The Year Before Last
Author unknown

The holiday season is approaching, and with it comes the New Year. Although for me time passes slowly, New Year's Day will ring in quickly.  I dread this New Year's Day because they will look at me in a terribly strange way when I get misty-eyed, and talk about something you had done.  After you first left me, they reasoned when I cried, "He's only been gone a few months."  And I would catch that look of understanding in their eyes, and found some comfort that they knew.  But on last New Year's Day, my first thought upon awakening was, Oh God, my son died last year, not just a few months ago, not even this year, but last year. He will never live in this year.  They didn't understand, they didn't reason, that last year, for me, the loss was still new.  They thought, "It happened last year, so long ago, why does she still cry?"  I could see it in their eyes.  This New Year's Day, will it be different?  Will my first thought upon awakening be, Oh God, my son died the year before last, not a few months ago, not this year or even last year, but the year before last?  He will never live in this year.  Will they even listen, should I not look them in the eyes, for fear that I shall see, "Why is she still crying? It happened so long ago.  It was the year before last."  Those words that we use to describe the passage of time, a few months, this year, last year, the year before last.  They don't know that time stands still for me.  Will they understand that's why I cry?  Don't they know my son just died...the year before last?

Newsletters and Tears
Jeff Johnson, TCF, Cape Fear Chapter, Wilmington, NC

One cries as he is writing his feelings.
Another cries when they read the article.
Another cries when they select the article for their newsletter.
Tears of sorrow and understanding...You are not alone.

Thanksgiving Thoughts
Ronnie Peterson, TCF, Star Lake, NY

I remember the first Thanksgiving after Tony was killed.  I didn't know how we could possibly get through that dinner, with an empty chair.  The solution that occurred to me was so fill it with someone else—several someones.  Grandpa came to spend the week, a newly widowed friend came to dinner, and so did her young nephew and his bride who had just moved to town.  They brought the salad.  And we WERE thankful—for each other, for the love among us, and for the memories. 

If this will be your first Thanksgiving, do something different.  The pattern of your life has been broken.  Break in some more.  Have dinner at a different place, or with different people.  Go away for the weekend.  Be kind to yourself.  You do not have it all, but you have something. 

John's Story
Char, Billings, MT

After all the reading I've done since John has died, I now believe he started getting sick when he was in the middle grades at school.  We had just moved from a small town living on a ranch (much to our children's dismay) to what we all thought was a very large city.  Jobn started isolating himself from everyone.  We discussed John's behavior a number of times with his school counselors.  They all told us he would snap out of it, he was just having trouble adjusting.  After two years John seemed to be getting somewhat better.  He had made a few friends and was socializing again.  About that time John's dad and I went through a divorce and of our four children John seemed to be the one who had the hardest time accepting it.  I believe that is when John started drinking.  That is when I first became aware of John's deep depression.  Again we consulted his school counselors and they again told us there was nothing to worry about.  But it seems from that time on John was drinking every weekend.  It was at that time John got his first DUI and was in and out of outpatient treatment for alcohol, but no one was blaming his depression as a reason for his drinking.  Sometime during this period John had an accident, running into a telephone pole, coming home late one night.  I was to learn a few years later that John had told his sister he had done this deliberately.

Everything seemed to go down hill for John the last six months before he died.  Sometime during this period is when John got his fourth DUI.  His company had sent him out of state to work.  It scared me at that time with John being so far away from family and friends.  I knew John was very depressed and having a hard time being out of state.  I received a call from John late on the night of September 6, 2002.  He was in jail.  John was very scared and very very upset.  He stated then that if he did not get out of jail he would kill himself.  This was not John's first threat and I became very scared that he would do what he threatened.  I called down to the detention center where they were holding him and spoke to one of the guards.  I told him what John had just stated to me, that John threatened suicide.  The guard informed me they had no holding cells for prisoners that threatened suicide.  I became very worried about John and knew we had to get him out of that jail as soon as possible.  The next day we bonded John out and brought him home.  I contacted a counselor John had been seeing for his alcohol problem and told him of John's incarceration and his suicide threat.  He stated he wanted to see John as soon as John got back into town.  As far as I know and remember John did see his counselor from September to November. During these months John again threatened suicide a number of times.

We could see John was losing a lot of weight and became very depressed.  November 11 he agreed to go to the emergency room with his sister and dad because of suicidal thoughts.  John was checked in and waited a long time to see a doctor.  He became very frustrated and walked out before being examined by any doctor.  John's sister called his counselor and told him what had occurred the night before. I also called and consulted with his counselor.  I told John's counselor we would like to have a family meeting with him without John being present.  I, John's dad and John's sister did meet with John's counselor and we all told him how terribly scared we were about John and asked him for HELP.  We told him we did not know where to turn for help and what we could do to help John.  WE WERE ASKING HIM FOR GUIDANCE AND HELP.

