by Beth Saadati
“What I would give for a couple of days—a couple of days.”
~TobyMac, “21 Years”
Today. Thursday. August thirteenth. You were born on another Thursday, another August's same date. You were finally here, making that day lovely. And good. And right.
Vignette 1: I schedule my first-ever salon appointment at the beginning of this year. The price is outlandish. But I want to see your friend. She’s grown up. Beautiful. She cuts my hair’s broken ends. We talk about you, we talk about her. She says her fiancé is wonderful, they’re buying a house, they're planning a wedding. An invitation never arrives. I don’t understand why. Later I'll learn the ceremony was small, private, only for family. Maybe it’s for the best, because you should have stood by her side in the bridal party. And I would have cried—imagining what could have been—and wrecked the special event.
Vignette 2: Your second friend supports and encourages your brother and me. After fighting to overcome unforeseen health challenges that stump the country's top MDs, he takes the MCAT. He will study to be a doctor. He’ll follow your dream.
Vignette 3: I see your third friend at a graduation party. She approaches. She radiates joy. For a long time we talk about her college, her graduate-school plans, her study of art therapy as a tool for grief counseling, the great guy she’s dating. Later her dad tells us she visited your grave where she yells, cries, and finds more healing.
Vignette 4: Your fourth friend drives two hours, unexpectedly stops by for supper. We eat. He stays until nine. He talks about the hardship, the struggle, the reality of life. He hasn’t forgotten. He speaks your name.
Vignette 5: My phone pings. I check the text. An ultrasound picture with two words and two question marks: Guess what?? I burst with gladness for your fifth friend and his wife. I’m touched that he privately told me before publicly announcing the news. I’ll never receive a surprise ultrasound photo from you.
Vignette 6: Your sixth friend majors in writing. Graduates with accolades. Shows me how to access databases to do graduate research. Offers to read chapters for the young-adult novel. You made her feel included. Now she will help craft your fictionalized story.
Vignette 7: It’s been several years since I’ve seen your seventh friend. I email, invite him to hang out with the family. He doesn’t reply. The disconnection hurts. But who can blame him? When memories are too painful, even friends sometimes stay away to survive.
Vignette 8: I log into Facebook. Someone sends a message. Your eighth friend opens her heart. Says she misses you profoundly. Says you’re a part of her life in the milestone moments. And I wonder: for reasons I’ll never understand, were you so afraid she didn't like you that you couldn’t see your classmate really was your friend?
Vignette 9: You never had any opportunity to meet the newest, the ninth. He’s authentic. Courageous. A treasured friend of our family. I call and leave a birthday message. Blurt what comes to mind. Something about probably receiving 3074 well-wishes already, but we’re also thinking of him. I berate myself for stating that outrageous numeral. At night I see his post, notice the Instagram and Facebook totals almost equal the number I spoke. So many so glad he stayed. You should be posting something similar today. Suicide didn’t have to stop you from turning twenty-two.
Vignette 10: Soon your sister will turn eighteen. Graduate high school. Leave for college to major in English, to edit, to teach. She’s one of the bravest young women I know. She cares for things you left behind. She’ll help tell your story, critique chapters in the book. She’s holding onto the memories.
Vignette 11: Your brother is fourteen. A freshman. The same age and grade you were. Growing up. Moving forward. Achieving honors. Thriving most of the time. But after experiencing the unexpected horror of that one night, I am still afraid.
Vignette 12: Your classmates graduated from college in June. You should have virtually walked the stage too.
Vignette 13: Two weeks. Four suicides. Four private messages. Not from strangers. From people I know. A Greenville friend’s daughter lost a boyfriend. An Ohio high-school friend a brother. A writer friend a neighbor. Chicago friends their twenty-year-old son. I watch the virtual funeral. Hear them speak. Feel their pain. I have no answers, no magic wand to undo the devastation, the permanent damage that’s been done.
Vignette 14: This week the Bittersweet Blog has a thousand views from Hong Kong. Your death upturned one small corner of the world. But this reminds me that suicide touches every continent. It’s universal, infecting far more lives than Covid. It doesn’t have to.
Vignette 15: One year. Forty books. My master’s thesis? Communicating Difficult Truths: The Portrayal of Death, Loss, and Grief in Contemporary Literature. The reading weighs heavy. I tire of vicariously reliving others’ stories. And I hesitate to share yet another post that repeats the same unchanging ending.
Vignette 16: I add intro photos to my Facebook timeline. Choose two pictures of you. Seeing you with your brother and sister makes me smile. Even though, in one sense, the reality is no longer true.
Vignette 17: For three summers I edit Sam Eaton’s book, Recklessly Alive: What My Suicide Attempt Taught Me About God and Living Life to the Fullest. I cry each time I do. How I wish this were your victorious story too.
Vignette 18: How should we celebrate your birthday? Bake a cake? Make a pie? Watch your favorite Avengers movie? Set flowers on the grave? I don’t really know. Every option is simply a reminder that you’re no longer around.
Vignette 19: There are three days of the year I have no idea how to handle. This is one. So I kick up the bass. Repeat Pink’s cover of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up,” Toby Mac’s “21 Years,” Hillsong United’s “Good Grace.” My shoes pound pavement as I run.
Vignette 20: The Amazon van stops in front of the house. An envelope. A book. I turn first to the Author’s Note and read Sheila O’Connor’s words: “. . . I am seeking to fill the void with story, to tell myself a tale that will make sense of what I’ve lost” (256). The line resonates. It offers hope. And so I type out these twenty fragmented vignettes.
Thursday. August thirteenth. Waiting nine months for that other sacred Thursday, that same August date, seems short compared to eight birthdays
without you. We carry your light, your laughter, your story. But, if only you
hadn’t gone, this life could be a lot more right.
“Until the show is over, and you run into my arms,
God has you in heaven, but I have you in my heart.”
~TobyMac, “21 Years”
Beth is a high school English teacher, wife, and mom to two spectacular teens. She likes to spend time with family and friends, indulge in a Chicago-style mushroom pizza or homemade blackberry pie, and, with shameful inconsistency, lace up her Nikes for a long-distance run. In the aftermath of her beloved firstborn's suicide, she shares story at bethsaadati.com to offer insight, understanding, and hope--with those who weather the storms of suicidal thoughts and suicide loss...and with those who simply know how bittersweet life can sometimes be.