One Thing Lost is One Thing Gained

December 11, 2011
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On September 12, 2009, I was lying in my bed mourning the loss of my cousin Todd, trying to find peace with the Lord for what had happened. My bed seemed much more cozy and welcoming on this day. After carrying a bundle of luggage inside from the car, I plopped down with a head heavy of thoughts. My mind had been rambling on and on for the past week about why’s, what if’s, and the possible answers that go with those questions. If I said that I wasn’t confused about this tragedy, it would be a fib.

A week earlier my father had picked me up from softball practice, I noticed he was not asking me then normal questions about what I had done well or poorly. Instead, my father was quiet and had a different look in his eye, deep and heartbroken. His eyes have always looked sad, but the little bit of sparkle that was left was gone. I didn’t say anything either. I didn’t ask him what was wrong, I just had let it be and waited for him to talk. The car ride from Norco to Destrehan seemed to drag on for hours.

“Today… Todd passed away,” he said finally, slow and sad.
That was all I needed to hear for my mind to go insane, questioning and over analyzing my memories of Todd. Why? When? How? I wanted to know all of the details but no one could answer them enough to make my mind stop this chaos it was creating. I was fiercely biting my lower lip to keep the tears from falling until I was in my room, emotionally safe, locked behind a closed door and hiding underneath the covers. We pulled into the drive way minutes later, and I had managed to stay quiet and hold in my tears. I jetted for my room, leaving my bat bag in my dad’s car, something I never have done before.

When I was ready, I went into the living room to talk with my mom. I was ready to hear what happened and get the details. My mother sat me down on the couch and told me that she received a phone call around noon from my aunt Judy, Todd’s mother, crying. She managed to tell my mom that she had been waiting for Todd to come to the car so that she could take him to his therapist when she noticed smoke inching its way above the house and a horrid smell searching for her nose. She was wondering what possibly could be going on in the backyard when she saw Todd walk around the corner and into the garage. In the tiny glimpse she got of him, she noticed that his clothes were burned off, and he was burnt badly. She had told my mom that her body went weak and she could barely get out of the car. She ran inside to call 911, and then she went to the backyard. When she got outside she found Todd kneeling inside a ring of fire made with gasoline and pine oil spilt on the ground. She realized what he had done to himself and could not do anything to save him at this point. He was taken to the hospital, but it was far too late for his life to be saved.

This put me in total shock. I was thirteen at the time and could not imagine someone doing such a thing to themselves. I sat there in silence, only wanting to ask why he would do this and why God did not answer our prayers for him to get better and heal. After a few minutes, I managed to tell my parents I wanted to go to the funeral in Michigan even though I would be missing school I wanted to be there for Katelyn, Todd’s daughter. The next day I packed my suitcase for a long week in Michigan with my family during this sad time. The car ride was longer than usual due to nerves and mixed emotions. Normally I have a jittery feeling of excitement as we reach the state line, but this time I sank down into my seat and held back tears that were ready to fall. While packing to go, I had expected Michigan never to have the same feeling as had all my life but crossing the state line made that feeling real, not just an expectation. I thought about a month earlier, where I had gone out to eat with Todd, my parents, our grandma, and his mom. I remembered my dad telling me that Todd was not doing well, that he was having a lot of problems with anxiety. I remembered a couple things we talked about, but the thing that stood out was his anxiety.

“It feels like I am have a constant fight with myself, and it doesn’t go away ever,” Todd told me, frustrated and holding his head tight.

We arrived at my Aunt Sandy’s shortly after crossing the state line. I expected everything to be much harder when we got there, but it wasn’t. Seeing my aunt and uncle and being happy to see them was bittersweet. I felt like I shouldn’t have been happy to be back at their house, but I was, even though I was not happy about the reason.

Looking at Todd’s drawing and inventions, everyone who attended the funeral was in awe of his talent. My aunt Judy had set up a display of his artwork and magazine advertisements of his invention, motor cross goggles with vents so the eye pieces didn't fog. Todd’s creative life without pain and suffering was shown posthumously. Before the funeral I was not aware of his talents and I had no idea of how close he was to being extremely successful. His brother, Greg, made a wonderful speech about the life he shared with Todd growing up. At the end of the service, everyone gathered outside around a bird cage containing a dove, white and peaceful. The dove was released soaring far into the sky looking for its way back home, his safety zone. Just like the dove, Todd was trying to get back to a place where he felt safe, and unfortunately he felt that the only way was to take his own life.

Shortly after the service, everyone was invited over to Colleen and Damon’s, my cousins, for a celebration of Todd’s life, and that is exactly what it was, a celebration. The family hung out and had a good time. We talked about memories and laughed harder than ever about the crazy things Todd did throughout his life. We all visited and enjoyed each other’s company instead of focusing on the sad event that recently occurred. It felt really good to visit with everyone and have a good time when we could have been crying the day away. The family was brought together for the first time in a long time, along with Todd’s close friends. At the end of the celebration, everyone released purple balloons in memory of Todd and smiled as they flew away into the welcoming bright, clear, blue sky.

The ride home did not seem as long as the ride there. I believe that is because the hardest part for me was over and done with. I found peace with Todd’s death and the way it happened. I had some sort of closure, and it made me feel so much better. His suicide has caused me read about other suicide victims and their stories, making me realize that although Todd has been ill, his reasons could have easily been because of a divorce or if he was a teenager, a rumor. As I lay in my bed after the trip I promised myself that I would think twice about saying something rude, mean, or spreading gossip. I also promised myself I would be a friend to anyone that needed me because I can never know when someone could be thinking about suicide, and sometimes those people just need a friend to change their mind.

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