Last year, after losing three friends in a short amount of time, I saw a notice for the Survivors of Suicide Loss Day program.
This event isn’t something you get your hair done for. No mani-pedi. No special dress. In the auditorium, PowerPoint flips through photos.
You catch your breath when you see the ones you sent. You start to lose your edge. More people come in and sit. Someone says, “She’s so pretty.” A different picture appears and you hear, “His voice reminded me of sunshine every time I talked to him.” You begin to relax.
The coordinator comes out, tells you where the bathrooms are and welcomes everyone. While she continues, you think it’s appropriate that this is being held at the Psychiatric Center. You wonder if you’re crazy to have come here.
The names of the departed are read aloud. You think about “Romper Room,” where Miss Sally looked through her magic mirror. “I see you, Maria, are no longer among us. Jake, there you are in the great beyond. Greg, I sense your ghostly form.”
You learn that the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is an annual event held the Saturday before Thanksgiving. There is a ritual you can perform at home. Light two candles; one for the memory and one for the body. Blow out the second and the other stays lit. This is to acknowledge the awful loss while you’re forced to concentrate on the memories you can’t bear, nor bear to part with.
A short film plays where a mother gets a tattoo on her foot to remember her son. A husband knew his wife suffered from depression for 30 years but is still angry she left him. A daughter thinks she should have seen the signs and changed the outcome. The movie ends.
During intermission, the panel assembles. There are doctors, counselors and advocates. They talk about their aunt. Son. Another son. A younger sister. A husband. You are heartbroken by what the last woman has to endure. Her second son had problems, but it was the firstborn who killed himself. How awful, you think, to have to correct that misconception to lousy acquaintances who “assumed” it was the other way around.
The term they use is different than you’re used to, but you get it. Suicide is completed, not committed. You never thought of it that way before. You hate it.
A question and comment period opens. In the dialogue, you are told it’s a journey. There are no easy answers. No, you don’t get over it. Yes, you blame yourself. Yes, you think, “What if?” and “What did I miss?” and you hear that those thoughts don’t go away even after seven or eight or a thousand years of wondering.
When we are asked if we thought we espied our loved one coming out of church, in a store, at a ballgame, on vacation, anywhere, we all raise our hands.
What you notice is that while the program says it’s for friends and family, you don’t see anyone like you. No one else self-identifies as a former fiancée or someone’s baby mama or a regular Friday night hookup or even a work acquaintance. You feel like a fraud. You cower in another wave of guilt. You should have been a better friend, lover, relative.
So what if many of your past loves are gone now and you don’t know why. The family members in the crowd and on the panel don’t know why their loved ones are gone, either. There are no good answers, but you’ve shown up after the acts and found that suffering shared helps ease the grief. That’s all you really needed to learn.
Tammy L. Sherwood is a member of the Hamburg Writers’ Group.
This year’s program will be held from noon to 3 p.m. on Nov. 19 at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center.