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The last two weeks I have done a lot of self reflection. I had a conversation with a loved one, and I surprised myself with what I said. It really bothered me. Like I said before, I’m a bottler and I’m trying to learn to overcome that this year. Well, I finally opened the lid on a bottle, and not just any bottle, THE bottle. The only bottle that still has control over me.
This last 8 days I have dumped out the contents, held them in my hands, examined them, then let them go.
I realize that I have let the heartache of that bottle fester for way too long, 14 years to be exact, and it wasn’t honoring him or serving me and it was hurting those around me.
You see, 14 years ago, on January 11, 2000 I lost a friend. Not just in a normal, every day, regular misunderstanding kind of way to lose a friend. No, I lost this friend in a horrific, heartbreaking, memory scarring kind of way. This amazing boy barricaded himself in the apartment next to ours and then put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
I remember every single detail of that night like it happened yesterday. It was my sweet roommate’s birthday, and she spent it trying to talk Jeff out of what he was about to do. His heart was hurting so badly that he let the demons he was facing take control and ultimately, win. I remember the sounds; the banging on his door, the begging, the screaming, the crying, every sound. I remember the officer locking us in our apartment. I remember sitting at the window watching the paramedics bring the body of our friend down the stairs of the building and placing him in the back of the ambulance. I remember holding my roommates and sobbing, not understanding what just happened or why.
I remember the fear, the nauseous-ness, and the unbelievable pain.
I remember everything about his funeral. How we sang his favorite song, “Jesus Wants me for a Sunbeam”. The way they had to turn his hat sideways to cover up the hole in the side of his face. His family. I remember an entire room full of people who loved him, people whose lives had just been shattered in one dark and lonely instant. I can still feel the hot tears and the helplessness.
But, most of all, I remember the nightmares. They made a home in my soul.
Back then I didn’t know anything about mental illness, I just knew that my friend hurt and none of us knew how to help him. Jeff turned to addiction to mask his pain. It was only a bandaid, a horrible, gut-wrenching, life altering, heart-breaking bandaid. My sweet roommate tried everything in her power to lift him up, but in the end he felt there was no way out. I think that inside we all felt we had failed and it ate at us.
There was no grief counseling. They didn’t let us miss class. The school newspaper wrote a horrible article about how another poor idiot succumbed to drug addiction. He became just another statistic. But, he wasn’t a statistic, Jeff was a kind, loving, talented, generous 21 year old who died to soon.
Since then, I have had 2 people close to me unsuccessfully attempt suicide. Both were struggling with dark feelings that they couldn’t control. One turned to drugs to ease his pain, but only found more in the process. When I talked to him about what he had tried to do, he said something that pierced me. That he felt that the rest of our lives would be easier, less painful, if he wasn’t here. He was keenly aware that what he was experiencing was hurting more than just himself. So, to him there was only one answer.
Minutes before a beautiful teenage girl attempted suicide she posted on Facebook the words to a country song, “…funny when you’re dead how people start listening…” They jumped off the screen at me. They burned my eyes. I was too far away to stop her. Those words have stayed with me, too.
All three of these amazing people battled something they felt they couldn’t conquer.
The darkness for them was too great and they gave in. The hardest part for me is how alone they felt when they were each so incredibly loved. Every one of them was surrounded by family and friends who wanted peace and joy for them. Who were praying their hearts out for them, and trying their hardest to reach out but not knowing how.
I have beat myself up for years for not being able to help Jeff. For somehow not being the kind of friend who could have seen the signs and known what to do. But, the thing is, it wasn’t my fault. We could have been with him every waking moment, and it wouldn’t have made any difference because he needed help that we couldn’t give. But there is help out there. There are people who have tools to bring light and release chains.
There is always another way.
Opening this bottle buried deep down has helped me realize and acknowledge my inadequacies and fears. As I have pondered over these things, I see how terrified I am that it will happen again, that someone I love will give up and give in. The fear I have of having no control.
I am learning that the only thing I have control over is the amount of love I give, the amount of support I provide, and the bottles I either bury or let go. I can be a friend. I can put my fears aside and just love, even if I am afraid or don’t understand.
Jeff, I forgive you for leaving. I forgive you for taking what I once felt was the easy way out. That night you not only took your own life, but you blew a hole in the hearts of everyone who knew you. I have never felt emotions like that before or since. If it hurt that bad for me, I can not even begin to imagine how much it must have hurt for you. I forgive you, Jeff, and I want you to know that I finally forgive myself, too.
From now on, there will be no more nausea on January 11th… no more nightmares.
There will only be the remembrance of a fantastically kind kid who changed my entire view of friendship.
Because of you, Jeff, I will be a better friend. I will listen more and reach out my hand to comfort. In honor of you I will not fear mental illness as I have. I will learn and show compassion even when I am scared and don’t know what to do. I’ll be there, just like that night 14 years ago.
After all these years, you are free from my bottle, buddy.
Instead of fear and pain, I choose to remember you with love.
P.S. Do they have soccer balls in heaven?
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
Go HERE if you are in Utah.
Talk to a friend, reach out to a family member, seek out a counselor, turn to somebody.
There is help.