slivers of light in a dark place
I was mad at her for a long time. I was mad that she chose to take herself out of my life. That she chose to let my dad lose yet another child. That she, who had so much trouble throwing things out….tossed herself out of our lives, so easily. I was mad because I was the last person to talk to her; and she gave not so much of a hint of what she was about to do. I was mad because she chose to do this three weeks before Thanksgiving, when she should have been making plans to visit us as she did every year. I was mad that she did this a month before our birthdays in December—(I was born 3 years and 361 days after her)—we always celebrated our birthdays together, in our childhood home and later, on Black Friday when she would drive to Virginia to spend that weekend with us. I was mad because I didn’t understand. I wondered if she hated me, how could she do this to her little sister?
Before we found out what she had done to herself, we only knew that she was missing. She had “gone” missing once already, four months before as a matter of fact. That time, she had told me that she’d over medicated herself with the medicine she took for her epilepsy–Dilantin. Because she had taken that particular medicine since she was 12, I had some skepticism but not enough to probe deeper. It did not help that she was in New York and 8 hours away. She said, “don’t come, I’ll only be in the hospital a couple of days.” When I couldn’t get in touch with her on the day of her discharge; I grew worried. Hours turned into days and even her boss emailed me, concerned that she would lose her job if she didn’t get in touch with her company. I started to get frantic then. Why couldn’t we reach her? I cried out to God and finally, she managed to let her company know that she was still in the hospital. It took a lot of digging to discover she was in the psych ward; that they understood her to have attempted suicide with the extra Dilantin. However, she denied that to me and I stuck my head back into the sand. I was so relieved to have found her that I let it go.
When Bob and I first moved to Virginia back in the summer of 1993; my sister and I would talk on the phone every Friday night for at least an hour, sometimes on her dime, sometimes on mine. We did that for a long time, years; but as is the case with life, somehow we drifted away from it and stopped. But after this episode with the Dilantin, I told her we needed to do that again and we did. With renewed interest, I looked forward to Fridays and talking with her about whatever was going on in our lives.
On Friday, November 5, 2010, she called me, just as she had done countless other times. We discussed all manner of things, from the pain Bob was in with his back that wasn’t going away; to a game on Facebook we both enjoyed called Treasure Isle. I have replayed that conversation over in my head at least a dozen times and I can find no hint that she was entertaining the thoughts that would take her out of our lives. The next day, a cold rain pelted Staten Island, there might have even been sleet mixed in. I sent her a message on Facebook that she never responded to. I took my nephew to a showing of a movie at a local church, that was ironically enough, about losing a friend to suicide. I remember telling him on the way, that she was coming for Thanksgiving and he was happy about that. The next day I had to do a rare project on a Sunday and still I had not gotten any response back from her from the day before. It didn’t concern me as I figured she might have gone into work, as she had been known to do on other weekends. But Monday afternoon, as I played on my laptop, and checked my email, I just happened to see something in my Junk folder. It was an email from my sister’s manager, explaining that she hadn’t shown up for work that day and had I heard from her? I immediately tried to call her cell and got no answer; neither email or Facebook messenger garnered a response. I started feeling that panic from four months before. Was she in the psych ward again? I knew they wouldn’t tell me if I called because of patient confidentiality.
Days went by. I was numb, but I continued to get up and go to work. It was on a drive to Woodstock, VA, on I81 that I cried out to God as to her whereabouts. I felt an immediate sense of peace flood my spirit and a deep down knowledge that wherever she was, she was right with God and I didn’t have to worry. Figuring she was in the mental ward at Staten Island Hospital, I wasn’t sure how she had managed to give her heart to the Lord there; but I believed it all the same.
But as the week wore on and after my dad got the NYPD to check her place (where they found neither her or her car), dread started setting in. Something in my gut told me she wasn’t in the hospital. The cops told us they couldn’t put out a missing person report on her as she was an adult and might have just left for awhile. But I knew she wouldn’t let us worry like that, either. Finally on Sunday, November 14th, my dad got the call no parent ever wants to get. The NYPD had a body at the morgue, which they believed to be my sister because her car was found nearby, and we were summoned to New York to identify her. Next only to the time me and Bob had to drive to NY after my mom died; this was the saddest visit to NY I have ever had.
At first the cops seemed to say they thought she’d been murdered, but then they turned it around to where they believed it was suicide. Unbeknownst to us, she had called for an ambulance that time four months prior and told 911 that she’d tried to overdose on Dilantin, and they had heard that recording. As it turned out, all that time we were trying to find her—she was at the morgue. Seems the cops on her side of the Island didn’t have contact with the ones who had found her and the pieces didn’t get put together until they found her car.
There was an unfortunate picture in the Staten Island Advance of a sheet covered body found at Wolfe’s Pond Park. My sister was a private person and she would not have liked knowing that her last picture would be of that. But Wolfe’s Pond Park is where she chose to take her own life; more than likely on that cold rainy Saturday the day after I talked to her. They found her on Sunday November 7th however and that is her official day of death.
I didn’t want to believe suicide. I didn’t want to believe she knowingly chose to leave. There was however, a sliver of light in all of this. The day after we had driven to New York, as me and Bob and my dad and step-mom all sat in the breakfast area of the hotel we were staying at; my dad told me something interesting. He said that after he had gotten off the phone with the police on Sunday; he had felt a sudden fear but that peace had come over him just as suddenly and that he heard a still small voice say—“Don’t worry, she’s with me.” I told him of the experience I also had, as I was driving to Woodstock a few days before. I was glad that God had reassured us both as to her real whereabouts—it’s been one less thing to worry over.
But still I was mad and it took a long time for me to stop being mad at her. Yes, I grieved too, I cried a lot over a long period of time. I missed my sister and it took quite a while for me to stop thinking she was going to call every Friday night that rolled around. But I was angry at her for leaving too. I was angry because my dad had already buried his son, and his wife and now he had outlived another child. I was angry because my husband was very sick and I could have used my sister to talk to about it, but she wasn’t there. I felt she had been selfish and cowardly and I didn’t want to feel those things but I did.
After I lost Bob 20 months after losing her; I started to understand a little better. My hard and harsh feelings abated. I knew what it felt like to have a crushing and somewhat hopeless outlook on the rest of my life and yes, there were times when I wanted out. I wasn’t thinking of anyone and what kind of heartache they would experience from my desire to be free of the endless sorrow. Unlike her, I knew I would never do it—take myself out of the game—I knew there were people who counted on me and I wouldn’t let them down. But I stopped being angry at her and I accepted that she chose to do that not because of me or in spite of me—but because she didn’t see any other way. Suicide is never the answer—-it devastates the ones left behind—sometimes people do it to stick it to people but those aren’t the people affected. It’s the ones that love you—the ones you would never want to hurt in a million years—they will blame themselves—they will think they could have stopped it somehow.
So if that thought ever gets too intense, please call someone or call the hotline for Suicide prevention–1 (800) 273-8255. There were and have been slivers of light in this dark place—but I wish she could have seen them for herself. There is always Hope—God is but a prayer away.