A recent Saturday morning… I awoke early to take flowers to my girl. I wanted to arrive as the sun rose over the stories of lives remembered… lives forgotten… ghosts of memories lost to time. Alone… another living soul not to be found in the graveyard of memories that morning. Many non-living souls surrounding me and my girl: a Navy Warrant Officer on her left; a Navy Corpsman on her right. Only appropriate she lies between two Navy veterans I think each time I visit. Flowers arranged this day: white roses.
“She would say:
Promise me, when you see
A white rose you’ll think of me
I love you so, never let go
I will be your ghost of a rose.”
Ghost of a Rose by Blackmore’s Night
Each time I see a white rose, my thoughts immediately go to my girl. Her voice flowing through the closed bathroom door, floating through the house, reaching my ears. Often, her voice drew me to the door… standing outside… listening to her sing. Ghost of a Rose was often played, and amazed at her voice, I would stand… listening. Never did I imagine the many times standing there that one day her voice would be a memory, and at the doors of my mind I would stand, straining to remember every nuance of her voice.
Time… eventually people forget… or do not remember. It is not that this is intentional, but time moves on. Lives filled with other priorities: jobs, other family, vacations, other deaths… people move on. Occasionally, a thought may cross their minds; occasionally, a tear may form as their eye blinks, but time… it stops for no one. A graveyard is a reminder of lives no more, of lives remembered, of lives transitioning to the field of history that become only a name engraved in stone… in time.
It will be that way for me, for you, for each of us. My name will one day engrave a stone, but until that day, my girl lives in me and with me every second. Her absence weighs heavy on my heart every day. He absence pierces my soul and that absence is often filled with anger when life hits me. Flags being lowered to remember those who died because of Covid-19, or the lives killed in Atlanta is one such life-hitting moment. Those in government, the media, decide who is important enough to be remembered, to be honored. Why is there never a flag lowered for the lives ended by suicide? Do their lives not matter? Are their stories not important? Why is it the only time we hear about somebody killing themselves is when the person is considered “important,” or is a “celebrity.” Naturally, there is the occasional coverage of suicide when some external factor makes it salacious enough to cover: a girlfriend egging on her boyfriend resulting in a trial; a teenage boy taking his life because of a blackmail scheme. However, what fascinates me – and not in a good way – is in these few cases, most of the coverage is on the other person who is deemed responsible for the suicide, not the person who killed themselves. Yes, they are there, but more as props in the story the media narrates. Why is this?
According to the Center for Disease Control, the top five reasons people die are: unintentional/accidental death; malignant cancer; heart disease; homicide; and suicide. In 2000, suicide was fourth on the list for young people between the ages of 10-25. By the year 2019, it was second. The number of suicide deaths in this age group went from 15,700 in 2000 to 22,100 in 2019. A total of 358,600 young people between 10-25 years old killed themselves from 2000 to 2019. (Note: This is not the total number of suicides.)
Why is there no honor being paid to these young lives? To the other lives? When a young person dies, it is not just that life that is extinguished, it is all that person could have become that is also extinguished. It is the death of another generation. My daughter, age 25, often spoke of the daughter she would have; she even had a name selected: that is no more. There will be no children of hers, no children of theirs… and so it goes.
But it is way more than the ending of life and the subsequent generations of lives; it is so much more because suicide radically alters the lives left behind. At this point comes the disclaimer that death alters anyone, because a person loved is no more, and what I am writing does not in any way diminish the grief felt by those who have buried loved ones. Why the disclaimer? Because someone reading will think, “Well, I lost my (fill in the name) to (fill in the manner of death), and it altered me.” And they would be correct, but other deaths are not like suicide.
Other deaths rarely elicit questions such as:
“Why didn’t they ask for help?”
“Why did they do it?”
“Didn’t you see it coming?”
“It is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
“It was their choice and such a selfish one.”
As a society, and individually, the person who killed themselves are to blame, and implicitly those closest to the person are questioned, and what follows is a sigh of relief because that lets everyone else off the hook. This myth creates in the survivors more questions, more self-blame, more pain, because inside, in the quiet of the night, or the loudness of the day, the questions remain… the guilt remains… the what ifs remain. The “if I’d only done more or done something differently” remain. The ghosts of memories remain…
Dedicated to my friend, Dee Dee.