Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Farewell

I started this blog 7 months after Chantz's death and now as the 5th year anniversary approaches it is time for me to say good-bye.

In reflecting what this anniversary means, I find myself going over and over those last few days with him- the laughter, our plans, all the conversations, dreams, what I could have done differently, the every day life I had no idea was about to be forever changed...and maybe it is because of those memories, the life that could've been, that the days leading up to the anniversary are always harder and more emotional for me than the day itself.  And as I move forward in my own journey, I wonder what his own would've been filled with.

When I started writing I had so much to say and work through as I tried to figure out what it meant to live in a world without Chantz in it, and although I continue to live with and work through it in a different capacity, I have reached a point where my processes and developments are private happenings.

I've journaled as a way to document and process my experiences most of my life, I have this idea that one day I will want to read over my life story, who I was, who I became and how I got there, but blogging was very different for me. I needed to talk about this publicly as I grieved, and later as I started healing and putting a new life together, because writing in my journal wasn't enough. This was too much...too profound a loss and I needed to be heard. I needed you to understand what was happening and for you to not forget Chantz or remember him just as the guy who killed himself. His end is not what defined him- his life did, and it was filled with so much love and passion. 

I will never stop being part of the movement that's fighting the stigma of mental illness and suicide. I will never stop trying to be what I can be to those in need and to reach out to those who think they're unsaveable or "unfixable"- people are not broken or objects that need to be fixed. This has become one of my lifelong battles. 

These past years have been the hardest and most beautiful of my life and it's difficult to put into words every single lesson or truth I've learned, how much I've changed, and the immense ways my eyes have been opened. All I know is that I am not the person I was August 4th, 2010, nor the same person going through the hardest experience of her life. It can be easy to go back to old habits once you're out of a crisis and go back to the same mentality, so I strive to be better, constantly grateful and aware of the most significant lessons I've learned these last 5 years and I'd like to leave you with them:

-Love, love, LOVE people. This is the most important. Tell those around you how much they mean to you every single day and show them. Life is too precious and no day should be wasted in letting those around you know that they enrich and complete your life.

-Life can disappear in a second yet it is the most precious thing in this world- live the life you imagined, strive for it, work for it, fail, get back up, fail again, but always keep going.

-The human spirit can survive almost anything. Our resilience astounds me and gives me hope despite the turmoil of this world.

-Above all else, be kind. We don't know what others have gone through and/or are going through and how it's affecting their lives.

-It's okay to not be okay, and to be honest about that pain.

-There is no right or wrong way to grieve- we must own our journeys and trust ourselves above anyone else. Define your experiences, don't let them or others define them for you.

-People want to help, sometimes they just don't know how. Forgive, be gentle with them and yourself... we're all learning as we go.

-BE THERE FOR PEOPLE. SHOW UP. This doesn't mean you will say the right words, not fuck up or make anything better. But it matters. It's okay to forgive the ones that don't, you've got to let them go and understand not everyone is up for it. That resentment will only tear you apart as you're trying to put yourself back together. 

-Dale tiempo al tiempo. Give time, time. (Sounds better in Spanish). Time will not heal all wounds, but it will allow you to figure out what to do with those wounds, and to use that pain for something useful. Or to do whatever it is that you want with them.

-Forgiveness can happen. I can happily say that I'm in a place where there has been forgiveness and healing from both sides between Chantz's parents and I. If there is life, there is a way to reconnect. 

-Sometimes things don't happen for a reason, we just have to learn how to live and walk with it, and that's okay.

-You are not in charge of saving other people, but you are in charge of your kindness, your words, actions, and what you put out into the world. Do you want to be the type of person that adds value to others or tries to take it away?

-Be gentle with yourself. Honor, accept, own, and respect your journey.

If you have kept up with this blog consistently over the years, if you read it here and there or this is your first time reading, I just want to say thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.  Thank you for accepting my vulnerability, your words of encouragement, letting me know this in some way helped you, getting to know Chantz for the first time, a little, or more than you already knew him. Thanks for accepting my ramblings, confusion, fury, sorrow, and deep longing. Thanks for celebrating in my small and big victories, my healing, falling in love again, and moving forward. For not judging a path you don't know, or relating in some way despite your own journey. Thank you for giving me the time I needed- and for taking the time to sit and read my thoughts, and raw unedited emotions even if you didn't understand them. Thanks for mentioning it in person, even if it was awkward, we didn't know each other very well, or it was bad timing- thank you for simply reaching out. I know sometimes it wasn't so simple.

