Have you ever had a night that was so emotionally charged that you remember every moment?
For me, that was the night of my grandfather’s suicide.
TRIGGER WARNING: This post includes details of suicide and depression. Please do not read any further if you feel you are likely to be triggered or upset by these topics.
We hadn’t been particularly close, so I wasn’t overly distraught. Instead, it felt like a test of my newly-found empathy. And I believe that I passed.
My friend Julia was in town and staying the night with me and my parents. The four of us went out to dinner before coming home and sitting together in front of the TV.
Right after we chose which movie to watch, my dad got a phone call from his sister. He picked it up, and the three of us went back to chatting, assuming that it was a casual call. That was until Dad jumped to his feet and screamed “WHAT?!”
We stared at him and waited for an explanation. He put his hand to his mouth in shock and told her that we would be right there.
“What happened?” my mom asked.
“My dad shot himself.” my dad said, still processing. This was the only information we would receive before we walked into my grandmother’s house.
Suddenly, we were all in motion getting ready to leave. My dad, leaning against our stair
bannister for support, asked me to call his pastor and let him know that we didn’t know what was going on, but we needed prayers for our grandfather. The pastor calmly agreed and gave peaceful wishes for me and my family.
We would need them.
My mom and I decided that she and my dad would take my dad’s car and I would drive
separately since we didn’t know if they would need to stay the night.
Then we looked at Julia. Shit. What an awful night for her to be here. I asked her what she wanted to do, and in a choice that I am grateful for to this day, she decided to come with me. I was relieved to not have to face whatever was coming alone.
We arrived to find my dad’s cousins already there. Before we walked inside, one of them came to greet us. Since we were still unsure about what had happened, he gave us the news.
My dad cursed. While I had assumed the worst, the news still hit me like a wrecking ball. My grandfather had died by suicide. As the only person in our family with well-documented depression, this was especially disconcerting for me.
I made a beeline for the kitchen table, where my grandmother (who we all refer to as “Gommy” because of my inability to say “grandma” as a baby) was sitting.
Always wanting to put on a happy face for us, Gommy gave me a sad smile as I sat down across from her and took her hand.
I was nervous. I had never been great at consoling grieving people, and I had only been working on becoming a more empathetic person for a couple of years, but I was determined to do what I could. Everyone else around her was too busy processing the night’s events to focus on providing any comfort.
I was prepared to be anything Gommy needed me to be. I wanted to allow space for her to feel all the emotions she needed to feel. I knew it would only be worse later if she forced them down.
I laughed with her when she needed to laugh, I let her cry when she needed to cry, and I
listened when she needed an ear. The only thing that I would not allow was guilt, something that is all too present for those whose loved ones have died by suicide.
I explained depression to my Gommy. I told her about how much it warps your worldview and kept you from seeing how loved you were. I shut down guilty thoughts as gently as I could, letting her know that I understood where she was coming from. I assured her that this could not possibly be her fault. Depression alters your reality and without some sort of intervention, there’s nothing anyone else can do.
Eventually, Gommy wanted to move into the living room, and once there, a whole new
entourage gathered around her. Not wanting to overwhelm her, I sat next to Julia and
apologized again. I couldn’t imagine how uncomfortable she must feel. She told me that she was happy to be there for me, and while I still don’t know if she was being completely honest, I’m selfishly glad that she was there for me too.
While sitting off to the side, I overheard Gommy tell someone that I told her all about depression and how it can change your reality.
I smiled to myself, happy to have some proof that I had actually helped. I felt so proud of myself at that moment. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of what I did that night without the empathy that I had worked so hard to acquire.
I had a therapy appointment scheduled for the Wednesday after my grandfather’s death. I had never been so relieved to have a therapy appointment scheduled. I felt fine during the majority of the days following my grandfather’s death, but I knew that I would have a lot to work through with my therapist.
It wasn’t until my drive to therapy that feelings started to arise. If I’m being honest with myself, I didn’t miss my grandfather. I wasn’t crying for my own emotional pain, but for all of the pain that I had shouldered for my family throughout the week.
It was then that I realized that all of the work I had done in therapy to become sensitive and empathetic was paying off.
Finally, I wasn’t only crying due to grief, but also weeping for joy at this confirmation of my personal evolution. I was able to help people with my empathy. I was able to feel for them.
I was able to feel for myself.
A huge thank you to Renata Leo for this guest post.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this post, please see below for some useful links, or you can speak to your GP.
If you are actively suicidal and have a plan, please present yourself at A&E for emergency help.