“David killed himself …”
A few hours prior, April 6th, 2000 was an ordinary day for me. It was spring, I was a junior in high school and running late to my psychology class. Or was it sociology? Either way I was studying the mind or society, most important I was late. Because I was late and because I have always had a rebellious streak- even more so when I was a kid, I went ahead and parked in the handicapped spot. I figured, worst come to worse, I’ll get a ticket- no big deal.
Time went on and I was listened to the professor tell us something about something. Next thing I know, a security guard from Community College of Southern Nevada (my school) entered the classroom. He was tall. He looked serious. And he didn’t come to play.
‘Is there a Vena Wilson in your class?’ he asked the professor, who immediately dimed me out. There I was sitting in disbelief, thinking to myself, they got me.
Although I was in a class of college students, the concerted “oooooohhhhs” fell out of many people’s mouths and I, out of embarrassment and anxiety, cracked a smile. ‘Grab all of your stuff,’ the security guard said pointedly. Waves of shock moved through my body. This is a little excessive for parking in a handicapped spot, I thought. I was expecting a ticket- worst case scenario.
We walked out of the classroom, down the stairs. He was quiet as a church mouse and I wondered what was coming next. Then I looked down and noticed my Aunt Bobbie, my dad’s little sister standing next to my Uncle Walter, her husband. She looked distraught, beautiful and distraught nonetheless.
‘Where is my mom?’ Why are you here?’
No one spoke to me. Better stated, no one answered my questions. Auntie thanked the security guard and my Uncle told me to get in the car. Their car. At this time, I forgot about my own illegal parking situation and began to realize something wasn’t right.
Around 10:00a, life was lovely for me. It was spring time, I was running Varsity Track, had a job, went to school, and had lots of friends. Things weren’t great with my parents- I wasn’t living with them. I was living on my own, kind of. But that’s a different story for a different day.
As I sat in the back of my Uncle’s car, I attempted to make small talk. The silence was deafening, I didn’t like it. No one said anything to me. I looked out of the window admiring how beautiful of a day God made. Then it hit me, a question that I hadn’t asked earlier on that short trip, ‘where are we going?’ Auntie told me we were going to my maternal grandmother’s home. ‘Why?’ Silence.
We walk into my grandmother’s house. I noticed my grandmother, my other uncle but not my little brother, who I figured was in school. And I didn’t see my dad either. Maybe he was at home, I knew he hadn’t been feeling well. He hadn’t been feeling well for months.
My Aunt Bobbie went to grab my mother who was in the back room. I was instructed to sit down and now really realizing that something was wrong- big time wrong. People’s whose paths wouldn’t ordinarily cross were crossing in this moment. I saw my mother. ‘What’s wrong?!’
“David killed himself …”
That news was the equivalent of walking assuredly, minding your own business and having the ground crumble beneath your feet, while rapidly approaching molten lava without anything to grab onto to stop the inevitable doom that lied ahead.
That was my experience of the worst news I have ever gotten in my life.
Many people have opinions about Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ model, The Five Stages of Grief. Of course, no two people will experience grief in the same way and, the model provides a nice way to help people name their experience of grieving after one’s death. Here is my take on the stages of the grief from the experience of a suicide loss survivor:
After learning what I learned and reacting in the way I reacted, I had this really strange experience of numbed disbelief (DENIAL). In spite of having various factors in place confirming his passing- I did not think my father was really dead for quite a while.
One thing I knew for sure was that he certainly didn’t kill himself. I resolved to play along with everyone, okay guys he’s dead … sure family, whatever you say. * wink, wink. *
Denial (and shock), is the first stage of grief. It’s purported to help the person survive the loss they’ve experienced. Looking back, this makes sense to me. The rest of my junior year was a blur of sorts, I don’t know how I made it through high school without dropping out. What I do remember as the numbness melted away spending much of my time pondering, wondering what the point was to anything. Why try? My incentive to do well in school was to keep my parents happy, especially my dad because my grades meant more to him than they did to me. He was gone so … for what? Things were shifting. My new reality was right in my face and I couldn’t deny it any longer.
“Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle.” Elisabeth Kubler-Ross