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.
I love you so much friend. Thank you for being so brave and raw. Somehow healing comes in the rawness and a connection like non other. I wish I could give you a huge hug today and cry with you. This truly touched my heart in so many ways. I am so glad I have the privilege to call you my friend. ❤️ReplyDelete
Thank you, Andrea. Your words mean a lot. The night after I post something on the blog is always rough. Regardless of how many hours I put into wording and revising a post, once it's out there I want to delete it...because it feels too vulnerable and raw. So your comment really is encouraging. Thanks for being a friend. Sending hugs and love.Delete
Beth, you spill your heart. You help us who didn’t know Jenna get a glimpse of the beautiful person she was. You remind us that life is fleeting and to hold on to those we love. You nudge us to listen and care for the Jenna’s of the world. Never apologize. You have touched so many with your words. You don’t share on FB much but when you do I usually lift a prayer that your family feels God’s comfort in those hard moments.ReplyDelete
I wonder what Jenna would share from heaven? I often think of those who have passed and I imagine they are sad for us because we are missing out on heaven while living on this imperfect earth.
Daphne...thank you. I wasn't able to cry yesterday; I was mostly numb. I'm crying now. As a writer, you'll probably understand this: sometimes I wonder if the words really matter. I'm too close to the story to objectively see. Then I read the verbs from your perspective--help, remind, nudge, touch--and I can believe that the words just might make a difference after all.Delete
Your question is good, grounding me in where my focus ought to be. I can imagine Jenna so happy, so healed, finally seeing reality with so much clarity, exuberantly telling stories. It's a beautiful picture. I needed that reminder. Thank you. Suicide is hell for those who are left behind. But it's not the end of the story.
Beth, I feel a reverent hush of holy respect for the living hell you have endured. Jenna’s heartbreaking story has made real to me a concept (suicide) I formerly thought of as unreal. I am now aware, alert, vigilant to this unspeakable threat to our youth. Thank you for using the energy of grief to push back the darkness for so many others. I still recall standing helplessly beside you at CCC2015, as you crumbled in a moment of anguish. But let the enemy of our souls beware: you have become a formidable advocate for LIFE. You, my strong-hearted friend, are saving many. Elizabeth BrickmanReplyDelete
These words are so good, Elizabeth. Thank you. I'm grateful. I've read your paragraph several times, needing to hear every one of them.Delete
I'm surprised you remember that moment at the conference. All my defenses were down; I was caught so off-guard. When I heard the story about the mother whose daughter was missing, a flood of buried memories from the night of Jenna's death rushed back. I didn't understand it then. Now I know it was PTSD. Thank you for standing beside me. It made a world of difference simply knowing others were there and cared.
I'm glad to hear the blog's words somehow make the unreal more real. That's my hope. I'm helpless to bring Jenna back, but I want to do whatever I can to keep others from making the choice to end their lives. I loved your phrase "formidable advocate for life." Again, thanks.
Beth, I will be honest and say I hesitate sometimes to read your posts. It’s so hard. I love to hear how you and the family are doing but I also know I will hear things that will break my heart. I cry deeply every time. I want to run to your house and give you a hug. I want to hear all your stories about Jenna. I don’t ever want her to be forgotten. Please don’t ever stop sharing even though many will hesitate to read because the pain is too much. There are many out there that have a greater appreciation for life and will hug their loved ones a little tighter after reading your inspiring words. Thank you for your beautiful words and for always being so vulnerable in such a painful time.ReplyDelete
Love you friend, Lisa
Lisa, I really appreciate your honesty and transparency. As a writer, it's always helpful to know how readers receive a piece because I'm too close to the subject to clearly see. I'm very sorry the posts are hard to read and cause others pain. (I would definitely rather be writing joy-filled posts that make readers smile and laugh!) Maybe that's why I'm deeply touched when people do read the posts--when readers want to understand and choose to enter in--because it costs them far more than just their time. Thank you for encouraging me to continue to share the story anyway. (Your words remind me of a poster I have titled "Anyway" that's filled with statements from Mother Teresa.) You have been an authentic friend. I'm grateful. Sending hugs and love.Delete
Thank you, Warren. I hope all is well with you and your family.Delete
I will never be one of the first to comment on your posts. I wait. I wait not only to read them, but to process them, to absorb them. I know they are quality words of depth and the last thing I would want would be to flit across them with an attention span that is less than what is deserved.ReplyDelete
In a time where we give a like here and a virtual hug there, I find we are missing the true connections our souls desire. Quality time. An expensive love language. Too high a price to pay for some. So needed by others.
Never stop sharing. Never. I hear you. I absorb the words and phrases but I also absorb what hasn't been said. The ongoing grief. The ongoing reflections of seeing the people who are so important to the ever fading memories of the past. It is so beautiful that there is a future to hope for that DOES include your sweet Jenna. A future where there are no tears, no grief, no regrets. Just the deepest love and happiness for you and your girl to share together. And until then you soldier on with your marching orders from your Lord, knowing His strength that keeps you going even through these days in August that are so very painful. How awesome is it that He saw your beginning clear to your end? That He gave the very same start date to your friend that Jenna had also. Tell me that is a coincidence!
I simply say all this to say, never stop telling your story, Jenna's story, other's stories. You're giving of your time to those you may never meet, sowing into lives you may never know in this life. I hear the stories and I'll hug my girls a but tighter because of them. I'll keep telling these stories. They will make a difference. They will.
I've re-read your comment at least ten times, not sure of how to reply. You explained it well in your third sentence--I simply wanted to let the words soak in, to fully absorb all that you said.Delete
I can't thank you enough for taking time to so carefully share all that you did. Your words are a gift. I completely agree with the line about true connection and quality time!
Thank you for your perspective. For sharing truth and hope regarding what's still ahead. For understanding the hurt of the "now but not yet" and the tension between what was and what is. For valuing the power of story. For seeing all that's been left unsaid. (I tend to write in understatement rather than hyperbole, so I was really touched by your close reading of the post and the noticing of "what hasn't been said.") Your beautifully written words have encouraged me far more than I can say.
Keep loving your precious girls. They're certainly blessed to have you as their mom.