on who we become

Today marks eight years since Shaun’s suicide. Everything changed that day.

I have begun walking in the mornings with our puppy. She’s a nine-month-old ball of puppy energy that needs release, and I am a thirty-four-year-old ball of slowing metabolism. It’s really a good idea for both of us. We make a loop that takes us by the Mississippi River, which meanders through our town. It’s lovely and quiet and somewhat still at 6:45 in the morning. The geese and ducks now have goslings and ducklings. Cully likes to watch them, as do I. There’s a gentleman in his eighties who walks around the same time we do. We greet each other when we pass.

Today I didn’t really want to walk. I wanted to stay at home and have coffee with my husband and ignore Shaun’s anniversary. But these things can’t be ignored—and neither can a puppy who wants her walk. There’s a spot up on the bluff that looks across the river. There’s a swing and some benches. I always think of Shaun when I pass that spot because it reminds me of where he died.

There’s not much comfort to be had in suicide. As a survivor, you’re left with the knowledge that the person who took his or her life felt there was no way out of depression or anxiety or fear or whatever caused the crisis. My uncles used guns to end their lives, and I’ve struggled over the years with the violence of that kind of death. It was not peaceful or quiet. It was a bang that shattered so much.

The only comfort I have is that my uncles saw beautiful things before they died: Shaun chose a gorgeous place that looked out on the ocean; Ryan had held his daughter before he died. These choices of last sights break my heart again and again because I know it means they still saw beauty in the world and sought it out. Heartbreaking and comforting all at once.

Earlier this week I was pondering Shaun’s anniversary and how his death doesn’t feel like a shard of glass poking at me anymore. It has softened, rounded, become a little easier to carry with me. When you’re in the midst of grieving, it’s hard to trust that this softening will happen. Maybe it’s even hard to want it to happen. But slowly the edges wear down ever so slightly and you realize you can hold it without cutting yourself. Or, to throw another metaphor into the mix, it becomes a part of you, knitted in to your very being.

I don’t know who I would have become without Shaun’s suicide. And it doesn’t really matter anyway. These losses we face—no matter how they come to us—they shape us and define us and are part of us. On these anniversary days, we honor not just who we lost but who we’ve become in knowing and loving and grieving these people. We honor our own broken-open, softened hearts.