feeling the gaping hole in our lives that was left when Sam died.
The most difficult part of healing from the death of my son has been reconciling the simultaneous happiness and sadness that comes with times of joy. When I first started to feel happiness again, I felt guilty for it. I actually dreaded things that I would feel good about, things that would bring me joy, because I knew that they would also bring guilt and regret, and things that I knew Sam would enjoy were the absolute worst. Before his death, Sam had written that he knew people would be sad when he died, but that they would get over it because they were better off without him. Every time I felt happy, those words rang in my head. Happiness meant I was getting over it, and how could I ever possibly get over losing my son? If I was happy, did that mean I was better off without him? How was I going to get through the rest of my life if I couldn’t find a way to experience happiness without being consumed by this turmoil?
Thankfully, I began to connect with other survivors of suicide loss. Through AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk and Survivors of Suicide Loss Day I began to meet and talk with others who understood what I was going through. I found a community of people that have both supported my personal healing and my new journey to prevent youth suicide with our organization, Rattle the Stars.
It’s now been over a year and half since suicide stole my son from me. I’m still not great, but with the support of other survivors, I’m getting back to okay. For me, okay is something to celebrate.
[Dennis Cockrum is a counselor with Parkland College’s Counseling Services department.]