John's counselor did not give us any ideas but told us that he had an appointment with John that very afternoon and would evaluate John's mental state.  After John's appointment I contacted his counselor once again and was told by John's counselor that he was not concerned and John seemed to be doing okay.  I still felt there was something very wrong with my son but trusted his judgment.  John had one more appointment with his counselor on November 18, 2002.  John died NOVEMBER 20, 2002.  What little hope John had vanished, he tried to reach out for help, he received NONE.  We as a family trusted the healthcare system but it failed completely with our son.

I am telling my son's story in hopes of helping others and also because I do not want John's life to be in vain.  John reached out the only way he knew how and found only CLOSED doors.  I truly believe he could have been saved.

Since John's death I have become very involved in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention as an advocate for CHANGE.  I also give classes on QPR (Question, Persuade and Refer) and am a facilitator for a Suicide Survivor Support Group.  I want and need to make changes.  I DO THIS FOR JOHN.

The First Time
Sara T. DeLeon, Tucson, AZ

"It's a support group for parents who have lost a child. You don't have to say a thing." My sister tried to reassure me. I didn't have the energy to make up an excuse, so I let her lead me to the car.

As we drove, I felt sick to my stomach. My mind raced through all the scenarios I expected to find. I dreaded seeing a room full of people who resembled the hollow shell I saw in the mirror.

Walking from the car to the brightly lit room, I held the arms of my husband and sister and tried to breathe.

I had a new mantra: "I don't have to say a word."

Entering the room I felt my tears, always so close to the surface, spilling over. I didn't make a sound as they ran down my cheeks, and through the watery cloud, I saw figures approach and reach out. With a series of deep hugs and quiet whispers, I was guided to a chair.

"We're sorry for the reason you're here, but we're glad you've found us."

Someone handed me a bottle of water and a bundle of tissue. As I sat in my chair and waited for the meeting to begin, I peeked up to notice the room filling. One woman across from me caught my eye and I quickly looked down.

Please don't look at me, I thought, no one look at me.

The meeting began and I allowed myself to glance at the parents that were there. Some smiled at others openly. How could this be? How could they smile? A wooden butterfly was being passed around and parents were introducing themselves, telling whom they had lost and how. It was all too much. I didn't belong here. I am NOT one of them! I have NOT lost my son!

The sobs exploded, uncontrollably from deep within, and I quickly covered my face with my hands. How can I tell them? I'm so ashamed. They'll think I was a horrible mother.

You don't have to say a word, I reminded myself.

I regained my composure. I'll just pass the butterfly. Three more...Two more...It's almost time. I don't feel well. ...Now, I held the butterfly and, as I turned it over and over in my hand, I heard myself speak...

"My name is Sara. My son, Shawn, was just 15 years old when he took his life. It's been 11 days." I gasped for a deep breath and passed the butterfly.

The group split up into smaller groups in order to more intimately share personal stories about the children we had lost.

I'll just sit and listen, I thought. That will be okay.

One by one, parents told their truths about the precious children that had once been. They had walked where I walk today. I listened closely. And then ... I didn't want to remain quiet anymore. I began to tell my story. It flowed out in bursts like the tears from my eyes. I purged the hurt and guilt, and shared the love I felt for my baby boy. I allowed the agony of my soul to be visible to these strangers and, as I finished, I saw the love in their eyes as they nodded their heads in understanding.

On the drive home, my sister asked, "So, what do you think?"

"I'll go again," I whispered.

And, I have.

I Said I Could Not Do It, But I Did!
Betz Crump ~ TCF, Ft. Lauderdale FL.

Exactly 8:05 a.m., Friday, July 9, 1971, was the last time I looked at my eight year-old daughter with her eyes open. I walked beside her as they rolled her down the hall to the elevator that would take her down to the operating room for her simple, routine tonsillectomy. At exactly 1:30 that afternoon, I was told she was dead. I said then I could not live a day without her. I just could not do it.
During the drive home, I said I would never be able to walk in that house without her.
As I walked in that empty house, someone quickly ran and shut her door—the door to her room where she kept all the things she loved. The room where she played and slept. I said I could never go in there again. I said I could not do it.
When they said, "Come, let's go to the funeral, the Rosary, the Mass," I said I could not do it.
For months that followed, I just knew my life would never be the same, and it wasn't. All the things I said I could not do did get done. All the life I said I could not live did get lived. Differently, but I did live. Now comes today—16 years later. I have to admit, I had to look it up to be sure. Sixteen years! Palmer Ann would have been 24 years old. I had to stop and think about that, too. I stood before her portrait today and stared a long, long time, and yes, I remembered the pain with total recall of July 9, 1971. I reached out, touching what's left of my memory of her and I offered up a prayer of Thanksgiving to God—a prayer of gratitude, for giving me such a beautiful eight years with a lovely daughter, and most of all, the opportunity to be able to stand there and realize that I had said I could not do it, but I did.
And each month when I come to a Compassionate Friends meeting with you, the new member, I share the pain that I know you are feeling—that hopelessness of the future. I smile to myself, because inside I know a secret—you will be okay. You will touch again, love again, laugh again, and live again. After all, I said I could not do it, but I did and...