He Died From Suicide

Dear Alex,

It all went down just as you wished. All of your family and closest friends received your note at exactly 6:00 pm MST on Monday, December 10. Dozens of phone calls later, there was a knock on my door at about 10:00 pm. It was the Albuquerque Police Department, there to inform me that your body had been located, and you were deceased.

This was more a formality than a surprise, since your Mom had already been paid a visit by the Skokie Police, informing her of the same.

Lacking any other way of creating a fitting tribute to you on this, the first anniversary of your release, I thought I’d send you a letter. Speaking of which, you and Shoshana are such gifted writers. I say “are” because I still have difficulty thinking of you in the past tense.

There are a lot of “onlys” in your story. This has affected Shoshi perhaps more than anyone. She only had one sibling. You were my only son. Same with your Mom. Out of all of the kids that were had in the family, you were one of only two boys born with the same last name.

Don’t get me wrong — I knew that the family name was not going to have a long line, but that never bothered me. I am so proud of how you came out to the world, but you insisted that you not be labeled as such — you were just Alex.

“Have I been grieving the wrong way?”

I probably handled your loss in the worst possible way — I isolated, which I am so prone to doing. I mean, I took care of my hygiene and got myself to work on time and all that, but I talked to few. So many reached out to me in the first month of your absence, but I buried my head in the sand. I let go of my home. I lost interest in all of the things that had previously captivated me, the glue that had held me together. I even quit trying to write.

As for support groups, I did contact one here, but never made it to a meeting. I figured I’ve been in AA three times, and that never did any good, so why would this be any different? Because I just found out about it, I joined a Facebook group called TCF (The Compassionate Friends), which is exclusively for those who have lost children to suicide. I’ll see what they have to offer. I’m more comfortable writing about my feelings than expressing them verbally.

In my research, I learned that suicide is the second leading cause of death among 25–34 year olds. This group is also more susceptible to suicide than any other age group. Another thing I learned is that you do not have to, nor should you say, that one committed suicide.

“He committed suicide” sounds so criminal to me, and also makes it that much more uncomfortable to have a conversation around. The best way to explain it is that you “died of suicide”. Furthermore, I found this quote by Sam Fiorella of The Friendship Bench to be comforting:

“They did not die from suicide — they died from depression. The choice was not theirs.”

Lord knows you tried, with help from your Mom. I didn’t realize you’d been through shock treatment. Perhaps I wasn’t told or maybe I was. I was inattentive for too long. But I have to say that, to this day, I can’t help but think that the companion you did this with didn’t have anything to do with your decision. You were last seen alive on December 5, 2019. How long were you out in the Wyoming cold before you did “it”? Did you have any last minute reservations? What exactly were you thinking? Did you suffer? The police report cannot answer such existential questions.

What I have left are pieces of you. Your urn and a lock of your hair are on my dresser. A file that includes everything about the circumstances of your quietus, the attendant paperwork, and the cards and letters I received which remain on the coffee table in my office. Pictures, and evidence of your online life. I look at it often. I can’t bring myself to put these items away in my file cabinet.

The other night, a few minutes after I had turned off the light, I felt my bed sheets move. Ever so slightly, but I wasn’t moving, and there are no drafts here. You said you would come back to haunt us “in a friendly way”. I extended my hand in an attempt to touch yours. I called out your name. I didn’t get a response but I believe, and you’ll be back at some point.

This is not the natural order of things. You were supposed to be looking at me on MY deathbed. I wasn’t supposed to be saying goodbye to your cold, lifeless body on an improvised gurney at a funeral home in Laramie, Wyoming.

I don’t know what to do now, Alex, but to trudge forward. Shoshi needs me more than ever, and someday, I’ll get this parenting thing right. I think of you when I look at the stars, as I suppose that’s where you are. You are still a person, just in a different dimension, and your name is Alexander Justin Small. Or, just “Alex”.

Love Forever, Dad

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7/365 support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Call 1–800–273–8255.

My life in the context of 20th-century history and pop culture — infused with a dose of fun (where appropriate!) More to come when I get my sea legs on here.

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