One More Day
The woman smiles when she talks, and alternates between making eye contact and then looking at the floor. She sits straight, and has the military bearing of someone who has spent half of her life serving the country. She chuckles occasionally. At other times, she talks for minutes without blinking.
“All the signs and symptoms were there, and I think people were afraid, or maybe thought that I wasn't the type of person that would be suicidal,” said Senior Chief Information Specialist Jillian Cardoza. “It's not always easy to come right out and say, 'Are you thinking of killing yourself?'”
And its can be even harder when someone is drifting away.
“You don't want to be around [your loved ones], especially if you are feeling that bad about yourself and your situation,” said Cardoza. “And that was where I didn't trust in my own abilities to bounce back. I didn't think there was anything that anyone could do, and that there was only one thing that I could do to get out of the situation.”
While Cardoza was going through the hardest part of her life, she found it difficult to open up. She felt pathetic. “I thought I was weak for having those thoughts and that I was weak or if I said anything about it. I just let it consume me.”
“From not having your family there, to working with other, different personalities, just trying to do your best and be the best ... over time the stress starts to accumulate,” sympathized Information Technician First Class Nicole Gallardo. “When it piles up and you don't have the support or someone you trust, you hold on to it. [The suicidal feeling] comes to those who are strong, those who are strong to others and those who help others. A thought can come into your head, but it's how you go about controlling those thoughts.”
Be strong enough, she said, to ask for help controlling suicidal thoughts and depression. Seeking the assistance of a therapist does not make a person weak. Rather, it makes that person a stronger individual.
“After you get your healing, life goes on; you will not be the same person,” said Gallardo. “You will be more aware of your surroundings, you will know when you need to talk, you will know that you can no longer just hold on to things, and you realize that people do care. Thoughts are thoughts, but if you don't deal with those thoughts, they become actions.”
Healing doesn't mean things will immediately go back to normal, however, said Cardoza. Healing takes time.
“After my suicide attempt, and then coming back to my family,” who had no idea she was struggling, she said, “it was difficult. It was gradual. You can't expect that things are going to bounce back right away and you're going to be okay, but really, the light for me was my family and going to therapy.”
In fact, Cardoza's family was shocked. They had been clueless as to her struggle — until they found her.
In many suicide attempts, this is the case. No one knows something is wrong until it's too late.
Aviation Ordnanceman Third Class Marrissa Cross was on deployment when she lost her best friend to suicide. She had no clue as to the “why” or the “what” behind his actions.
“We ask ourselves why ... they did this, but I saw no signs — nothing,” said Cross. “The fact that I had no clue for myself, that I didn't even realize that all this was happening, made me think, 'Does that make me a good best friend? Did that make me not care in a way?' There were just so many thoughts. I was just so confused.”
Being underway didn't help either. The helplessness of the distance and lack of communication took its toll, both emotionally and physically.
“It's not like I could go on social media and see what was going on. It's not like I could talk to anyone. It's not like I could go to his own funeral and be there with him,” she said, noting that the atmosphere of an underway naval vessel isn't necessarily conducive to mourning. “For anyone who hears news like that while underway, it can be difficult because you're surrounded by people, and yet you feel so utterly alone. Find somewhere, go be with your emotions and take some time because you need to feel everything, and if you need to cry, then cry; do what you need to do.”
Sometimes that grief is compounded by deep sense of self-blame.
Aviation Ordanceman First Class Jacob Learned lost his mother to suicide when he was only 13. “It made me not merely blame myself, but it made me question, 'Was I not worth sticking around for?' The aftermath was just complete turmoil. I didn't know where to go; I didn't know if I should talk to anybody, if I should keep it locked up inside or, if I did talk, how did I talk about it?
“If you are a parent who is thinking about [suicide], or even had a weak point in your life where you've thought it was the easiest way out, I can't deny the fact that you are not wrong,” he added. “But the harder path is always the one that leads to the greater gift. If you go down the easy pathway, you'll never get what you could have had.”
Suicide victims ultimately deny themselves the opportunity to see how things may have turned out differently one day, one week and even one year down the road.
For those left behind when someone commits suicide, the natural tendency is to feel selfish — after all, the pain they may feel at the loss of their loved one couldn't possibly compare to the pain of the person who took his or her life. Those who have been left behind just want one more day, one more conversation, one more laugh and one more chance.
“The story that is going to be told to your kids and your grandchildren is the one you write for yourself,” said Learned. “If you take yourself out of it, there's no one to tell that story.”