**This series discusses suicidal ideation I experienced in my teens. Take care of yourself. Read it if you have an interest and are in a good space for it.
Nick’s passing broke my family. Its light had gone out.
Next to her kitchen table, my Grandma keeps a photo of all of us grandkids at that last Christmas. Nick is in his velvet green tuxedo. I’m wearing a plaid shirt, awkward smile and rosy cheeks. All the rest of my cousins are crowded around. Grandma will point to the picture and, through her tears, tell me that that was the last time all of her grandkids were together. That’s the last time we were complete.
I also saw the way my family and everyone who knew Nick were committed to keep his spirit alive —how the force he brought us was going to keep moving whether his physical body was here or not.
The week of his passing, that Tuesday through Saturday, hundreds of people flew in from all over the country to fill my aunt & uncle’s backyard. Every night was a party. We swam and ate and the adults drank and I jumped up and down and up and down on the trampoline. We were all there together. Hundreds of us.
His friends spilled out 4x6 photos all across my aunt’s kitchen table. They scanned them and organized them and turned them into a movie for his funeral. I sat behind them on a little couch, watching Nick’s friends move about Final Cut Pro to make the memorial just right.
My family carried on Nick’s spirit by being intentional to follow our dreams, by doing the things we loved, by pushing through the things that make us afraid.
My brother wanted to race amateur motocross and, despite their fears of him being hurt, my parents let him. Because they knew it was important. Doing what you love became one of my family’s values. It became weaved into who we are. When my mom was scared, she told herself to be brave, like how her sister-in-law, my aunt, was brave through all of those airshows. Because of her bravery, Nick learned to fly.
My parents sacrificed their time and money so that I could spend all my time at the Fresno Zoo. That’s what I loved. I went to camp, then volunteered, and then would borrow my mom’s car all summer to drive there and work.
When I went to college and started getting opportunities to travel, despite them never traveling themselves and fearing for my safety, they let me go. They knew I loved it. They knew it was important to me. So they went against their risk-averse nature, and let me get on plane after plane.
For Nick. For Nick. For Nick.
I was aware of why my parents let me do what I did. And I was aware of why I even thought it was all possible.
Because Nick’s life was possible. His life was freakin’ magical.
Because of him, I knew nothing was out of reach.
I eventually stopped crying in the shower. My crying turned to thinking. It turned to imagining, to daydreaming. It turned into escaping into alternate realities, into other worlds, worlds other than the one I existed in.
In that shower, my scenarios always circled around one important detail: I was dying. Every. time. Each time I escaped to a world that involved my final escape from this one.
In my imaginings, I always had cancer. Brain cancer, blood cancer, bone cancer, some massive tumor. I imagined all those things happening to me. I played the scenarios in my mind as if they were a wish.
I imagined receiving the diagnosis. I imagined my reaction and that of my parents. I imagined the hospital tag wrapped round my wrist. I imagined the social media post. I imagined everyone’s response. I imagined sitting in a hospital bed. I imagined wasting away. I imagined my funeral. I imagined what songs they would play, the order of its funeral events. I debated whether I should write out a schedule or not. (I mean I will die eventually, right?) I imagined who would be at my funeral. I imagined who would not. I imagined what people would remember me as. I imagined people taking all the good parts of me and that being what lived on.
In my mind, this scenario gave me all the things I wanted. It took me out of the world that wasn’t made for me, that wasn’t safe for me, that was so damn hard to breathe in.
It fixed the distance I felt from my parents. It torn down the walls I erected when I came to know there were parts of myself that I could not show to them. “When you’re dying, you just tell everyone everything, right?”
It gave me the attention from my peers that I never received but so desperately wanted. It pulled me out of that bathroom stall and into the words and minds of everyone on campus. It made my invisible self finally visible.
And it allowed all the good parts of me to live on and all the bad parts of me to be forgotten. Because that’s what we do when people die. We finally grant the deceased the mercy they deserved while alive.
I never called my shower imagining “wishes” when I had them. I just called them “scenarios”, “daydreams”, “things I played through my head.”
Slowly over time, unbeknownst to conscious myself, those scenarios crept into the way I saw the world. At least that’s what I think happened. In the year Nick died, a lot of other people died. Two of my aunts were diagnosed with cancer. Both died. A family-friend’s parents were murdered in their house. My childhood hero Steve Irwin died via a stingray barb in his heart.
Somewhere in all that death and in all the pain inside of myself, I think my brain decided that death was escape. Death was escape from all that pained me. So I imagined it. I told myself it was going to happen. I wasn’t going to make it happen. I just told myself it would. Like the universe was kind enough so that one day, soon enough, it would just fall together.
The world I found myself in was only livable if I believed the expiration date was near. So that’s the reality I made for myself.
I thought I was going to go to a smaller state college closer to home, but I ended up getting into to Pepperdine, a university in Malibu, a university whose campus was a mile from house Nick lived in in his early twenties. I was accepted to a study abroad program to live the following year in Argentina, the first major trip I would make. The only other person in my family to travel so loudly was, Nick.
On September 11 of that year, September 11, 2013, driving home from a babysitting job, around 3pm, I received a call from my doctor. In a routine X-ray, they had found a mass in my chest.
I wasn’t surprised. I called my parents and told them nonchalantly, just like I had always imagined in the shower. Just like I told myself I would. I pretended I wasn’t afraid.
But it was all coming true.
***This is heavy three-part series. I want to include the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255, for anyone who wants it. Suicide is not the answer. Suicide is preventable. There is no shame in calling this free and confidential support service. We need you here. There is hope.