What changed? I did

Title: What changed? I did.
Format: Open Speaker Talk
Date: 12.20.2021
©2021 Bob Cristello

My name is Bob Cristello and I now speak and write for a group of people who belong to a club that no one will ever wish to be a member of. It is that club that all parents dread for they know it is possible that their child will be hurt or die during their lifetime.

All parents know inside that suicide is out there in the world. They may not know that the World Health Organization states that a person dies in the world every 40 seconds from suicide. My son Anthony, killed himself on August 16, 2017, at the age of 35. He left behind no note to explain his actions or his state of mind. He left behind a family, friends and one small broken man named Bob.

I have spent the last four months crafting that paragraph. It took me over 40,000 words. Too many words for the book I have written actually, so I built a website. I did it, right here, in this social media platform. I did it with the help of two groups of parents, two groups of high school communities, one Military community and a very important man who I call my brother in grief, Ed.

I did it by coming into these rooms and just clicking on a like button when I read a post. I started in February of this year, three years after I climbed into the grave with my son and could only see the world through a dull filmy cloud. In time, I started clicking on hugs but I could not elevate my child to the status of an angel.

I could not use phrases like #FE35 Anthony, though as you see I just said it quite clearly just now. In fact, he is forever 35 and I love him. I actually found out that I was #FE13 Bobby, because a music teacher who cultivated my talent for two years decided to take out his lust on me at the age of 13 and left me for dead on a music room floor in my local Junior High School.

I still managed to sing and to dance my way to the Circle In The Square theater Off-Broadway by the age of 18, two years in a row. I have been on national television shows such as 60 Minutes and Charlie Rose. I have also met the greatest minds of the 20th and 21st century and call them my friends. Just as I call drug addicts, convicted felons and parents of suicide my brothers and sisters. Today, I am a truly blessed and grateful man for the people who walk with me on this journey.

I did it by doing a searching and fearless moral inventory, after coming to believe in a power that is greater than I am. A power that is without a name, just like the club that is watched over by it. I highly suggest that you remain open to the possibility though it is not necessary if you are willing to be brave, honest and accepting of whatever answers may come.

I did it by stopping myself from asking ‘Why?’ my son killed himself. I did it by starting to ask the question ‘What was my role in the death of my child?’ That answer can lead to discovering one of two things. You are either responsible, or you are not. Anything in between is a degree that we cannot afford to split a hair on. It is certainly not one I was willing to gamble with my living children’s lives with as casually as I might throw down my salary in a poker game.

I was responsible. I say that out loud for that is the truth. Many parents, come to discover that they had no responsibility at all. It is a relief to their state of shock, where they feel their leg has been amputated and they see it is gone over and over again. They see they have experienced trauma. They learn to forgive their child, their spiritual source of faith and themselves.

Even parents who discover that they are responsible such as myself find relief in the knowledge. Many of us, after this rigorous outpouring, experience a moment of rebirth back into the world of the living. Outsiders may see this as a religious or, even worse, a mental health issue. We learn to recognize these moments in each other so we may continue to reach out. We also recognize that coming back to life is the key to everything. Some of us, lose that battle and become another one of our human community that leaves this world at their own hands in the next 40 seconds.

I did it by sharing my story in public. Most of you know I have written a book and opened corporations as well as not for profits. You know I have returned back to work full time as a respected member in my field. You know I have taken my family from the brink of poverty back into the middle class by simply waking up, getting out into my city and talking to people. You also know that four months ago I could not walk across my small city without stopping in every men’s room I could find along the way because I could not control my own bowels.

What changed? I did.

I did it with your help.

I did it because God came into my life. I choose to call my spiritual source God. Sometimes I call him Ian because I don’t feel right about yelling at God. I can yell at Ian. Ian is only 8 years old just like my daughter. He is fallible and needs me to understand him, just like my daughter. He needs me to read to him, to tell him my thoughts and to cry with him, just like my daughter. I see Ian, in my 8-year-old daughter. I see Anthony, in her. I see God, in my 8-year-old daughter. She has taught me, that she sees God in me.

My child, is my teacher.

All my children, alive or dead, have been my greatest teachers.

If your children are alive and you are reading this, make sure you find a way to see God in them. Whatever it takes, whatever the cost, however difficult my words are to read. I do not want you to be the next parent I have to meet in our virtual social media halls of safety. I do not want to listen to your stories late into the night on zoom or on the phone. But I will, if you need me to. If I am not available, I know where you can go.

There is hope for the hopeless. We, the parents of suicide welcome you into our lives to hear our stories. We welcome you into the trauma of our shock, so you know we are not ready to deal with grief until we deal with the shock of the loss of our child. We welcome you into a place where you may understand us, as we learn to understand each other. Mostly, as we learn to discover ourselves.

We know that no help is coming, that we must help each other. That the person who is just coming into this conversation is the most important person. They are our new children, who will be our teachers so that we may continue to teach others. Honestly, that is how it works. One parent, one human being, reaching out to another and sharing their experiences, their strength and their hope.

I know that this holiday season is difficult. I feel especially emotional because tomorrow is my son Anthony’s birthday. It is normally a time where I just climb into bed and put the covers over my head and cry. This year, we have family coming into town. This year, I am celebrating my son’s birthday by being alive and making a difference in the world.

I see you and I love you.

My name is Bob Cristello, thank you for letting me share today