In 2008 I gave my son, Daniel, the book Scar Tissue by legendary rock musician, Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He devoured the book over a few days. Daniel identified with the lead singer’s music and life story. Kiedis writes about his journey and battle with addictions with brutal honesty. The narrative so compelling and deeply painful that it derives its title from the biological process of wound repair within the body which results in scar tissue.
2009 broke me.
Suicide changes everything.
On the evening of April 28, 2009 our son died by suicide. As the shock lifted we began the agonizing process of trying to comprehend our new reality. Our 23-year old son had lived with a robust disease that had been brewing for years, his rich life unravelling and his mind betraying him in his prime. That he was suffering shocked all who knew and loved him. As Daniel was slipping into depression, he would have been unable to see what the world saw: an intelligent young man with a future full of possibilities. A wonderful son and brother.
In the aftermath, we look for meaning to carry on. In losing a child there is nowhere to turn but inward.
Mental illness is a formidable foe. Our family’s tragedy is Daniel’s absence from our lives. Only now, ten years later, do we truly understand the urgency of his message.
We are here and then we are gone.
A thin layer of scar tissue delicately holds my wounded heart together. The fibrous tissue is delicate and not permanent. But over many years, the healing effect has allowed me to evolve from being completely broken to acknowledging that something beautiful remains.
“For every joy that passes, something beautiful remains.” Unknown
2010 was purposeful.
Daniel would want us to continue. The brilliant memories of our family of five would have to sustain us. There was beauty in the pain.
I found peace and purpose in speaking about my son. Using the road map he left us, I began educating about stigma and the often-elusive symptoms and contributing factors in depression and suicide. Daniel’s story would be instrumental in suicide prevention and in changing the way we think about and treat mental health conditions in Canada.
I am now guided by what I could not do for my son.
2016 opened my eyes.
I began noticing the joy around and within. As a family, we would make an effort to celebrate all the good that came our way. With sorrow came understanding and a desire to live with intention. Over the years, Daniel’s voice has grown faint in my head but I can still see his broad smile and the funny way he’d walk on an angle in flip flops.
2018 changed me.
I would turn sadness and anxiety into courage. I jumped back into my running and triathlon training. By the end of the summer I would be a 5x Boston Marathon finisher and brand new Ironman. The scar tissue adjusting to the healing.
Daniel was always in my thoughts as I went back to running and began the challenging Ironman journey. In my heart, he was with me just like he’d always been.
I remember a training run one summer day a long time ago when I was dealing with the effects of a colitis flare up. I left the cottage telling Daniel where I was headed. He tried to convince me to pass on the run. “Mom, you can do it another day. Just rest”. I knew my son was looking out for his mom but I also knew that I needed to get the run done. Had to prove to myself that colitis wasn’t going to be the end of my physical activities and I had a marathon in a few months! Not long after I started running it was clear I’d made the wrong decision. My long slow run became a painful march. I turned around and headed home. In the distance, I saw a black truck coming towards me. As the truck slowed down I could see that it was Daniel checking on me. He said, “Mom, c’mon get in the truck I’ll take you home”. He was right the whole time. He knew his mom well.
2019: acceptance + vulnerability.
Many years have passed and our family of four is still searching. Most days just for a memory of another time. Trying to exist in a world we are still unfamiliar with.
It’s taken me ten years to accept that my broken heart will never fully heal. The unyielding wound is not gaping anymore but tender. Every tug at the scar is an understanding that love is the other side of loss and grief and that tears will always bring comfort.
Each year, and especially this year, the physical and emotional aches return with exacting precision. The body and the brain remembering and protecting at the same time. The weight of major loss and the longing for someone you love.
By being vulnerable and walking toward the pain, we gain understanding and strength. In the end, grief has its own timetable and I truly believe we are in control of our own healing.
Our most difficult lived experiences challenge us to have more empathy, to be more giving citizens on this planet, to dance with joy. To find peace in our darkest times and to live in the absolute moment.
That was how Daniel encouraged us to live: Take it easy, Mom. Relax. Chill…. Live in this beautiful moment.
In doing so we honour our son’s life.