Approaching the first anniversary of my son’s death felt very similar to those first few weeks after his suicide. Overwhelming sadness, a desperate need to see and touch him again, to hear his voice. Feelings of guilt for abandoning him, although it was he who abandoned us. My husband and I were at a loss as to how to plan the day. I knew I couldn’t go to work. My husband had the day off anyway. But what to do? How do you mark the anniversary of the day your child took a gun and shot himself through the heart while holding a picture of his family tight against his chest. How do you celebrate a life that ended in such a violent, desperate act?
Should we gather the extended family? Would that be too painful for everyone? There was no precedent, no social template. People advised us to do whatever made us feel better. We couldn’t think of anything. And as the day approached I felt completely choked with too much emotion. Literally, I felt a physical lump in my throat and had difficult swallowing. I stopped talking about my son as if that would make the feelings go away. They got worse. Then a week before the anniversary I had to leave work I was shaking so much. So I went to see my therapist and cried for an hour and a half. I kept saying to her that talking wouldn’t help, but it did. It didn’t take the pain away but it allowed me to release some of the emotions that had me so choked up.
As we agonized over our indecision about how to mark our son’s death, slowly some pieces began to fall into place . We would go to an early morning mass in the parish where he went to grammar school, and was a member of, and eventually led, a boy scout troop. We would visit his grave and bring flowers. And then, because we wanted to be somewhere where we knew he was most at peace, we decided to go to Percy Quin state park in Mississippi. For over fifteen summers he spent a week with all his family at Percy Quin, first in one cabin then in two, as the numbers and physical sizes of the grandchildren grew. He learned to fish, play poker, do without a television, and share his space. He learned to love his cousins.
On Wednesday, the day of his death, my husband and I drove to Percy Quin. In his last writings he had recalled some of his favorite memories and many of them involved Percy Quin, the fishing with his uncles, the morning breakfasts. So my husband and I drove to our favorite cabin, cabin two, hoping no one would be there. We set up some photos of our son on the picnic table where we had shared so many meals. We read some of his poetry out loud and planted an English ivy. As the time of his final act drew closer, vacationers arrived to claim the cabin, so we walked a little way off and sat on the grass. At 3.30 pm we held hands and prayed out loud. We wished him peace and told him we loved him. It began to rain. There were no more words.