Ghost of a Rose

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.

Stronghold…

“How did you know?”

“Know?”

“That I’d be here.”

“It’s where you always come when you want to be alone.”

Draping the air as fog on an early summer morning, the silence clung to the particles of the atmosphere, cloaking its visitors.

“Are you okay?”

“Now… I am now.”

“What changed?”

“Me.”

“How so?”

“Before I can tell you, there’s a more pressing thought?”

“Will you share?”

“It’s not comfortable.”

“That’s okay. I prefer you share to comfort.” 

“Comfort… it’s comfortable to observe the world while keeping it as arm’s length bay.”

“What is it you observe?” 

“Stronghold towers.”

Fog… silence…waiting…

“People create stronghold towers… they live in them… they stay in the stronghold of their constructed walls so they can feel comfortable. They are afraid of what’s outside, but really what they fear lurks inside.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”   

“It’s okay, I’m not sure I understand myself… it’s just an observation.”

Stillness… “It’s okay, you can explain, you are safe here,” whispers the voice.

“Remember the Allegory of the Caves?”

“Vaguely…”

“The cave… all the trapped souls within, but they don’t believe themselves trapped. They believe they are safe in the darkness of the cave. Yet one day… one man gathers the courage to leave. The light hurts his eyes and he must move slowly to allow his orbs times to adjust, but when he finally emerges, he realizes the cave is not a stronghold tower but rather a prison and the freedom awaits outside.”

“What does he do?”

“He returns to tell the others about the freedom awaiting them…”

Silence…

“And?”

“They laugh at him, mock him, tell him he’s crazy… demand he stay with them in the darkness. This saddens him because he finally sees the truth, but they refuse to believe him. “We’ve always lived here,” they say, “We trust this cave because it’s what we know.” 

“What does he do?”

“He leaves… he breaks free of the stronghold of the false tower and when he emerges for the last time, he shudders… casting off the darkness, leaving it behind because he knows that even if alone, he’d rather be alone and free than surrounded by a thousand imprisoned in the stronghold of a belief drapes their minds and souls, anchoring them to the darkness.”

Moving the air particles, hands join forming a circle of love.

“Going back to the beginning… I’ve changed. The darkness has been caste off and I am now free because I walk toward the son.”

 I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.” John 12:46

 

 

Silence…

“You told the story?”

“To some.”

“How was it received?”

“Depends on who you talk to, I guess.”

“Mama?”

“Yes, hon?”

“Do you think they understand?”

“Understand what?”

“What it’s like to be trapped inside a screaming mind.”

“I don’t know. What do you think?”

“I think fear controls them as much as as it controls my mind.”

“Tell me more.”

“Fear… fear of having to confront the reality that not everything is as it seems, and we deceive ourselves by not accepting reality.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“It’s hard to put into words.”

“Please try.”

“Remember the word?

“What word?”

“Hero.”

“Yes?”

“We create impressions in our mind based on that one word. We delude ourselves into believing an institution is heroic because heroes fill it, but we only allow problems to continue because of the illusion we’ve created, and when we are confronted with the reality that the institution is failing because not everyone is a hero, we immediately reject it.”

“I think I’m beginning to understand, but…”

“Not everyone who wears a uniform is a hero. Not everyone cares. Not everyone who is in the institution has pure motives. Many are selfish, many only care for themselves and take for granted the trust placed in them.”

“What happens then?”

“People die.”

“How does that relate to heros?”

“I can only tell you because if I tell anyone else, they will get angry and reject… confronted with an uncomfortable reality we’ve created false gods of people through the labeling of hero. Just as we’ve created images of people with screaming minds labeling them “crazy,” “unbalanced,” disturbed.” They don’t get it, do they? They don’t see what’s in front of them. They don’t want to confront the ugly reality that they are just as imperfect and flawed as I am, and that I am a product of their creation of false gods, because they don’t want to acknowledge people fail and not all people are good and… my mind… it’s unraveling.”

“No my precious child, I think your mind is clearly seeing what most want to eradicate.”

“Why won’t they try to change?”

“Change what?”

“The entrenched institutions.”

“I don’t know. What do you think?”

“I think they are just as imprisoned as I am… and afraid.”

“Imprisoned? Afraid of…”

“Afraid they will have to accept that they are part of the problem through their silence and acceptance of what they know is broken. What did you use to say… you use to tell me… yes, that’s it. Human nature… when confronted with the ugly part of human nature, people can acknowledge or reject. In acknowledging, they can choose to act; in rejecting, they choose to ignore. What does that say about them, if they know and yet choose to ignore and do nothing? So instead of either, they choose to imprison themselves in denial because then they feel safe in that cell. They don’t have to do anything. They can comfortably believe in the heroes of the institutions they believe in almost as much as they believe in God. They choose imprisonment of denial over the freedom of truth.”

“What can we do?”

“Tell the story… break the silence.”

“I will try. Will you be with me?”

“Always.”