Today’s guest post is from Bryan Stucky. Bryan is a graduate of American Academy Mcallister Institute of Funeral Service. The first in his family to become a funeral director, he has dreams of opening up his own funeral home and passing on his love for service to a second generation.
Early in the week I was busy at work screwing someone’s skull back on. There is nothing new here, just about everyone that comes from the medical examiner I have to put together. But as I stood there, putting this young girl back together I couldn’t help but think “What a waste”. I’ll see anywhere from about 2-6 deaths a month that are due to suicide or drugs.
I, of course, never have an actual conversation with the deceased but everyone tells a story. Thankfully most tell a common story. I bring them into the prep room and begin my work. I carefully remove the blanket their family wrapped them in. Often they are holding a cross, or a photo of a memory. The wrinkles of age appear on their body and you can tell they were old and have had their time on this earth, hopefully most of it happy.
Unfortunately on those occasions where a body comes from the medical examiner the story is often different. Sometimes there are bruises, or needle marks. Other times the neck will be destroyed because of a hanging, or there will be a bullet wound to the head. Cuts on inner thighs can often indicate self-mutilation.
After I’m done you won’t see the needle marks, nor will you see where the noose was hung around their necks. I’ll spend my hours sewing up their bodies and hiding their wounds. However, despite this I feel like I would not be doing my duty to society to not share some of these stories. Suicide and drugs are needless deaths.
At some point, everybody has thoughts about their own death. I know I have. There are times when ending one’s life seems better than living. For those that do choose suicide, you don’t get to see the physical aftermath. Nor do you see the complicated grief, pain and devastation aftermath that you leave behind. You don’t see the family that I have to meet with.
And, It turns out all those people you thought didn’t care about you really did. Your mother or father or siblings will ask me why you killed yourself, what they should have done, and how to go on with life without you. These are questions I can’t answer. I’ll be with them as they try their hardest to pick out a casket or an urn, still not fully realizing you’re gone. I’ll also be there at the funeral service when all your friends and family will talk about the hole that you have left in their lives.
If you are thinking about ending your life — coming from a person who listens to the stories after you’re gone – let me tell you, YOU ARE A BIG PART OF THE PEOPLES LIVES AROUND YOU. It’s a deed that cannot be undone, and the people around you are the ones that have to live with it.
I’d also like to talk about drugs.
A family came in to meet with me about their daughter. She was a senior in high school and about to graduate. Her family had no idea why she died. She was brought up in a Christian household, with a family who loved her. She was always happy and wasn’t one to run with the wrong crowd. She was found dead one day face down in her bedroom; there was no needles present, no gun, no signs of trauma.
Because of this, the time I spent with the family was very difficult. First they had to bury their young daughter, but it was made even harder since they did not know what killed her, nor would they for months to come (as the medical examiner often takes months to confirm findings). We spent hours as they told me stories about their little girl.
It was painstakingly hard to select a casket, flowers, folders etc. … you could tell with every decision the realization that their daughter was gone was becoming more clear. At the end they handed me her senior photo so I would know what she looked like. Looking at the photo I couldn’t help but wonder myself what killed this girl. Normally it is fairly obvious, especially when I am piecing them back together.
I would not find out until much later that the cause was an overdose on cough syrup. Her and a friend were trying “Tusin tripping” (Robitussin). She had never used any sort of drugs before. When I called the family months after the service to deliver the news, you can imagine their reaction. They had a happy family, and strong faith.
They will likely spend the rest of their lives wondering what they could have done to prevent this.
This is not an uncommon story in my line of work. If you’re using drugs STOP. Especially over the counter drugs. I’ve seen people die from trying heroin once. Or from abusing pain killers. You may not think that trying something once will kill you, and you’re probably right it most likely won’t. But why take the chance? You will be literally torturing those you leave behind as they spend their days wondering what THEY did wrong.
When I meet with families, it is too late. I need the help of others to try to reduce needless deaths. Neither you nor I can save everyone from drugs or suicide. But maybe we can help one person, and by saving them, save all those they would be leaving behind.
A friend of mine disappeared. I mean, left with only the clothes on his back. Borrowed clothes, at that. He left his phone. His wallet. Everything. And he just went away.
Several days passed. Then weeks. Months. Nothing. No word. A friend of ours traveled on foot, looking for him. Others pressed the police. The media. Anyone. To pay attention.
We’d have to wait for the snow to melt. Then he might be found. That’s what they were told.
The snow melted. Heavy rain fell. The city flooded.
A week later someone found him. Sixty miles or so away. His body had traveled all that way. In the river.
Too many details muddy my mind. I don’t want to think about the way they found him. How I was told he looked. That his own father couldn’t identify him.
His death. Announced on the six o’clock news. His Facebook account. Posts deleted until the day before he vanished. Went missing. Even his last two posts deleted. His cries out to us. Cries that most of us didn’t even hear. See. Know.
I’ll die and no one will care. He’d said. No one will come to my funeral.
His ashes spread. A few friends gathered for a quiet memorial. Invitation only.