I don't think I will ever be in a place where I don't mention Chantz to those nearest and dearest, or when birthdays and anniversaries happen, or absolutely love when someone brings him up on their own- it's always nice to remember out loud, but I believe I have said everything I needed to say. Here at least. I hope I can continue to share what I can, perhaps in a different blog in the future. Thank you for being a part of this journey.

Love always.

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. 
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
-Kahlil Gibran 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

On being the perpetual girlfriend

I have been meaning to write this post for a couple of years now but have always struggled to articulate my feelings.  Back then, it was still something I was trying to figure out but it was also during a time where everything I wrote was completely raw, unedited and published before propriety caught up to me. Maybe it's the fact that I recently got engaged to this incredible, funny, supportive man and had to reconcile my feelings about this current love, and my past love, or that inspiration finally caught up to me, but I want to share about  the kind of relationships that never officially end due to death, the ones without closure, but must transform lest you never move forward in life.

When your boyfriend dies, especially at a young age, it's extremely difficult to have that validated. Many will express their thoughts, wanted or not...who am I kidding? always unwanted, and make some well meaning but misguided remarks like "you will love again," "you're lucky it happened at such a young age," and "at least you weren't married" to name a few. But here's the thing: comments like that completely invalidate the pain, grief and love you feel for this person you lost. Of course I had hopes to love again and knew it would happen in the future, but was that the point? No. When I fell in love again did it mean that I stopped feeling the pain and absence of Chantz? Let me clarify- absolutely not. Does the fact that it happened when I was young limit the pain, profound grief and trauma I experienced? Again...no. It took me a long time to take ownership of what my relationship with Chantz was to be, and comments like that never helped, but I know it was a journey I needed to take and something I needed to define for myself.
Being the girlfriend of someone who's no longer here feels like limbo. You weren't married, so you're not widowed.You didn't break up, so it's not like you think of that person as an 'ex', although many called me that to my never-ending frustration. But you also can't continue to be that person's significant other, because it keeps you from moving forward in your own life and considering the possibility of a new and future love. And of course, you can't have a relationship with someone who's not there despite many attempts, believe me.

So where did that leave me?

There were so many feelings of guilt associated with making the transition of being the girlfriend to whatever he was to be for the rest of my life. I remember talking to someone that considered themselves a widowed girlfriend, so I gave myself that title for a while, and realized right away that it wasn't for me. Chantz wasn't just a boyfriend, or a first love...although those titles are right and I currently refer to him as my first love. But he was also my best friend. The person I loved best.

To state the obvious here, when someone dies, parents, siblings, spouses, and friends lose that person. Parents will always be parents; so will siblings, friends and other familial relationships- and those are so highly validated as they clearly should be, but when you're the only person that has to change the relationship label and have no one to show you how, it's hard to make progress in your own path.

And really, what's the big deal?
Why does it matter that I had to find the right title for my relationship with a dead man?
In the end, he was gone, and label or not that would never change.
Why was I making such a fuss if I was just the girlfriend? his parents, brother and childhood friends lost so much more, and even though their relationship label didn't change, their entire lives were changed the night Chantz took his own life.
Well, the big deal is that it's impossible to heal, and be open to any romantic love if you can't transform the relationship that didn't officially end into something else, whatever it is that you need it to be. It's a big deal because I never wanted to take away anyone's validation or put myself on the same level as others who lost so much more. It's a big deal, because we all need closure, and in this situation you never get it- not counting the closure we will never get from the loss itself, the unanswered questions and the way it all played out.

It's been a long time since I've had to make this change, but I think it's worth noting for two reasons. One being that words are powerful. When we are faced with being a support system for someone going through a hard season in their lives, sometimes the best thing to do is just to be there. I know we find ourselves scrambling for words, trying to make it all better, then we panic- and word vomit comes out. It's human and we've all been there. But I think it's important to note that the most powerful statement you can ever make is just to show up and be there. No one's expecting a magical phrase to make it all better, and really, it's best to consider whether your words will do more harm than good.
The second reason being that the coping, healing, transforming and loving once more...all of it-  it's completely natural. I know it sounds obvious, but for those of us who have to walk this path, it feels like a betrayal. Like people, or that person, if they were able to, will think you stopped loving and caring they're gone. It's a really hard transition, and when you fall in love sooner than you ever expected to, it floors and makes you feel like a horrible person. Instead of seeing it as a gift from the universe, you doubt and push that love away. The thing is, when you do fall in love again it has to be with someone that will respect that love, and support it.  You must also be kind with yourself but most of all, you need to give your heart the time it needs to be ready to love again, and to figure out where this lost love will be in your heart forever. For some, it needs to stay silent and put away, for others it needs to be remembered, watered, and nourished. As for me, I walk with Chantz daily in my heart, as a reminder of who he was, our love, and with memories that I hope to never forget, but also with steady and hopeful eyes into the future.

