Our own YouthLine volunteer talks grief as a suicide loss survivor.
If our lives are like puzzles that we’re constantly putting together and rearranging, grief means losing pieces to the puzzle. The first, biggest, and most obvious piece that’s lost is your loved one’s piece. As you move through your grief, you realize that they weren’t the only piece of the puzzle that’s been changed.
When you lose such a big part of your puzzle, it’s hard for the whole picture to seem real. It’s impossible to look at your puzzle the same way you once did. How could you? There’s a giant hole where your loved one was. And in the case of a tragic loss, it’s like they took their piece from your puzzle violently. There’s pieces that get pushed out of position, others might get knocked off onto the floor, pieces connected to your loved one might get torn or be ripped away from your life too. The point is, it’s hardly ever just the one piece that’s lost.
My loved one was Madison. Madison passed from suicide at the age of 20, about a month before his 21st birthday. He was, and is, the biggest piece I’ve ever lost in life. Madison took with his piece the piece of my puzzle that was my self-image. Through high school I relied on Madison to help push me from passion to passion, from interest to interest. If Madison liked a thing, I too, liked that thing. In many ways, Madison was an older sibling to me. In other ways, he was more than that. Madison showed me ways that puzzles could look like and before long, I was trying to emulate him.
After he died, puzzles made even less sense. Madison and I had essentially started filling out our individual puzzles together. He was my absolute best friend. I could see a place for a piece that he may have missed and vice versa. The construction of each other’s puzzles was so intertwined it could be hard to tell the difference between ours at times. After his death, I think I tried to continue finishing parts of his puzzle as I was trying to finish my own.
I didn’t even want to look at my own puzzle. I figured, it didn’t matter what my puzzle is going to look like, there is a giant hole in the middle of it and no one will ever want to look at it, or fill in its pieces with me. I didn’t know where to start with putting the pieces back together. Madison’s piece took with it pieces I needed to function.The section of my puzzle that looked like sleep, that looked like feeding myself, that looked like socializing all were missing pieces. It seemed insurmountable to fill the hole that Madison left in my life. I thought I could never get to the place I was before his death.
Sometimes laying back down pieces that were already there, that already fit can be one of the hardest things to do for yourself. A sleep schedule and regular eating were both pieces that flew off the table alongside Madison. I had bouts of insomnia growing up and this piercing loss ensured that I would not be going to sleep before the sun came up for months at a time.
I couldn’t cook without reopening the still healing wound. I now laugh at the time I set off the smoke alarm because a pepperoni slid off a pizza in the oven and caught fire, but at the time that moment triggered so much shame and guilt as I remembered how Madison and I cooked nearly every time we were together. “Madison would have never let this happen!” I screamed, with tears streaming from my eyes, to my parents as they tried to figure out what the big issue was. At times, it was just as hard get something as easy as Taco Bell, again just a reminder of the late nights after concerts with Madison. As a result, the grief made it extremely difficult to get food into my system, even more so than the general lack of appetite I was experiencing.
It has taken multiple years to get to a place where I felt that the grief wasn’t impeding on my life anymore. I owe a large part of my healing process to Youthline and what it has done for me. Youthline gave me a place to educate myself and connect myself more to what Madison struggled with. It gave me a place where I could use my grief for good and process the grief through the work. It gave me people full of love, a community of people wanting to help others like Madison. It gave me the tools to know what to do if another friend finds themselves in the same place Madison was. Of course therapy, hard emotional work on my own brain, a whole lot of patience from family and friends, a bunch of sad poetry, and some drifting with subsequent self-discovery helped get me here, but Youthline was truly the best thing to have happened to me when I needed it, even if I wasn’t the one calling.
Dealing with the grief is also like putting together a puzzle, when you can’t find the right pieces to fit, sometimes it’s best to step away and just look at it for what it is. It sometimes takes bringing in people to look at your puzzle for you to shed some light on what holes need patching, holes you may have missed. Sometimes you try and make some pieces fit for a while and sometimes you try something completely new. I think that the most important thing to do with grief is allow yourself to experience all these changes as you grieve, again like puzzles it’s often a confusing and frustrating experience.
In a way, I was right. I would never get to the place I was before his death. And now, I don’t think that’s what I would have wanted. In the years after Madison died, I put pieces back together. A lot of pieces were put back without me consciously doing so, a lot of pieces were makeshift fixes that now don’t make as much sense, and a lot of pieces are now so important that they define what makes my puzzle my own. In the end, my puzzle looks nothing like it did when Madison was around. But now, I look at my puzzle and see so much beauty in the parts of my puzzle, missing pieces and all.