Grieving for a friend is rough. Grieving for a suicide adds new layers of harshness. Grieving for a 21-year-old suicide defies words. For a week after the phone call, my emotional range was too elemental for language, a visceral spectrum of fire and rain.
I think of this young man relaxing on the floor of our family room, bantering with my son, and I hope he’s at peace. I think of him curled up in his favorite red blanket, asleep on our couch, and I hope he’s resting in comfort. I think of how he sang and danced with my daughter, strumming a wooden stirring spoon. I don’t know if kitchen utensils are available through eternity, so if he needs one, I hope he finds a way to send a message. I’ll figure out how to launch a wooden spoon into the beyond.
Since he was close to my family, his parents kindly invited me to speak at his memorial. I thought of his helping me learn the unfamiliar inflections of The South, how we laughed over my many miscommunications when I first moved from California. I thought of his vibrant curiosity, his questions, his eagerness to explore — from writing novels to urban development, from bovine medical research to gender equality. I thought of the outstanding meals he cooked with my daughter and son and I smiled, remembering the chocolate and avocado cake he and my son somehow decided they had to bake — and yes, the result was as appalling as my daughter warned them it would be. I cried as I wrote his eulogy. I practiced my speech and broke down every time. I paused, trying to translate my grief into words. But I could only feel fire and rain.
At his memorial service, I expected to deliver the eulogy through tears, but I didn’t. My voice held strangely steady. However, my hands shook so violently that they felt like an alien appendage, detached and overwrought. I looked over the large room filled with his family and friends — bewildered, shattered, alive — and the notion that he was dead, truly dead, felt utterly absurd.
He was a young man of action, so I wish him Godspeed. But I’m not sure what that means. Maybe he’s a powerful current in an ocean’s depth, or the foamy rush in a river’s whitewater. Perhaps he’s a different kind of force — the drive within a poet to write, or the push within a scientist to discover.
I hope he rests in peace. But I don’t know what that means, either. Maybe his spirit quietly enriches the minerals of the soil, or gently guides the first spring tendrils toward the light. Although these thoughts are comforting, I’m painfully aware that I can conceive of his eternity only in the limited terms of my familiar world. Eternity is a place beyond the parameters of my imagination.
So I’ll stick to what I know: fire and rain — rage and cold, heat and water, warmth and sustenance, life and life.
TO ALL READERS:
If you are suicidal or fear for the safety of another person, please reach out.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
The Trevor Project Lifeline 866-488-7386
You can also call 911 for emergency assistance.
Amy Kaufman Burk is a therapist-turned-author in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Amy’s first novel, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade, in a school with students who speak over forty languages. The story deals with homophobic bullying, adolescent sexuality, racial and economic diversity, and the power of friendship. Amy’s second novel, Tightwire, follows a fictional psychotherapy from three perspectives — the rookie therapist scrambling to build a treatment — the patient struggling to heal — the supervisor guiding the young therapist through the complex emotional terrain of her first case. This novel was written to fight the stigma of mental issues, and with deep respect for the human capacity to heal.
Amy’s novels are available on Amazon.
Amy’s Author Page