From the eyes of a child, it is easy to look at the adults around you in the midst of tragedy and think "they've got this handled." Over the years I have learned this to be extremely untrue. If anything, adults feels things worse. More intensely and more intricately. There are factors that weigh on adults that many children may not even consider.
It has been six years since my uncle's suicide. He was 33 years old and had just discharged from the Army a few months prior. It destroyed our already broken family. It broke the hearts of his best friends. It left a hole for his brothers-and-sisters-in-arms. I've had ample time to go through the ups and downs of guilt, what ifs, sadness, acceptance, and then the whole cycle again. On February 22nd, 2016, I was sixteen years old. It wasn't my first experience with death or loss of a loved one but it was the most intense one I had felt at that point, which still stands true to this day. In all the pain I was feeling, I also saw those around me suffering with the loss. My grandmother, my father, his best friend, his children, and many more.
At the time I knew we were all hurting, but I believed the adults in my life would have the tools to heal better and faster than me. At the minimum, at least his friends would.
However, something threw my mind back into the pit this past weekend. To honor my uncle, I got a memorial tattoo for him as my first tattoo on my eighteenth birthday. It was a star with the word "Serenity" underneath. Everyone else got stars tattooed after the funeral, but I added the word "Serenity" because it had special meaning for him and I.
Tio Abe had visited us about two years before the incident, which is when I learned how much he loved the Serenity Prayer.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
So simple, yet so impactful. For a young girl who loved her uncle and poetry, I fell in love with this prayer, too. It wasn't until I was at a therapy support group with a loved one this past weekend and we recited it at the end that it dawned on me.
"This is the prayer he loved so much..."
The next day, it was still weighing on my mind. His suicide was alcohol related. He had a history of self-harm. He had depression and suicidal ideation before. He loved the Serenity Prayer so much. The very prayer that is recited at the end of the substance abuse recovery program and AA meetings. Is there a connection? Could he have been seeking help, even years before he shot himself?
I decided to reach out to his best friend to ask about it. His best friend was my grandmother's right hand when taking care of funeral arrangements. He is an absolute blessing to our family and was truly a brother to my uncle. I learned that he didn't know anything about Abe seeking out help before the incident, but he did say they spoke about it briefly. He doesn't know for sure if Abe actually sought out treatment or therapy. I explained my reason for asking, to which I was met with a response of guilt that I was not expecting.
His best friend said the night Abe died, he called him because Abe put a concerning post of Facebook. He said he pleaded with Abe, to which Abe swore he was good. He lived five states away at the time so there's nothing he could have done. We all know it. None of us could have done anything to stop him that night.
I never knew his friend's side of what happened that day, but what truly shocked me was when he said, "I couldn't get to him...I regret hanging up that call."
After all this time, he still holds the same regret as he did six years ago. Watching his best friend handle all the arrangements while allowing us to grieve, I thought he was inhuman and stronger than the rest of us. Turns out he was channeling his love and grief for Abe into something productive to help our family. Even this strong, badass Army soldier who carried himself so gracefully at the funeral, jumps out of planes, and faced countless deployments still wasn't as healed as I thought he would be. As an adult, he was still carrying that regret with him.
This truly forced me to reconsider my understanding of how adults heal and to accept that adults don't hold some magic key to healing faster than anyone else. Grief is grief and regret is regret. Age has little to do with it. It is about how you process and intentionally decide to heal from the pain and traumas of life.
The biggest regret I still hold is not replying to that last message he sent me. I chose not to reply for fear of upsetting another family member who was on bad terms with Abe. In Abe's message he wanted to know how I was, he expressed that he loved and missed me, and ended off saying "the worst is not knowing."
"The worst is not knowing."
It truly is the worst. Those five words still send waves of sadness through my body. I never got to fulfill that "not knowing" for him. He died not knowing. And now he's gone and leaves me not knowing so many things. Whether he truly meant to shoot himself or if it was a drunken mistake. Whether he knew his family loved him before he died. Whether he was in therapy. Whether he was seeking treatment for drinking. Whether my reply to his message would have made a difference. Whether he would still be here if the people around him weren't afraid to ask the hard questions.
However, these are regrets and what ifs that we will never have the answers to. Even if we did, they won't help Abe but they will help us break the generational curse of losing loved ones to mental health. To turn grief and regret into a lesson learned to stop history from repeating is the best we can do to honor the ones we did lose. Most importantly, to forgive ourselves and give ourselves grace. To heal.
About the Creator
As a 23 year old grad school student, I spend a lot of time writing academically. Now I’m taking time to write creatively and enjoy creating stories about whatever makes me happy.
Follow my journey on instagram too: @nani.cruz.writes