I will never forget the day of November 21, 2018, a day that forever changed the dynamics of my family. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and I was looking forward to the gathering my family was planning. I recall I was on my lunch break when my father called me, which he never did when I was working. I could tell from the tone of his voice that something was seriously wrong as he told me to sit down. He said only three words that shook me to the core. “Tyler committed suicide.”
The moment I heard those horrible words from my father, my breath caught in my throat and my heart froze. I can still hear those words to this day, like a broken record playing on repeat. I couldn’t understand what I just heard. How could this young man, who fought so valiantly as a child to survive, just give up? How could none of us know that he was in that kind of pain? Why did he think death was the only solution? These are questions we have not been able to answer, and we never will. I couldn’t believe that this boy I loved so much was gone forever.
My youngest nephew Tyler was always the miracle child of my family. He was born three months prematurely and barely survived his first year. He was so tiny and fragile, I was afraid to meet him for the first two months of his life. Not because I didn’t care about what my sister was going through, watching her child fight for his life, but because I knew I would fall in love with him. I didn’t want to develop a bond, only to have it broken if he wasn’t going to stay with us. I thought it would make it easier if we lost him. The first time I held him, I loved him instantly. When he finally came home from the hospital, I spent as much time with him as possible. That baby loved to be held and we were all happy to oblige.
We almost lost him when he was a year old. He was hospitalized for influenza and doctors gave him every treatment available. They had to sedate him to keep him from pulling out the IV and he was on a respirator as well. I remember how my heart broke, seeing that tiny body barely alive, so still, with wires and tubing everywhere. We thought we were there to say goodbye, but that child was a strong fighter. The doctors had done all they could, and it was his own will that kept him alive. I was so proud of what a survivor he was, and he pulled through the influenza.
I love to reminisce about when he was a child. Because of his early birth, he was quite delayed in development. He didn’t start crawling until he was about a year and a half. Around that time, I was working at a night job and Tyler was staying at my dad’s house. One night, I was talking to my dad while in the kitchen, making a sandwich in preparation for going to work. Now, Tyler was in the back bedroom at the end of the hall. At the other end of the hallway was the living room, which you had to go through to get to the kitchen. Well, Tyler must have heard us talking. My father went into the living room, and I heard him say, “Hi Tyler, are you coming to see Grandpa?” Then a moment later he said, “Oh, you want to see Aunt Trish.” That little boy slowly crawled into the kitchen, stopped a few feet away from me, and sleepily held out his arms. The moment I picked him up, he snuggled against my chest. I was able to hold him for ten minutes before I had to leave for work. If only I had known that we would lose him so soon, I would have forgotten the job (which I hated anyway) and held him all night.
Life is full of tragedy, and we can’t escape it. We all lose someone we love at one point or another. You expect to bury your parents, but you never expect to bury a child. However, when you lose someone to suicide, it fills you with a rage and sense of helplessness. From an outside point of view, you think that they could have saved themselves, if they only tried. It feels like they made a selfish choice, and you never stop asking why. I have often asked myself, how could he think we would be okay without him? It’s a senseless death but worse is knowing that he made the deliberate choice.
There are no words that describe what losing Tyler felt like. Losing someone to suicide leaves you with many levels of guilt. Guilt that you never realized their pain, guilt that you survived, and guilt over any mistake you remember making with them. You second guess everything and ask yourself, if I had done this differently, would the outcome have been different? Then you feel angry because you feel so guilty and helpless. When you lose someone to death, a part of you dies and you have to find a new you and a way to cope. I had to make sense of this loss.
Since Tyler’s death at the tender age of sixteen, I have had to reevaluate what was important to me. The people I keep in my life are few but meaningful. I have no room for superficial or toxic people in my life. A blessing is that I have become closer to my niece, who loved her baby brother dearly. She called him her baby. We often talk about him and share memories of him, some even make us laugh. I pay more attention to those I love because I do not want to lose another.
I harbor my own guilt over Tyler’s death, because I refused to pick him up to go to Thanksgiving dinner. I had made plans with him a month prior to have lunch with me and my mom. He changed his mind about going but didn’t bother to tell me. So when I arrived to pick him up, he just refused to come. I was so hurt and angry about it that I said he could find another ride to Thanksgiving. I will always ask myself if I could have been the catalyst to change his decision. The last time I saw Tyler before his death was at his home, shortly after that incident. We chatted about mundane things but never really cleared the air. He acted as though nothing had happened, so I did too. But before I left, I told him that I love him, and he said it back.
Now, I make a point to tell people how I feel about them before it’s too late. When I depart from someone I love, I always tell them “I love you,” because you never know when the last goodbye will be. Always tell the people in your life how you care for them, it might even save their lives. I wasn’t able to save Tyler and I may not have ever been able to. I will never stop hurting over his loss, though I have learned how to live with it. I have precious memories of him, and I will always love him and be proud of him. The one thing I can take comfort in is knowing that the last thing I ever said to my nephew was, “I love you.” Because I did, I can live with his memory.