My cousin shot himself in the head on his 25th birthday.
It wasn’t his first relationship with suicide. When he was 18 years old he overdosed, cut his wrist and jumped off a cliff in Western, Conn. It was an autumn evening – the jump knocked him unconscious, his cut wrist weighted under him. The night folded down with a chill that slowed his blood flow preventing a bleed out or drug assimilation.
He was found, comatose, and rushed to the hospital. When he came to two weeks later, the left side of his body was paralyzed, and he was pissed. A ton of physical and emotional therapy, some drugs and undying devotion from his mom got him back full function on his left side minus his leg. He was numb from the knee to the toes and wore a brace to walk. He studied motorcycle maintenance and bought a bike. He attended AA meetings and checked out cooking school. He had three loving siblings, friends, nature and got his own apartment and a girlfriend. He had potential until his 25th birthday.
Learning the importance of family was the education of my 20s and 30s more than my single digit years. Perhaps because my mom was often sick or my dad was shy or money was tight or just life was super busy, but visiting extended family was typically an annual or bi-annual adventure that dwindled even more after my mom passed. That said, in my childhood and teenage years, to my early 20s, Jon was by far my favorite cousin. I looked forward to seeing him. He was softer than the others – a lover of animals, nature, sports, older folks and he had such a fragile heart. Aches in the world ached him more. He was the cousin I could relate to because he was quiet and reflective. He seemed to feel too much–that feeling of being born without a lid on your heart.
Because of the suddenness of his death, I was the only member of my immediate family who could make the funeral. I didn’t really want to go. I was nervous. The other sibling cousins still felt intimidating, and I never seemed to know what to say. And I was angry, so angry with Jon. He gave up. Goodness gave up. I didn’t know where to put that in my insides. I wanted another conversation with him. I should have been a better cousin. Why hadn’t I paid more attention or tried to keep contact? But I needed to be at that funeral, and I still can’t fully explain why.
I’m not a perfection thinker on the human condition. I have yet to meet a person who isn’t well flavored with many strands of being, some cozy, easy, lovely to be around and some confusing, saddening, pausing, dissonant.
It seems there’s always tons more encased in the skin of each being than will ever meet the eye or company of another.
And with some folks, we just resonate more than we do with others. The human condition as a massive science experiment over and over. What compliments? Enhances? Explodes? Diffuses? We find out every time we stretch ourselves into each others’ worlds, we find out.
No one is “wrong” and no one is “perfect”. Perhaps this is grace’s brilliance – it keeps it all interesting. I believe the “Jon’s life” card got played out as it should have, though most moments I don’t “get” it nor thoroughly grasp why 15 years later it still shakes me.
Post funeral, my Dad’s and my budding relationship unfolded further over a long reflection on Jon and his struggle, his loss in life’s greater picture. We ached over the phone together, and then my dad took it further. “You know Kel, that phone call that Kathy (Jon’s mom/my dad’s sister) got? I always thought if would be me that got that call. I always thought that someday someone would call me to tell me that you’d committed suicide.”
Those are hard words to hear from one’s Dad or from one’s anyone. I rattled inside, I paused, I cried and I rattled more. “Never, Dad. I’ve hit some lows, but I don’t believe in suicide. I would never do that.” It was what Jon’s first suicide attempt and his battle to get his left side back had taught me: we have much less control than we presume, but we certainly hold the power to make things worse.
Last week I got a phone call from Butch. Butch is my birth dad. I am not particularly close to him, but he calls every now and again. I found he and my birth mom when I was 30 years old. That same year, curious, I flew out to meet Butch’s extended family: two sisters (Karen and Sandi), his Dad (“technically” my grandfather), and his nephews (Micheal and Ryan – Sandi’s sons/my cousins).
It was an honor. It was adventure. It was crazy weird.
I look like Michael and Ryan, and I had never looked at a relative before and seen physical characteristics of myself. It was giddy. They were kind, welcoming, intrigued, generous and Goodness – good folk. I had just graduated from yoga teacher training. They convinced me to teach them some postures. We giggled around on the grass, and the pictures are in the wooden chest beside where I now write. That time, 10 years ago, was the last time we connected.
Micheal and Ryan have more brothers who I did not meet. One of them, Bradley, is getting married on October 16. Last Saturday was the bachelor party. They partied well and stumbled into bed around 4 a.m. At 6 a.m., a member of the party went to wake up Ryan, who was face down on the bed – and dead. Too much drinking, maybe drugs, a black out/pass out face down on his pillow. He suffocated himself. My first thought to the news was deep sadness. What a waste of life. A bigger picture exists always, yes, but a 36-year-old death is hard to swallow. Goodness gone.
All week, Ryan’s death has woven its way through my brain, my belly and my heart. I’ve paused a lot. I’ve noticed the brilliant texture, color and smell of the leaves more. I’ve seeped the sun into my skin and stomped in rain puddles. I’ve thought about Jon. I’ve thought of my dad’s words from 15 years ago. I’ve thought about Ryan’s 13-year-old son, and his wife, the shapes of mountains, my sister, the inevitable coming of Winter and I’ve thought of Bobby, a close friend of mine from nursery school who seems hell bent on sacrificing his goodness. Bobby, who I fear becoming a Ryan or a Jon.
In the past week, month and year, I’ve pondered: what does it mean to be a friend? What, if anything, do we owe to each other in this game of life? Where are the lines? What are the rules? How much is reflection and who holds responsibility? How can I be a friend for someone who isn’t looking for one yet? Twenty years of yoga study built me a lid for my heart and gave me a voice, hands, perspective, faith and hope. Twenty years of yoga study echoed a deep belief that we cross paths in purpose, that all the parts fit, even the awkwardly bizarre ones.
Over time I’ve learned that aching or raging or fear inside me means action is calling my name. I want Goodness to survive.
Kellie Finn is immensely grateful for New England living, family, friends, sunshine, good jokes, moon gazing, night walks, ocean breezes, lingering hugs, fresh vegetables, road trips, adjectives, and an ever growing boot collection. She has been studying yoga since a volunteer summer at Omega in 1991, and teaching classes/working privately with students since Sept. 2001. You can find her class schedule and musings at www.kelliefinn.com