Title: Are You Still There?
Format: Open Speaker Talk
©2022 Bob Cristello
“Are you still there? I know you are. It has gone past belief and moved into the realm of faith. Please allow me to speak the words that others need to hear. More than that, please give me the strength to not flinch from my own shame and responsibility.” ~ Bobby C Personal Diary
Hello Faithful Reader.
My name is Bob and my son Anthony killed himself on August 16, 2017 at the age of 35.
This morning I am writing to an ever growing audience of readers. I now post to 8 social media services and 6 FaceBook groups. My twitter following continues to grow and currently contains over 40,000 followers. The website we started in November now averages over 100 people concurrently at any given moment on any given day. This has nothing to do with the quality or the content of my writing. This is because every 40 seconds another person dies by their own hand according to the World Health Organization. In our country alone, 22 brave American Military Veterans kill themselves. I speak for, to and about parents who have lost children to suicide.
My story is an extreme one to be sure, but it was extreme long before my first child Anthony was ever born. On the day my son died the only question anyone could ask was ‘Why?’. It was a question that would haunt me for almost four years. If I allowed it to, it would continue to haunt me. The only question I will ever be able to answer is ‘What was my role in the death of my child?’. That is the question I had to answer. In order to do that I pragmatically turned to a power beyond myself.
I say pragmatically because there was no other choice. I am a unique blend of artist and scientist. My skills with software development and computer sciences are currently displayed in nuclear power plants, banks, financial lending and credit institutions, major government agencies and even running on some of the very social media services I publish to. When I say I had to turn to God, you can believe me when I say that while it was a moment of desperation and faith, it was a completely logical choice because there was no other answer.
The shock of my son’s death overwhelmed me. Thirty years ago at the age of 35, I turned to things like drugs and crime to fill the void that was left in me. I hurt many people that I can never atone for. Their only crime was loving me and believing in me. The source of my shame was being raped at the age of 13 by a male music teacher who literally held my future in his hands. That future was perverted and instead of continuing a career as a performer I became a soldier. When my son was 35 he could not grasp that there was love in the world, because I taught him it was a dark and cold place. He ended his life, just as pragmatically as I began mine 7 months ago.
I am responsible for the death of my son and that is my reality, it does not have to be yours. Many parents who go through this great questioning come to find that they held no responsibility in the death of their children. Most of us come to believe that it is one way or the other, but it gets us to the same place. It allows us to return to life for we all climbed into the grave with our child. It allows us permission to grieve, which is all the world really wants from us. It is honestly what we want for ourselves, most of us just never realize we are in shock and can never grieve until we get some help.
This community has embraced me in a way that no other community in my life has. While that is true, I have also taken a number of emotional hits that I was unprepared for when I accepted this mission to open my mouth and share my story. I am not a perfect human being, I am not really sure I am even a good one to be honest. I suppose that is why we try to teach each other that it is the message that truly matters and not the messenger. I can carry a message, but I cannot carry another human being. This is a new struggle of grief that I have discovered, that many of us discover.
We find ourselves wanting to become advocates. Many of us turn to writing or creation of some sort in order to heal from grief. We come to these places where parents and families meet to share our experiences, our strength and our hope. We come to tell the newcomer that it is okay. We tell the newcomer you are in shock just as if you had lost an arm or a leg in a traumatic accident. There will come a time to grieve but right now you have to accept that you are in shock. Shock is a medical condition, grief is a human one.
Some parents move beyond this place of shock and grief and return to life seamlessly. I am always in awe of people like that and I am honestly grateful that they are spared the burden of the entire process. I always feel that God felt these people needed a miracle to move forward and I am honestly never sorry to see them go. I am a soldier. I have no idea how to leave a burning vehicle when someone is trapped inside. I have no idea why I get so calm in those moments but it is a gift I was given that is part of my unique potential.
If today is the first day you are reading my words and the first time you are in one of our groups, please know that you are in a safe place where you are understood. We say to each other, ‘I see you and I love you’. I encourage you to have an open mind, to be willing to accept whatever lies ahead and to have faith that more will be revealed. If you do not believe this is possible, know that 7 months ago I could not walk across my small city to see my doctor without fear of losing control of my own bowels. My son left behind a devastated daughter, a grieving family and friends, and one small broken man named Bob.
I can do this. You can do this. Alone, we can do nothing but suffer. Together, we can return to life.
My name is Bob, thank you for once again letting me share.