Charles died by suicide June 5, 2015 and I started writing it in August of that same year. We were moving at the same time since the house sold four days before his death.
It took six months to write 1,200 words. Earlier versions were so angry they would have spit at you from the page. Other versions were a complete mess like I was. But I kept at it and by December 2015, I had sent it to the editor and never even asked when it would publish. It just felt so good to have completed it.
I got a call from the editor on Friday, February 5, 2016 while I was driving on Forest Hill Avenue. I think I was headed to Lowe’s.
The editor said, “Your article is live and posted already and it will be in print in Sunday’s paper.” She may have said something else but my brain clouded over and I started shaking. It made it so real.
Barely breathing, I eeked out, “Thank you for letting me know.”
I hung up and pulled over to the side of the road. I recognized the first signs of a panic attack and immediately starting diaphragmatic breathing to stop it before and I managed to get myself under control before my adrenaline system could implode on me. I was terrified. I’d never in my life had a panic attack but I had seen Charles have them and now I knew what it felt like. At least the initial feeling of dread.
I defaulted to my alter ego conversation that had always helped me work through my fears.
Me: What the hell did I do? I just wrote all of our dirty laundry and then published it in the newspaper for God’s sake. What was I thinking?
Alter ego: What do you mean? This is what you wanted, right? You said you were going public with this subject. Did you think it would be easy?
Me: No but what about my family? My friends? Oh my God my clients will all leave. Oh geez my husband has not even seen it yet.
Alter ego: And do you seriously think your clients would leave because your child suffered from addition and killed himself? If so, they are not worth having.
Me: I know you are right. But what will my mom think? She’ll be embarrassed.
Alter ego: Your mom has met you before. She’s aware you’re not a shrinking violet.
Me: It’s just….
Alter ego: Look. None of that shit would prevent you from sharing this story. What’s the real problem? Come on. Out with it.
Me: My real fear?
Alter ego: Yes. Tell me.
Me: What if I share it and no one reads it?
I’ll be crushed. It will feel like I buried him all over again.
No one has even called me lately. No one has even mentioned Charles’ name. When I do, they cut me off. I see people avoiding me when they see me. Like my son’s suicide is contagious.
Alter ego: Take a deep breath. You made a commitment to do this. You are not ashamed. And as ugly as the ending was, you have to ask yourself if that fear is worth not sharing what you spent six months pouring your heart out writing?
Me: Good God I’m so terrified. I’m shaking all over and sweating in the middle of February.
Alter ego: I know. I feel it. So let’s do this. You drive home now. You send a link to the article to your husband, mom, in-laws, Martha and the book club girls. You then share it on Facebook after you hear from Randy, close your computer, cut off your phone, take the dog down to the James River for a walk. Don’t take your phone or even look at social media for the rest of the day.
Me: OK. It’s a plan. That’s what I’ll do.
In its initial online location, it went all over the world, trended for weeks and had over two thousand comments from others who read their story in mine. The editor wrote “committed suicide” in the headline which was not the phrase I used and they still have not changed it.
At the time, I was blown away by how many similar stories there were and I read and replied to every single comment which took weeks. For over two years I got messages about it from all over the U.S., U.K., Germany, Australia, Thailand etc. I was shocked and overwhelmed because it was the opposite of what I expected.
It was not until then that I realized the power of a story, no matter how ugly and painful. Writing that article helped me start healing. As painful as it was to write, and it was BRUTAL, I kept going back because I was able to find relief in having written.