I was 15. It was the weekend after homecoming and I was coming off the high of having my first official date. When I went into my first period math class and sat down next to my bff Amy, she quickly said, “Ryan shot himself.” Ryan was one of four of us that grew up together in Sunday School. It was three rambunctious boys, and me. Ryan was the most rambunctious, never letting a prank go to waste. He teased me and teased me, endlessly, throughout our younger church years.
Just a couple of years before Amy’s revelation, Ryan and I took confirmation class together. I distinctly remember Ryan asking our reverend about heaven. By then, our reverend was noticeably annoyed by Ryan’s numerous questions that did not seem to have concrete answers, so he flippantly denied answering Ryan’s question and continued on with his lesson.
Just a few days before Amy told me this, Ryan was in the paper eating lunch in front of our town’s Albertson’s. Just a few days before that, he had asked me on a date and I snipped something snotty to him in our usual bantering language we had created over the years we spent in Sunday School together.
When Amy told me the news, I laughed. To 15 year-old me, that news just simply could not be true. After all, Ryan played pranks on me all of the time. When she started to go into detail about the shooting, I realized this was not another one of his pranks → this was real life. As our math teacher began to discuss the death with us, I cried and a drop of mascara stained my brand new white skirt. I never wore that white skirt, the striped shirt I had on, or the rhinestone ‘M’ necklace around my neck again because they would always remind me of receiving some of the most tragic news I’d ever received in my life.
The same reverend that refused to answer Ryan’s question about heaven performed his funeral service. It was somber, dry and full of innuendos to the sin of suicide. It was a literal hell on earth.
Nearly 13 years later, I can still recall every single moment of that day and the months that followed. I still regret my snide remark to him the last time I saw him. I still wish his question about heaven had been answered.
Eight years later, late at night in my apartment on the UWS in NYC, I received a text from my mom that said, ‘Urgent, call me’. I assumed it was about my stepdad who fell into a coma from his cancer earlier that day. Much to my surprise, my mom said, “It’s Erin. She’s gone.” My sister took her own life. I can also recall every detail of that night as I lay in the fetal position on my bed knowing that nothing would ever be the same again. I can recall going to the airport the next day on no sleep to go to a work training, not sure how to tell my job or how to tell anyone around me who saw me crying that my sister had just committed suicide. In fact, I didn’t even tell my job until way into that day when I was at a work lunch and my boss brought up her sister. The fact is, it’s a hard thing to talk about, and it’s a hard thing to live the rest of your life with.
I am still recovering from the loss, I am still figuring out what to say when someone asks me how many siblings I have. In fact, I stopped dating altogether for a while following my sister’s death because I was so afraid of the sibling question coming up on the first date.
Suicide is one of the hardest things for the survivors to live with, and one of the most awful things you can think of someone you love doing. After all, did you not love them enough? Weren’t you a vital part of their support system? It’s a never-ending thing that takes a long road to live with (because you never get over it).
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking of what I wanted on my own body to symbolize that my life is now lived for both Ryan and Erin. The decisions I make are decisions that they no longer can make in their lives, and carry a greater weight.
I finally settled on this:
The R & E stand for Ryan and Erin, and the semi-colon represents that whatever you are facing today is not the end, it’s the beginning of a new sentence. RE together means ‘restart’, ‘redo’, i.e. a new beginning. It’s also in typewriter font and I use writing as a way to influence and inspire those facing the same tough times Ryan and Erin did when they thought it was the end, in hopes that their pain can be resolved with a semicolon and not a period.
I shared this tattoo and its suicide awareness significance on LinkedIn and one person decided to write a snarky comment explaining that this post was meant for Facebook and to take it on over there.
Now, as a social media marketer, I completely understand where he is coming from. Perhaps I would have silently felt the same way if I saw the post and had no personal relationship to suicide. I am in no way bashing his bad manners of leaving his strong opinion on a very emotional post.
However, I do think it’s important to recognize exactly why this type of content does belong on LinkedIn. Suicide awareness is a huge goal of my writing and personal brand, and my personal brand is a part of my work. LinkedIn is a place to showcase, explain and search for work. So in my world, it makes completely sense.
I don’t think the emotional, seemingly Facebook post is what really got this guy, though. While I cannot speak for him, my guess would be that the stigma attached to suicide made him incredibly uncomfortable during his midday perusing of LinkedIn. Afterall, it’s not a fluffy topic and it’s definitely not something that most people like to talk or hear about.
In fact, suicide is one of those things that is much easier to deal with when it’s brushed under the rug. Believe me, after attending two suicide funerals, I can tell you that the fact the person took his/her own life is avoided like the plague. It’s never a discussion about what this person must have been feeling to get to that point, or what we could have done to help them. It’s usually more of a place to either briefly condemn suicide in a short sermon, or praise the individual for what a lovely life they led. Never, ever is it a discussion about what actually mattered to that person, and what needs to matter to us a society in order to prevent future suicides.
The last thing our society needs, though, is for us to be brushing suicide under anything. We need to speak up about it. We need the world to understand how it not only takes one life, but all of the lives of those who knew that person. We need empathy and the understanding of mental illness. We need to abandon our taboo approach to mental illness and understand that it is a part of this world and no one is ‘weird’ or ‘broken’ because they have it. We need to create an environment where it’s safe and accepted to talk about the difficult things we are dealing with, so we don’t feel like we are dealing with it all alone in the end.
We need to create less periods, and more semicolons; less endings, and more beginnings.
To the man who expressed his valid opinion on my LinkedIn → I am sure you also will take issue with this post on a primarily social media marketing driven blog.
Well, sometimes I think raising awareness of things that are killing us is more important that holding up to a societal expectation of what other people think I should write about.
– Marji J. Sherman
I agree that mental illness should not be shoved under the carpet. My son was nearly a suicide victim but survived. My heart goes out to you. I’m glad that you have the courage to speak out on this sensitive subject. I pray that you have kept the faith, for that has what has helped more than anything.