I couldn’t go.
I tried to honor him by listening to a few songs he liked. By reading his poems. Looking through our messages about religion and art and literature.
Somewhere. Maybe in my heart. Or soul. I don’t really believe he’s gone. I know he is. But I am having a hard time accepting it.
I see a tall guy with black hair. Smoking outside a coffee shop. Walking down the sidewalk with a hood up. I think it might be him until I remember. No. It isn’t him. He’s gone. Dead. Found floating.
I get sick to my stomach.
Wish that I could go back to thinking that he left. Started over. Got himself over to Japan. Reached his dream. With headphones on his ears and new poetry streaming from his mouth.
And. And I wish he knew. I wish he knew that he was loved.
That he knew how broken my heart is.
And how I can’t cry. As much as I want to. I can’t.
And I don’t understand it.
A friend of mine disappeared. He died. And I don’t know how to grieve.
I can’t figure out how to mourn a death I can’t realize.
A death I don’t understand.
Today’s guest post was written by Susie Finkbeiner. Susie is a novelist and short story writer from West Michigan. Her first novel “Paint Chips” released in 2013 and she is currently working on her second novel and a collection of short stories. When Susie isn’t writing, she is busy as the fiction editor for Burnside Writers Collective as well as Unbound Magazine. Susie is a wife, mother of three, and avid reader. She enjoys time with her family, coffee dates with good friends, and quiet moments to read and write. Website:www.susiefinkbeiner.
Suicide is the great iconoclast. We have a certain view of a person and then that certain view becomes uncertain with the event of suicide, and the whole world seems to shake.
Right now the Kennedy family is having their world shaken… again.
Joseph (1888 – 1969) and Rose (1890 – 1995) Kennedy had nine children. Out of those nine children, Joseph Jr. died when his plane exploded during WWII; Katherine died in a commercial plane crash in 1948; John (JFK) was assassinated in 1963; Robert was assassinated in 1968; Rosemary, who was “mentally ill”, lived an incapacitated life due to a failed frontal lobotomy in 1941; Patricia died an alcoholic in 2006; Senator Edward “Ted” survived a plane crash and major car crash only to succumb to cancer.
Eunice – the founder of “The Special Olympics” – died a peaceful death. And Jean remains the only surviving 2nd generation Kennedy.
The untimely deaths of the Kennedy family have arguably been the most documented deaths of the TV era. First, there was JFK, whose death was recorded with cameras. Then there was the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald … the first murder to ever be recorded on live TV.
Robert’s death caused media frenzy and John Jr.’s plane crash in 1999 garnered the world’s attention.
And on May 16, 2012, Robert Jr.’s estranged wife Mary committed suicide.
Suicide through overdose, gunshot wound and carbon monoxide asphyxiation are considerably timid forms of suicide when compared with the way Mary killed herself.
Overdose, gunshot wounds and carbon monoxide are one step methods that sometimes result from impulsive moments of considerable darkness. But, hanging oneself. This is a whole different method of suicide.
In many ways, it is the most premeditated form of self murder. Unlike other methods, you must find the right place to hang yourself; you have to bring with you the appropriate rope; tie the rope tightly enough to hold your weight and either kick the chair out from under your feet, or pick up your feet off the floor. And yes, I’ve seen the suicides where the deceased opted against a chair and simply lifted their feet.
Suicide by hanging is a statement suicide. It’s a suicide meant for others. Suicide by overdose and gunshot is usually an “I just want to end it” method … not so with hanging.
Mary hung herself. She was making a statement.
In Mary’s case, it would seem that her suicide that was aimed at her husband and was a “this is what you did to me” statement. Her friends and family stated explicitly that her depression coincided with her husband’s marital unfaithfulness and calloused behavior.
Mary’s body was almost late to the funeral service as litigation between Mary’s estranged, but still legal husband and Mary’s siblings fought over custody. As is the law, Robert Jr. is the legal next of kin, even though estranged (he’s currently dating actress Cheryl Hines) and so had the right to do what he wished. And in his selfishness, he did as he wished. Apparently, his well documented egotism wasn’t affected by Mary’s final statement.
Some suicides are the result of mental illness. Others from pure selfishness. And yet others are the last cry for help. A cry that goes unanswered.
Friend, if you see signs in any of your family and friends, listen. And you may find that their hurts and pains are based on real and actual problems. Problems that might be caused by you.
Listen. It just might help save a life.
When Jay Cincotta was a young boy, his Uncle Anthony hung himself — but it was never spoken of. Suicide had a stigma in his Italian family and it was years before Jay even learned how his uncle died. Decades later, Jay’s younger brother, Tom, hung himself. In shock and grief, Jay reflected upon how he’d approach this sensitive topic with his own children, his cousins, his brother’s children and the rest of their friends and family in his eulogy for Tom.
This is the eulogy he delivered at his brother’s funeral:
Thank you all for being here today joining my family in celebrating the life of my little brother.
If it wasn’t for Tom, I wouldn’t be here today. You see even as a young boy, Tom was a passionate entrepreneur. Tom was building a candy empire, and in his effort to protect his inventory, he actually saved my life.
