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Family and Friends Stories of Reflection

Maya and Me, the Sea and the Sky

James Warren June 17, 2024
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Today marks two years since my sister died by suicide. June 17, 2022.

I continue to share her story – and mine – because I don’t want her to be forgotten. Because I want others who’ve gone through what I’ve gone through to know they are not alone. And because I want others who are struggling the way she struggled, to know there is help available. I continue to share her pictures partly so her beautiful smile can light up the world, and partly because I don’t have a lot of recent pictures of her, sadly. (It’s one of the reasons why I realized I needed to start taking more pictures of the people and places I love.) The beach is one of her happy places, and the ocean is one of her resting places. So today, I share my favorite pictures of Maya, of us, of sea and sky, and I share my words for her, and for all of you.

To Maya

The emotions, memories and pain flood my brain, pretty much every day. Most days, it’s like a 2 or 3 on the big volume knob on the stereo Dad used to have in the glass and chrome wall unit in the dining room, in Fort Hamilton. Some days, however, it climbs up to a 5 or 6, the mysterious and invisible hand of grief turning the volume. And over the past few days, it’s been close to a 10.

A 10.

It’s on 10, and I miss you deeply.

I’m not sure why I feel the loss of you, your absence, more deeply this year than last year. Whatever happened to time heals all wounds? Why does this particular wound feel worse with more time?

I’m starting to understand what you said, when you said the pain of losing Mom never got any easier for you, it just kept getting worse. I don’t think I’m there, but I can relate. The loss of you and the loss of Mom more than 10 years ago are already blending. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not, but it just is.

This past week has been an emotionally turbulent one. From my birthday to Aunt Ella’s memorial to Father’s Day to the anniversary of your death, I don’t know how to manage all of this, other than to just feel it and take it one day at a time. Sometimes, one minute at a time.

I’ll never forget what it was like to find you. A Friday afternoon in June, two years ago, with rain starting to fall. Darcy and I drove to your place in silent preparation. We knew. We knew what to expect. And still. The shock!

Shock. Shock. Shock!! (Here, I remind myself: Breathe, James. Now, Dear One. Go ahead and breathe in, breathe out.)

Making the calls. Letting Christian and Jordan know. Then letting Evan and Alexis know. Calling your sister-friends. Calling the cousins, and Aunt Ella. So overwhelming. When people talk about things feeling like forever ago and just yesterday, I think of time travel and that makes it possible in my mind. And then I wonder if there would be a way to travel back to just 6 days prior to that day, or a month or a year, anything but going back to that day and seeing you that way.

I wonder, is there a way to remember without the pain? And do I even want to? I am not sure if that’s a chance I can take, so I will remember it all.

I am doing my best to make you proud. Some days, I stumble. But fortunately, the rest of our family is able to pick me up and help me keep going forward. I hope somehow you are connected with our ancestors. Tell Mom I said “Hi!” and you know Aunt Ella is with you all now. Her memorial service was beautiful, and I was reminded of who we are: family.

To Survivors

I know this journey is hard.

I know you wish so hard they were still here. You wish your cry could reach the stars above and to the center of the earth below, as if the hardest wish might transform space and time, might reverse the order of the cosmos and the way of things and bring them back, bring them all the way back to you.

I know this kind of wishing. And I know this wish, as we know it, will never come true. It hurts to say it for you as much as for me, but we cannot bring them back.

However, I have learned of a different kind of wish that we can embody, that can come true with time.

That wish is to know peace, to know the heavy sigh of exhalation as we let our loved ones be – not go, just be – wherever and however they are. (Here, I invite you to close your eyes with me. Let’s take a deep breath in and let it out, together. Go ahead, breathe, Dear One.)

That wish is to hold lightly onto the thing we don’t need to clutch at in vain, their memory. I believe that whatever the cause of their suffering, there was at least a sliver of knowledge of your love for them. And in return, you have a knowledge of their love for you.

That wish is to allow joy to coexist with our sorrow. They might not mix; they might just be there next to each other. That is okay. Let them be. The departure of our loved ones will gradually open our eyes to things about them and ourselves that we did not see when they were here. We will see their trauma and our own through a new frame, and this is a gift. A painful, sorrowful, sad, sad gift. Nonetheless, it is a gift.

We find ourselves members of a most unfortunate club that any of us would give almost anything to not be a part of. Except our lives. We must not give our own lives to be free of this club, for the price of such a freedom surely guarantees free, involuntary admission for others. There are resources for people like us, members of this club of survivors. Please, reach out and connect.

When the days and nights get you down, when they stretch into weeks and months and years, and you finally realize you are not counting down, you are counting up instead, those are days to remember what you now wish for – no, not that wish. The other one. The one to let them be where they are. And in doing so, wish for yourself to be here, fully, where you are. And then reach out. Talk to someone who can relate. Talk to me.

It may even help to get involved with organizations working to prevent suicide through increased awareness, advocacy and resources – organizations like Mental Health America and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I got involved with AFSP and I’ve done the Out of the Darkness Walk a couple of times. The first one felt surreal, and it was very, very soon after my sister’s death. The second one felt good – I connected much more deeply with the people. I will do my third one this fall and I’m truly looking forward to it.

To Those Struggling with Mental Health Challenges

I hold you in my heart. I don’t know what my sister would tell you if she could tell you anything now. But I will tell you that you are loved. You are needed. And if you were not here, you would be missed.

I will tell you that there is hope, and there is a way out of the darkness.

I will tell you that talking is really, really important. When I’ve been at my darkest, talking to another human who empathized with me, who was willing to listen without judgment, who offered me tools, those things helped me and countless others.

I will tell you that suicide is rarely just the result of just one thing, and that there are both risk factors and protective factors. Learning more about these might help motivate you to get the specific kind of help you need.

I will tell you that loneliness is very real, and that there are ways to deal with it. There are things you can do to reduce the feeling of being lonely, and there are people who are willing and able to connect with you, listen to you and help you feel both seen and heard. I will tell you that in an emergency, some of those people can be found by calling or texting 988. They may also be found among your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors.

I will tell you that the sooner you start talking to people about what you’re going through, the sooner people can help you. I will tell you there is no shame in needing help, and that professional help exists. You are not a shame.

I will tell you that I understand if you are embarrassed, or feel you are too far gone, or don’t want help because you think you’ve already decided. And in this moment, it is very important for you to talk to someone. Please talk to a friend, a therapist or a doctor. Text or call 988. Please, help is available. (And breathe. Breathe, Dear One.)

I Have Hope

Maya, my hope is that wherever and however you are in the universe, somehow you feel my love and know that you are missed, my Dear Sister.

If you are a fellow suicide loss survivor, I hope you know that you are not alone in your journey. We are in it together.

And if you are struggling with your mental health, I hope you know that help is available, and that you have nothing to be ashamed of.

I hope today is good for me, as I navigate the memory road today, and good for you, whatever you are facing.

Love you. Mean It. 🙏🏽 💔 🥰 ❤️


In case you missed any of them or need easier access, here are links to the resources referenced above, as well as a few others that I think are important, including some for under-resourced communities and identity groups:











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