For some time now I have researched the topic of suicide ideation and related mental health concerns. I’m not a scientist or a doctor; I’m a grieving father who lost his 39-year-old son to suicide 21⁄2 years ago.
His name was Skyler, but we affectionately called him “Bear.” And I’m enough of a believer in how connected the entire universe is to believe that my son not only graces us through bears, but also butterflies and birds, and even through a buck deer who one time paused to pose and silently speak to me. I know to some that sounds strange, but I’ve also learned to relish the unknown and make that a part of my faith.
My wife, Ginger, and I, and even our entire family, were graced with certain experiences in Skyler’s passing that have anchored us in a solid foundation of things divine. In fact, these events caused us to delay (and even perhaps see it as unnecessary) to deeply grieve our loss.
But the pain never really goes away. And because we love him so, frankly, it shouldn’t dissipate like fog in the morning sun. No, it needs to linger from time to time so we can sit and celebrate our Bear. Sometimes we believe he even stops by to comfort us with a figurative bear hug.
Since his passing, every year at Christmastime, we put up a small tree and decorate it with Skyler’s ornaments. It’s a tender time as we relive how these ornaments came to be. We laugh and cry and miss him so. This year, as we were removing the bulbs from the tree, a royal purple one, with a lovely manger scene and Skyler’s name imprinted near the top, slipped from my hand.
It seemed to fall in slow motion as I cried “noooooo,” then the ornament shattered on the wood floor. Suddenly, the pent-up grief, which had never fully been released, gushed out of me as I sat and sobbed. The ornament was broken beyond repair.
Ginger came from the other room to witness the commotion. She joined me in intermittent sobs as I picked up the broken glass.
We have some of Bear’s ashes on our mantle in a vessel in the form of a bear. I felt that he was watching over this entire episode. I heard him say in my mind, “That’s OK, Dad, it’s just a bulb.” And later: “I appreciate the sentiment, but don’t put too much energy in the things I had. I’ve moved on. Those things don’t hold my soul. God does.”
My intent in researching and writing about suicide ideation and mental health is to provide foundational truths that can change the way we deal with these issues and hopefully help others who are also experiencing the deep sorrow and grief my family has known.
I have come to believe that living in a world of wonder is better than living in a world of answers, and that ultimately our path is defined by love. When we love, when we embrace wonder and the unknown, we invite into our lives a peace and tranquility that shifts reality from broken Christmas bulbs to a reminder of who it is who holds our soul.
Not coincidentally, I was recently reading the book “Art + Faith: A Theology of Making” by Makoto Fujimura and learning about kintsugi, the art of taking broken fragments or chards of glass and pottery and restoring them. The idea is to embrace flaws and imperfections and turn them into even more beautiful art than before they were broken.
Looking at the broken Christmas bulb, I momentarily wondered if this might be possible. But then I heard a voice telling me, “Your son is in no need of repair. Let it go.”
Understanding that my son’s brokenness was no longer in need of repair helped me to see what “is” rather than what “was.”
So, I began this new year with a new perspective. As Fujimura said, “There is no art if we are unwilling to wait for the paint to dry.” Time is a healer, and for those of us living beyond the most painful sorrow imaginable, we too can move forward. Continue to hold space for the occasional sobs of sorrow, but understand that the bulb that was broken is not in need of repair. We need only to love and see the beauty that continues, even if it comes from loss.
Steve Hitz is a co-founder of Launching Leaders Worldwide, a nonprofit organization that provides young adults with tools for personal leadership and faith, with participants from 75 countries. He is the author of “Launching Leaders: An Empowering Journey for a New Generation” and “Entrepreneurial Foundations for Twenty and Thirty-Somethings.”