Be gentle with yourself, you are coming home to yourself

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Out of the Darkness

A few months ago I joined in with hundreds of people at the Texas Capital to walk in the yearly Out of the Darkness Walk benefiting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The AFSP is at the forefront of research, education, and prevention initiatives designed to reduce loss of life from suicide and this particular walk is their biggest fundraiser of the year.

People walk to honor their lost loved ones, support the cause, raise funds to continue this important work, raise awareness about the severity of suicide in our nation, and they walk to save lives. 

I walked for Chantz. I walked because for as long as I can I will be a voice in the fight against suicide and mental health stigma. I walked because it matters. Because I hope that through my story I can offer hope and support to anyone that needs it. I walked because it's unacceptable that suicide is the 4th leading cause of death in the U.S. among adults 18-65, claiming more than 39,500 lives each year.
I walked for you.

It was a beautiful event, filled with upbeat energy. We were all there due to heart wrenching and unfortunate circumstances, but connected by a common thread whose similar sorrow needed to be shared like the very oxygen we breathe. In that we stopped being strangers.

That morning, I saw an overwhelming amount of deep love, and I think for the first time in four years the reality of this statement made its way into my subconscious and decided to stick around for good: it wasn't my fault. It wasn't anyone's fault. Logically, I had known this for a long time, but there was always a part of me that kept telling me that I could've prevented this, that we could have stopped it. If love had been enough, if that had been the secret to saving our lost ones, I don't think anyone we were walking for would have even battled with suicide in the first place...that much was abundantly clear that morning. Unfortunately, mental illness doesn't really work like that.
Do I believe I could've been better for Chantz? Of course. Will I always ask myself unanswerable questions? More than likely. I don't think that will ever leave me, but to acknowledge the severity of mental illness makes one realize that the best thing one can do for someone struggling with suicide, depression, stigma, or any other mental health disorder, is to love and support them unconditionally, and assist them in finding professional help....just like with any other illness.
We must be informed and stop talking about these issues as if they're a a dirty little secret, that's how we will come out of the darkness and start providing the necessary help and support for those that need it. Just because it isn't our fault, it doesn't mean we can't be better at supporting, educating ourselves, and understanding. In fact, we must be better.

The wound is the place where the Light enters you 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

On Thankfulness

It can be easy to get caught up on all that is lost when a loved one leaves us. I know I continue to be guilty of it at times, even if I don't verbalize it. The old life, the dreams, the light-heartedness...
But for each thing lost, I can think of a hundred more that I am blessed with daily:

    Like gaining the ability to appreciate, live, and love life more because and in spite of this. I have become more compassionate, can empathize in ways that I would have not been able to otherwise, and love more deeply. These are lessons I wish I hadn't learned this way, but I did. To see life disappear right before your very eyes in the form of a loved one gives you an awareness of the fragility, but most importantly the value of it.  
     For each friend lost, I count my blessings for the ones that stayed. They were my North Star on a journey of recovery and saw the light at the end of a dark and painful tunnel. I have been loved and helped in immeasurable ways when I didn't have anything to offer in return. I have witnessed the healing power of friendship first hand, and what it looks like when someone is not willing to give up on you even after they've seen the ugliest and most shattered parts of your being. Those lessons in humility are something I carry with me daily, and I can only hope to be half the friend others have been to me.
     I have gained an appreciation for family and what it is to develop a deep and personal relationship with them. I may not have grown up in the way I wished to, which made me wary of family ties, but there's so much more to look forward to; there's abundant joy in watching my younger cousins growing up and coming into their own, my grandparents stories, and advice, and watching the great man my brother is becoming. My only regret is having taken this long to get to know each and every one of them as individuals. But where there is love, there is a way to make anything flourish.
     I was gifted with a second love beyond anything I could have wished for. A kind and understanding man who respects this part of my life and knows it will always be there. A man who encourages me to be a better human every day, and not just accepts, but loves me for everything that I am and am not. Someone who is ever present, even when he doesn't understand the turmoil. He's a constant reminder that love happens at the most unexpected times and the only answer for it is a resounding "YES."
      I could make this list unbearably long, but I will leave you with this last and important one. I have been allowed the gift of time. Time doesn't heal all wounds, but it lets you fall down as many times as you need until you're ready to pick yourself up. It has allowed me to regain my passions and pursue them again. It gave me new dreams, goals and journeys. It allowed me to develop new friendships, and memories. It may have taken me further and further away from Chantz, but it allowed me to rebuild my life and carry him with me while doing so. Time can be a pest, but if you let it do its thing, you will be grateful for all it gave back to you.  
     Thankfulness isn't just seasonal, it's a lifestyle. I urge you to be grateful for who and what you have daily, for there is always something to be thankful for. As Thornton Wilder said, "We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures."