We used to have a spare refrigerator in our garage in New York, and being an imaginative eight year old boy with lots of curiosity and no apparent common sense, I locked myself inside it to see if I could get out.
I learned that the light turns off when you close the door. And you can’t get to the latch from the inside. It was pitch black, cramped, airtight and nearly soundproof. As I kicked and screamed, the air got hot and thin. Sweating, panting and crying, I realized I would die and wondered how long it might be before anyone found my body.
Suddenly, there was a burst of white light. I thought maybe it was heaven. I thought an angel had come for me as I fell to the floor gasping for breath and I heard a voice. But it wasn’t the voice of an angel. It was the voice of my brother, Tom, and the voice said, “Jay, were you eating my candy?”
Tom was always clever and inventive, particularly in the pursuit of hoarding and selling of candy. In middle school he once rigged up an oversized jacket with all these inside pockets where he could hide candy and open it wide in front of potential customers, like a guy with a coat full of cheap watches.
Tom was a great athlete. He could have been a pro bowler. I think he even bowled a perfect game of 300 one time. He ran track. He loved lacrosse and played varsity in high school.
When we shared a dorm room at the University of Maryland in College Park, Tom and some of the other jocks would play lacrosse in the long hall using toilet paper rolls instead of balls to bean unsuspecting nerds enroute to their dorm rooms. Like me.
And once, while recovering from a knee injury, he raced me across the quad. Even on crutches he could still outrun me.
As we got older, we both got married, we both had two kids, we both had good jobs, and for awhile it seemed that everything was going his way.
But then it didn’t. Tom became confused. He made mistakes. His life took a darker turn. My love for him never wavered, but our relationship became terribly strained and for years we hardly saw one another.
But recently there was hope. Tom reached out to me, my brother, Doug, and our parents expressing regret and remorse. As a family reunited, we began planning a new beginning. Two weeks ago today, Tom, Doug and I spent a sunny spring day together after years apart.
Tom confessed to me that he realized his mistakes and that he was sorry for them and I truly believe he was sincere. I cried and told him how happy I was to have my brother back. Tom found the Hagarstown Recovery Mission and submitted an application which was accepted. He was about to start a new life, on the road to full recovery and redemption.
When last I saw Tom alive he was living alone in a small house with boxes piled to the ceiling. But good things were starting to happen.
I had hope. I thought Tom had hope.
One day Tom opened a door just in time and saved my life. Last Saturday I opened the door to his house just a bit too late to save his. There was an old rope tied to the doorknob. And when I opened the door I understood why: Tom had hung himself.
I will spend the rest of my life wondering why.
I dialed 911 and the next few hours were a blur as paramedics, then police came and went and people asked me questions and made me fill out forms. Finally, as a dark unmarked van pulled away I found myself alone in Tom’s front yard.
It was only then that I first noticed that his place backed to a public park. It was another bright beautiful spring day with a parking lot full of SUVs and young boys in team colors were playing lacrosse right behind Tom’s house.
They were young and intense and having fun and at a point in their lives where Tom once stood, where all that mattered was the stick in your hands and the ball and the net and the game and all your life lays out before you with all its promise and ripe possibilities.
And there’s always the danger that life can go horribly wrong when you least expect it. And you find yourself in front of an abandoned house. And a lonely cat needing a new home rubs against your ankles. And you’re left wondering why. Why?
I’m talking to you today about me and Tom because it’s the story I’ve lived. But my story isn’t really about me. Or even Tom. It’s about all of us, the people we love, and the urgency of time.
As life whizzes by it’s so easy to miss the preciousness of the fleeting moments of our lives. To forget how important we are to each other and that we have to love one another and love one another well and with all our hearts and not when it’s too late, but long before it’s too late.
Now. When it matters. When love, friendship and heartfelt concern can make a difference.
If you’ve ever listened to Podcasts from Mars Hill Bible Church (Rob Bell’s old place), you may recognize the shakey voice of Ed Dobson, who often filled the pulpit for Rob.
Ed has ALS and is nearing death. Below is one video that Mars Hill is producing that features Ed reflecting on his life as he faces his demise.
Here’s a brief bio of Ed’s story:
In the 1980s, Dobson rose to prominence as an executive at the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell’s evangelical political organization, which had influence with the Ronald Reagan White House. Dobson’s rise continued when he accepted the pastorate at Calvary Church in 1987. He cut a national profile, with Moody Bible Institute naming him “Pastor of the Year” in 1993.
After being diagnosed with ALS, Dobson suddenly felt unsure of himself. At times, he said, he didn’t want to get out of bed. After years of intense Bible study, Dobson said this is not how he thought he would react to news of his own mortality.
“I thought that if I knew I was going to die, I would really read the Bible and if I really was going to die, I would really pray,” Dobson said. “I found the opposite to be true. I could barely read the Bible and I had great difficulty praying. You get so overwhelmed with your circumstances, you lose perspective.”
And here’s one of the videos produced by Mars Hill: