The other day I had this idea for a blog. The next day, it wrote itself.
You see, every year around this time, I try and write something about living with suicide, my Father’s suicide, 16 years ago on April 27.
I was thinking the other day about who I am (versus who I might appear to be) every year on that day (reflecting on tragedy and loss). And, then who I am on the following day, the 28th, which was his birthday (celebrating life and love and missing that). And, then again who I am the day after on the 29th, the anniversary of the day that my life was forced to begin reconstituting, redefining, re-framing with part of its core missing (recognizing healing is a process).
Despite 16 years, I am rarely who I seem on these days. I am at work, but I am distracted. I am laughing but I’m hurting. I’m smiling and engaged but, as soon as I turn away and am back by myself, I am often bleary-eyed and exhausted. You may never see this. Those who know me well will sense it. I am not particularly good at hiding it.
As I reflected on my experience on these three days in particular, I was also mindful of a close friend and colleague who has shared his own experiences with me, those certain days of the year – the birthday, the death anniversary, the times around family holidays – when life is hardly endurable. You may never see this. Those who know him will sense it.
These days, regardless of the passage of time, are often too tender to talk about, especially at work. There is an emotional recovery period that often just isn’t practical and some work relationships you’re just not sure are ready for the transparency.
But, sometimes it’s helpful just to know that other people know that my random Wednesday in April is not the same as theirs. My Wednesday can be brutal even if the sun is shining and everything else seems normal. I don't have to think about it. Somehow it is imprinted on me now. My body knows.
Then, one day last week as I was thinking through my own experiences, remarkably and tragically, I was teaching a virtual leadership session and one of the leaders of the group stopped me before I got started to share that the team had lost a colleague the previous night to suicide. I read the faces in the little Zoom boxes as quickly as I could. I could see a couple who I knew were struggling. Many had their cameras turned off. Some turned them off at that moment. Today was not what it seemed.
I could have taught that session without ever knowing this information. I could have delivered what I wanted to deliver and felt like it was a success. And yet, without this information, without having the chance at least to acknowledge it, to pause in recognition of where people are, the session would not have been what it seemed. And, given the news of the death, without the opportunity and willingness to empathize by briefly sharing my own experience with suicide, the session again would not have been what it seemed. Not for any of us.
Every day, people are mourning, dealing with stuff, and sometimes just getting through the day without ever feeling that they can share where they are. Settle the ground. Stop hiding. Stop pretending. Ease the white-knuckling. Ask for help. Ask for space. Ask for silence. Ask for some acknowledgment. Ask simply for a little empathy.
Until we open ourselves and allow others to do the same in a safe and supportive way at work or anywhere, until we stop trying to hide our struggles and pretend they don’t exist, until we neutralize the presumed judgment of our vulnerabilities, tragedies, and very lives themselves, today will rarely be what it seems.