by Christine Dudek
My only son, Tyler James Dudek, died by suicide.
He was born on October 6, 1997. I adored him from that very second and will continue to adore him until I stop breathing. I get up every morning and grieve him over and over again.
When I was 23, scared and insecure, his birth breathed purpose into my life. I would love and protect him from the cradle to the grave. I just figured it would end at my grave many years down the line.
Instead, I have a jar full of ashes
And questions that will never be answered.
He was a beautiful boy with greenish eyes and the most amazingly long eyelashes that made his sisters envious. They are younger – his sisters. He was my first born so we grew up a little bit together as he learned how to walk and talk and I learned how to mother. My heart is filled with regret and my soul is so tired and worn from the consuming grief. With everything inside me, I miss my son.
On the day that he was born I cried. I suspect that most new mothers do that. I just couldn’t believe that I had been blessed with such perfection and beauty. I wanted to be good enough to be his mother. So I prayed for the first time in my whole life.
I was raised in the Catholic Church, went to Catholic school my entire life so I had recited those rehearsed and monotonous prayers from rote memory a million times; but I never really prayed with my heart on the line.
I was utterly clueless as to how to be a mother
I guess when we reach the end of ourselves we look up. New life and fresh death are similar in that way. I know this because I became clueless again when my only son took his own life. His birth and death both brought me to my knees.
The years in between seem to be punctuated now by those two events.
I am certainly no holy roller – for lack of a better term. I just believe that there has got to be something bigger and better than us mere and fumbling mortals.
Honestly, I would have gladly sold my soul to the devil if it would have brought back my boy and ensured that he lived a long and happy life. The first thing that I learned, however, is that there was absolutely nothing I could do.
I wanted to be dead so that he could live; but there was no such deal to be made. The tiny control freak inside of me hates this stupid loophole that unfairly exists in the universe, despite the fact that we are hardwired to love those we birth with greater ferocity than we value our own survival.
Letting go of my child, my son, was counter-instinctual and I object to this outcome! I want to declare a Mulligan and get to redo his entire life.
I would buy him the superhero shoes he wanted and read that ridiculous Dr. Seuss book just one more time. I would let him go without a bath so that I could catch just one more whiff of that sweaty-headed-boy smell. There are so many things that I would do differently.
This is the hellish state of outliving my own child
It is so unnatural that finding the desire to continue living became the first obstacle. I can’t do anything differently because it is all said and done. Death changes everything. Living without someone that I absolutely cannot live without has humbled me.
In the immediate wake of Tyler’s suicide, my daughters were the only reason that I did not escape the excruciating pain by joining him in death.
Although I didn’t want to live without my favorite son, I really really didn’t want my girls to suffer anything else. Therein lies the ferocity of loving our kids with greater depth than we even feel pain. The pain was awful. It still is.
There are crazy moments when it just sucker punches me in the gut demanding to be felt. Grief is like that proverbial giant elephant in the room. You can try to ignore it, but, well, an elephant is kinda big. So as big and bad and utterly consuming as the grief and pain were in the first weeks, I knew that my not surviving wasn’t going to be an option. I am still the only mother my daughters have. They deserve one and, just like me, they are still here.
I wish I could take all of the grief so they had to carry none; but if you are paying attention to what I am saying then you already know there is no bargaining your way through this disaster. Trust me, I tried.
I think it was about three days after my boy’s death that I finally ventured outside of the house. The four of us – myself, my husband Joe and our two daughters – were holed up in the house like hostages in a foreign land. Time and space stopped existing. I guess that’s what happens when the universe is upended.
Joe would go out on brief supply runs, mostly getting our daughters ice cream or chocolate at whatever ridiculous hour their hearts desired such things. With time and space ceasing to exist, we slept when sleep came.
Had to get tampons
So when Kayleigh, the now oldest child in my home, realized that she needed tampons, Joe was asleep. My still-alive child needed something. So I brushed my hair and remembered shoes and I drove her to Walgreens. It is in the most seemingly insignificant things where living began to happen again for us.
If I were trying to be funny, I would say that I was saved by tampons. But I am not ready to be funny yet. I miss my beautiful son too much for that.
Some days I feel like I deserve a pat on the back for just remembering where I parked the car. Then I remember that I would lose the car even in my before-the-train life. So maybe I get a pat on the back for brushing my teeth and wearing clothes.
I have no idea what’s normal any more.
If Kayleigh didn’t need something and Joe wasn’t sleeping, I wouldn’t have attempted to be a human who goes out in public.
After the tampons, I remembered that I have this beautiful younger daughter who lost her idol. I saw her. Jules is just 12 and was born 7 years after Tyler. He was an awesome big brother to her. Kayleigh is 17. She and Ty were separated by just two years. On a picture board that we made for Tyler’s memorial service, she wrote that he was her first best friend. That tore me open. The loss that they have to feel is more than my heart can handle. They have scars now. I never wanted that to happen.
All that I ever wanted was for my three to be okay. A long time ago we owned a house in NJ. We lost that house when times got hard and back then I thought this to be the most awful thing in the world. I remember thinking that my world was ending. Now I would trade everything that I have for 5 seconds more with the boy who stole my heart. I’d live in a cardboard box on a corner if I could have him back.
I guess I’m back to bargaining again. I have one dead child and two left behind with horrible pain. Please don’t tell me it is NOT my failure. It is and I will carry it to my own grave.
Tyler killed himself on February, 16th
It was 15 mins before midnight. I was in a hotel room in Albuquerque, NM and the girls were at sleepovers since the next day was a school holiday. My husband, Joe, didn’t know that he was home alone when the cops knocked on the door. He thought that our first born child was sleeping in his room.
He was already dead and I was sound asleep. A train changed everything. It ripped through my favorite son’s head and tore a hole in my universe.
Ten days prior to the train I was promoted to District Manager for a shoe company. I was on some kind of fast track. I have no degree and virtually no experience. I worked my ass off for that promotion and people kind of thought that I was a big deal. I bought into the hype.
I feel like I lost my train of thought here in this story of mine. Sometimes it is hard to think in a straight line. Everything related to losing my son is jumbled up together into some heaping pile of hot mess that never resembles a clear thought. It is vividly visceral and riddled with so much emotion that my mind becomes incapable of thoughts. The emotion is overwhelming.
I tried desperately to keep him alive. I tattooed his fingerprints and his name onto my body. I sealed up his t -hirts in freezer bags so that his scent would stay preserved in this world. I inundated Shutterfly with orders for pictures that I hung in every room in our house.
But nothing kept him living.
I went back to work. The girls went back to school. We muddled though our lives with the deepest pain imaginable pulsating though every inch of us in cruel and intolerable fashion.
I have no happy ending with which to wrap up this tale.
I have, however, learned that every single thing is a choice in life. Pain is a choice and I choose it. I’m sure that sounds completely masochistic but it isn’t.
I numbed myself early on in this unwelcome journey but I lose my son more and more in the numbing.
If I can’t feel, then I can’t remember
Everything is associated with feeling. So I choose the pain. The blinding pain of sweet remembrance is almost unbearable sometimes. I hear something or see something and it triggers the memories of the boy I love so dearly. I see him climbing trees or digging in the dirt. I hear his deep manly voice asking what’s for dinner.
I see his beautiful and sweaty hair under a ball cap. I remember him eating chocolate until it made him sick. I see him in football cleats or swinging a baseball bat. I see him watching Toy Story with awe. So many ages. So many memories. They fade in numbness and so I choose the pain because the only thing worse than the pain is the thought that he will keep fading and become never at all.
He left a note that asked us to take care of the dogs. So they get extra loving from all of us. He was a good big brother. He was kindhearted with big wide eyes. He had an adventurous soul and was sometimes a really deep thinker. He was a Yankees fan and a Jets fan. He loved superheroes and Buzz Lightyear when he was a little guy. He was quiet, but silly with the people close to him. He really didn’t have a mean bone in his body and so maybe only the good do die young.
There is a hole inside of me that will never close. My Tyler James lives in that hole and so I never want it to fully heal. It is his place in the world.
Something got inside of that boy of mine and I didn’t see it. Maybe we do that to our sons with our expectations of man-ing up in this f-ked up and difficult world.
He was tough as nails. He never complained when he was in pain. So, I guess the pain that took his life would be no different. I hope that he is at peace and I hope that someday I will find that peace too.
I’ll see ya again on the other side, Son.