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Eternal Life of Grief

The most mysterious part of grief is that you think you can will it away. You can refuse to think about it. In one part of your mind you can hold it, but sometimes you must let it go. You often war with it. You grieve for a lifetime because those we love are a part of us even after they left us, even after they have betrayed us, and our love for them, by taking their life with their own hands. Sometimes for days on end you find yourself crying in the middle of a car ride, or when a song comes on, or in a public place because someone said something that reminds you of your lost loved one. Sometimes grief disappears for months at a time and you tell yourself, I'm past this now. And then grief comes to visit again like a long lost friend. It is mysterious, but never take it for granted. Get to know it as well as you know your best friend.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

You Will Dream New Dreams Again

It gets so much better...three years later and I am thriving. It's happiness. This isn't to say that I am not entirely transformed by everything that's happened, but it isn't what defines me anymore. This isn't proof that eventually we all go back to our happy lives, as those who contemplate suicide like to think those left behind would do. It's a testament that the human spirit can endure the unthinkable. And that we can start anew.  I am not back to my "happy old life," I have just finally learned how to live and love this new one. The bad days are still there, especially a few days before any anniversary, but they are further and further apart. A thing to celebrate! I have moved cities, a wise choice which has allowed me to heal even more so; that distance from every physical reminder was exactly what I needed. A conscious decision that I needed to keep moving forward and looking back less and less. And every time I go home to visit, I relish in every reminder, for you did exist and always will within me. I have also started working with children at an Elementary School as a bilingual tutor. At this moment, I am exactly where I want to be. I am fulfilled by everything I do, and I am working to improve myself daily and live as passionately as I can. With it comes the trivial and that which I used to laugh at with contempt. The silly household and monetary issues, normalcy, "bad" days, but I am so thankful I can partake in these everyday moments; they are simply part of life. I have plans, dreams, and goals and I am constantly aware that they will change and that the future is completely unknown to me, but it's that hope for the future that I am glad to have once more. I wish you could see sometimes, but I don't desperately need you to anymore.
I love you, I miss you, and I forgive you.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

April 18, 2013

Sometimes I'm filled with guilt for still being heart broken about this when there are much bigger things going on around me. Terrible tragedies and sorrows; people losing loved ones when their loved ones had no choice in the matter. But I guess that's how it usually is with everyone. You assume that anyone who's ever experienced a tragedy and survived it is eventually "all better" because you don't see any outer signs that point in any other direction. It's just about learning to live with whatever it is, and to mask it, and carry it with grace, kindness, bitterness, or aloofness. Take your pick.

Today, I feel heartbroken and overwhelmed by all this pain going on around us every day, and the tragedies that keep plaguing this world. Yet the world keeps turning for most. It's so easy for us to ignore it so it doesn't bring us down, or prompt us to be the change the world needs. An acknowledgement or a prayer make us feel like we are doing something, then we quickly turn around and continue to be ugly toward one another. Somewhere out there, several someones are starting their journey to their own personal hell, and it will be a long time until they make it out of it, if at all. We can't be there for everyone in the world, but I urge you to be kind to those around you, you don't know their journey - their pain, or what your actions could mean. Life is already hard enough without our help, and we should try to make it as beautiful as possible for ourselves and others.

Thinking of you, as always. Love you forever.