“I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures.”
― Gail Caldwell, Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship
***This blog post is written in loving memory of Nathaniel Merrill, lifelong friend of our son, Casey. Nathaniel took his life on the morning of September 22, 2014. He was 20 years and 37 days young.***
“The Prettiest Village in Maine” of Wiscasset, the adjacent town of Boothbay, and the communities that surround them in Lincoln County, have undergone some serious tragic losses in a short 54 days. Casey Dalton, Keegan Spear, and Nathaniel Merrill; gone. All gone. Too fast, too soon, too young.
Deaths that occur as a result of drinking and driving, excessive alcohol and/or drug use, and by suicide, are horrific, seemingly senseless, and extremely traumatic. This, I feel, is magnified when those who die are so young. Add to that these boys were cousins and friends, and from such a small community, the effects become enormous to those who knew and loved them.
I do not offer these statements with ill will or judgment towards Casey, Keegan, or Nathaniel. Ages spanning 17 to 20, these boys were all living on the edge in many ways.
They were making some extreme, risky, and unsafe choices, however, their choices were no different than I often made earlier in my life; no different than others in my family or my friends have either. No different, I am sure, than many of their friends continue to make even today.
With each unsafe choice, with each death, statistically, comes more potential tragedy. Please help me now to lessen that potential.
Casey and Keegan died early in the morning hours on a Wednesday. Over the course of the next 2 days, different members of our family had been voicing their concerns to me of their worry about each other.
“Do you think he’ll be ok?”
“I am worried how she’ll make it through this.”
“What if this is too much for them to bear?”
On Friday night, just shy of 48 hours after Casey died, Rick and I gathered in New Gloucester, with the majority of our children and their partners, in the back yard of our daughter Lindsay and our son-on-law Chris. Chris had built a fire pit especially for our family get-together that night.
With the warm glow of the flames illuminating our faces, amidst the tears and laughter, a fog of uneasiness began to disperse amongst the group. The worries within our family for the welfare of where we would all go from there began to overshadow the moment.
As humans, we all have strengths, as well as needs, and potentially grave weaknesses. It remained to be seen, as a family, where this horrific tragedy would take us. We hoped for the best, but each, in our own perspective, had fears of the worst.
Shortly after I went inside, David, Casey’s oldest brother, followed me into the house. He told me he was concerned about Rick. He was worried that the heartache of losing Casey would be too great for Rick to bear. David asked me, with a look of desperation in his eyes, what he could do to help…what he could do to bring strength to our family; to Rick. I took David’s hand…asked him to follow me…and together we walked back outside to the fire pit.
It was in that moment the stifling fog of worry began to lift for all of us.
Around that fire we shared our vulnerability. It started with David’s expression of his concern for Rick, but it went on from there. We each recognized our feelings of helplessness and caring concerns for one another. We recognized out loud that every member of our family who sat around that fire has struggled with either depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or any combination of the 3, first hand. Sadly, I know that our family is not unique to this struggle.
As I have heard it so poignantly described, for some people, those behaviors will forever remain an ominous figure lurking in the shadows. A sinister villain watching and waiting for the moment of weakness that makes one yearn for the pain. It is battle that must be faced every day; or that we must watch our loved ones face every day. Some struggle more, some less; but I would dare say that it is rare, if not impossible, to find a human who is not touched in this way.
As the embers began to lightly flicker and the flames died down at the fire pit, the heaviness of the unspoken strain that had been amidst us started to lighten. We then made a vow to one another. We promised that no more loss would occur among us at our own hands; no one was to be lost for poor or desperate choices. Each and every person who sat by that fire promised to reach out their hand and ask for help before making a potentially lethal choice.
If you are reading this, you may have known Casey, Keegan, Nathaniel…or possibly all three. If not, you may know me…or someone in my family. Maybe you live in Wiscasset or Boothbay… or maybe you have just stumbled upon this blog by accident. Really it matters not how you got here, what matters is that you know I am speaking directly to you.
If you are reading this, you are not immune to loss or grief. You could be at risk for poor and potentially lethal choices if you are chemically impaired, depressed, and/or in crisis. Each and every one of us is potentially at risk because we are human.
So now, I say to you, who are reading this, promise along with us. Make a Fire Pit Vow.
Make a vow to yourself, to your loved ones, right now, to reach out for help when you need it. Ask your family, your friends, your neighbors, right now, to make that vow with you…before you suffer a loss…before you are in crisis.
We cannot prevent every tragedy. I am surely an optimist at my core, but I do not kid myself and think that we will end all drinking and driving, substance abuse, or suicide. But for every Fire Pit Vow that is made, we all stand a better chance to make it through together to live, and love, another day.
Love always wins…and so it goes.
For more information on Suicide Prevention and Mental Health: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/index.shtml
For information on Substance Abuse: http://www.drugabuse.gov
Sunday was my goal for a second blog post. But it is now Monday, and I am past my deadline. My editor can be a hard ass, but I think she’ll understand considering the circumstances.
Battling with what to write about, I reviewed so many thoughts and ideas about quality of life, empathy, acceptance, tolerance, just to name a few. None are clicking. I promised myself that this would not turn into a “let me tell you about my grief, loss, and pain” blog.
Today I had the thought that struggling emotionally can be compared to being stuck in a blizzard or a hurricane. There is hunger, but I must use what is available to feed myself and those I love. Until the storm passes, I must simply use what I have. What is available in my emotional cupboard right now is mourning…sadness…sorrow. Pull up a chair and grab a plate.
I am truly struggling this week. Rick and I both are. When will seeing strawberries, the Celtics logo, or Casey’s number in our phone contacts no longer bring us to tears? We wonder when it will get better; when the pain won’t feel so deep and raw…and yet we fear that same moment when the sting will subside. Will it define a moment of obtaining some relief from our loss? Or does it signify a movement of Casey’s memory further into our past? For now, we make it through a moment at a time.
In the book The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran, the following passage offers thoughts about the relationship between sorrow and joy:
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. Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.” But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
I know this to be true.
The picture you see at the beginning of this blog post is from Casey’s viewing. This was taken at the end, by me, as Casey’s siblings and partners still in attendance, were all saying goodbye to his earthly body for the last time. This picture captures the saddest, most difficult moment we have faced as a family; that most of us have faced as individuals.
But, look closely.
There is an undeniable aura of unconditional love and profound joy for the connection they share with each other, and will share eternally with their fallen brother. As tenacious dandelions make their way through the cracks in the asphalt, abounding love and joy will blossom from immeasurable loss.
I smiled wide as I took this photo and then began to sob. Rick came up beside me, gently put his arm around my shoulders, and we cried blended tears of joy and sorrow, together. Truly we wept for that which has been our delight; that which will remain our delight.
Love always wins. And so, it goes…