The details are foggy about that morning but the tragic reality never leaves me. I remember the call, the intense grief and the hours my younger brother, even younger cousin and I spent playing in the car as the adults in our family surrounded my Aunt Sybil and Uncle Jim.
The scene was too much for the three of us kids, so our parents tucked us safely away where they could keep an eye on us but not expose us directly to what was happening inside the house.
My oldest cousin, Steve, had committed suicide a few hours before daylight.
It has been about 35 years since that difficult day but I can still sense the intensity surrounding it all — especially the devastation and heartbreak of my Aunt Sybil, who found him that morning. She never spoke of Steve again in public. There were no photos of him in her house. Everything of his disappeared. I’m sure she had it stored away somewhere safe but it was not to be discussed.
My Aunt Sybil held tightly to her faith and served everyone she could with every ounce of energy she had. She took great care of my Uncle Jim, who suffered from several serious health issues.
She grieved hard when she buried him too, but there was something different about the grief she walked through with her son.
Making sense of it all
I remember spending a lot of time at Aunt Sybil’s house, especially after Steve’s death. She loved to spoil her nephews and nieces, and we loved how she spoiled us.
Every once in a while I would actually be the only one there with her. I don’t remember how or why but I treasured those moments because that’s when she would talk about Steve and her relationship with the Lord and how she was surviving each day on the journey.
Her eyes always welled up with the biggest tears and she could never look directly at me as she talked, but she would share until the pain was too much to bear.
She couldn’t understand why he would take his own life, why he didn’t want to live.
She described the pain as having an entire section of her body ripped away with a gaping wound that remained eternally raw.
I’m not exactly sure how I processed all of that as a preteen and young teenager, but I know I hurt deeply for my aunt and uncle as well as our entire family.
There has been another incident of suicide in my extended family and at least two moments when I was the one on the phone for hours talking someone down from threatening suicide.
It’s truly an overwhelming experience and I found myself angry at times — angry because the person seemed to be acting so selfish in that moment. How could he or she do this to the rest of us? How could he or she hurt his or her parents like that?
As I’ve researched articles through the years, heard people’s stories, talked to experts and learned more about the tendencies of suicide, I’ve realized that a person at that point truly doesn’t see a way out. There are a number of reasons that lead to the pivotal point, but in all cases the person needs professional assistance.
The Alabama Baptist recently published a package of articles on teen suicide — including a report on the Netflix series that gained so much attention earlier this year. I urge you to check out the information and use it as a resource if/when needed. The articles have challenged me to also stay aware of the moods and needs of those in my life and work to help everyone I know realize they are truly valued, and they are not alone.
—Jennifer Davis Rash