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God has left the Room

My grandfather owned a modest house in a Spanish ghetto. A neighborhood where bodegas were stationed on every corner, and each house had its own private mango tree. After a long day of blue-collared work, my grandfather would pick me up from my school carline. I remember spending my summers, weekends, and school nights at his house. He would tell me stories about himself, and listen to my child-like rambling. On sunny days, we loved spending our time together outside, building forts out of whatever scraps we could find. This was our bonding time. On stormy days, we would gather all the clothing hanging on an antiquated drying line, and make huge teepees, where we would eat our afternoon snack. Our afternoons outside could arguably be considered a “Cuban American’s” version, of of what an “English” tea party looked like. 

These are the things I remember about my grandfather. A man of character, a man of strength, a man, who when faced with a country, ravished by dictatorship, made the courageous decision, to pile his young sons into a make-shift boat, and float towards freedom. A man who who left everything he knew in Cuba, with a plan to rebuild his life and doing just that.

So today, years after his suicide, I still do not understand HIS why. I think back to that day, and the days after, there I was, a kid left with a million questions. There was no note, no goodbye, no closure. What about us? What about my young siblings and cousins? What about his wife of 50+ years?

I often question whether he was a man, I knew at all? I now realize, that there where many signs I missed. I never thought anything of the beer he would drink at breakfast, lunch or dinner. I never really took note of the kitchen wall being lined with alcohol bottles. It was simply, his norm. I never made the connection between my loving grandfather, and alcoholism. He was not a religious man, but the cross hanging from his cars rear-view mirror, had me convinced, that he was a believer. I surely was a believer, so naturally, the next question for me was: well, why didn’t God step in,clear his mind, stop him ? As the granddaughter who built forts with him, who herself believed, if not for him, why not stop him, for me?

I know that in the months and years that followed, I questioned everything I had been taught. How could God let this happen? 

The only rational conclusion was that in that pivotal moment, a moment that changed our family forever, God must have left the room. 

Television shows today are produced to glorify suicide. These shows glaze over the havoc suicide leaves behind. They fail to accurately reflect the dark reality. Suicide does not permit for retakes, leaving families behind, shattered by grief. Do producers not grasp that young audiences, some suffering from mental illness, may be captivated by the thought of ending their pain with suicide? 

I now know that society is far from ready to openly discuss the issues of mental illness and depression. However, living in a society, which often romanticizes suicide, forces me to question the medias understanding of the complexities surrounding depression.

The truth is that my grandfather’s suicide prepared me for some of the hardships I know life will throw at me. I now know that openly communicating with others, is one of life’s greatest tools, and the critical piece required in starting any conversation about suicide. 

The journey of grief and acceptance that came in the years that followed my Grandfathers choice, taught me some valuable lessons. I promised myself, I would be better in my own life. I realized that life, not only required people to be compassionate, but to stop, look around, and feel people’s sadness. Today, rather than reflecting on my grandfathers passing in a solely negative light, I remember him as the strong man of character he was. A man who loved to build forts with me in the backyard, who’s ill attempted message, was delivered poorly, but arrived with an incredible valuable. A message, that today I hear loud and clear. Human life is delicate, and we must all communicate with intention, HEARING what the people we love say, even when they aren’t the talkative type, and say nothing at all.


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