Title: Happy Birthday, Anthony
Format: Open Speaker Talk
©2021 Bob Cristello
Hello faithful reader,
Today is December 21, 2021. Forty years ago today, I held my son Anthony in my arms for the very first time on the day that he was born. I looked into his eyes and I thought this was going to be the greatest adventure of my life. On August 16, 2017, when my son Anthony was 35, he climbed up onto a chair and hung himself until he was lifeless. This placed a punctuation mark on my life that was difficult to comprehend.
On that day I became a member of a worldwide family of parents who had also lost children to suicide. A club that no one wishes to be a member of. A club that now, gratefully I might add, I speak for and write about in the world of the parents of living children. The parents who know, possibly, that they could lose a child to suicide within the next 40 seconds according to the World Health Organization statistics. I have chosen to bear the responsibility for making sure that the next parent who walks through our doors is not you. I have also chosen to write to my family within these hallowed virtual halls in which we meet, to reach out to the new person who does walk into our door and joins our ranks. Knowing in my heart that they do not wish to be here any more than I do.
Today, I feel weak and vulnerable. Today, I want to cry and crawl into bed. Today, I want to be angry and make everyone pay. I have to say that out loud because it is the truth. I cannot stand here and tell you that I am not angry, that I am not hurt and that I certainly wish to get up now and go to work. I am angry, I am hurt and I do not want to get out of bed. I do not even want to be alive if the truth is to be told, but saying that to you on the outside of these walls brings up nothing but further mental health concerns on your part towards us, for a completely natural state of shock on ours.
I have prepared for this day, one that I dreaded for days, weeks and months in advance of it coming. My big three are; the day he was born, the day he died and Christmas. Intellectually I have learned that these are trigger days. I can stand here and tell you that I woke up, I asked a God of my understanding to help me. I am very angry at the God of my understanding, yet I still speak to it quietly and I do ask it for help. I do, at the end of the day, thank that God of my understanding for whatever was placed in my path that day. I can tell you that I am at my desk, writing to my family in grief and telling them the absolute truth of this matter.
I did that because someone told me to do that. Now, I had been to doctors. I had been to shrinks. I had been in the emergency room and I shambled through this city like a broken thing begging for mercy from the world. So no, I do not ask for mercy. I, walk a walk. We, walk a walk.
We are performers at the circus on the flying trapeze. We are so interesting to watch because we have no net any longer. So we perform these daring feats of balance, skill and bravery and we do it with nothing to save us. The world does not understand our level of commitment to this cause and we do not expect it to. We simply ask that you let us heal from the shock of losing a child to suicide before you expect us to grieve.
People mean well when they give us their personal views on suicide, especially when they have the luxury of discussing it in intellectual terms and have never actually lost a child to suicide themselves. I am not being smug. I think you are being smug to even think I can manage smug on a day like today. People ask me ‘What do I say to someone?’ and, at least, I respect the fact that they even ask. I tell them to replace whatever they are about to say with ‘I see you and I love you’. It is what we say to each other. We gladly share that communication tool with you the next time you want to reach out to one of us and actually have us hear you. It is the only way we hear each other and that is difficult enough as it is.
After a completely searching moral inventory of myself, I did come to find that I was responsible for the death of my son. People don’t like to hear that, I get it. However, some people who go through this find that they had no responsibility whatsoever. Both paths lead to a place of enlightenment, clarity and a chance to step back into the world of the living. On the outside, you cannot see which one of us is still dead and which one of us is still alive. We barely see it in each other because we share with each other. We share our experiences that turn into strengths. We share our strengths that turn into hope. We share our hope, for only in giving away what we have is how we hope to hold on to any of it for ourselves. So, the new person in the room is always the most important.
In this process, I came to learn that my son laid down his life for something. I came to believe that he gave his life so that others might live. That is the conclusion I have come to. That is what allows me to walk in the world without shame. That is what allows me to open my mouth and speak the truth and know that the humble messenger that delivers it is meaningless. I become parent, and Bobby drops away. I, am a parent of suicide.
I honor my son today by loving my daughter, his little sister who is 8. I honor him by loving my wife, the mother of my child. I honor him because I see God in the world. I do that even though my son never believed in God, even though he felt that brought a greater responsibility upon him to be a good man while he was alive. I hate to even use the name God, because I do not wish to lose one single ear in this conversation because of a religious connotation on a spiritual principle. I honor him today by building businesses, because that is what he was doing. I honor him today by repairing the damage of my past, cleaning my home and my spiritual being, learning to create and give music back to the world and by teaching the world the only thing I never taught him. I hear him in my head:
“Dad, I remember your beautiful voice and the way things were when I was a kid and we lived at Hyde. I remember what you wanted us all to be and I watched you throw everything away because you made a mistake. Dad, I just made a huge mistake. You can fix it by getting up and loving your kid. Hell, love my kid man. Love everyone, in fact, be what you always dreamed you could be. I will be happy with that Dad, I love you”
I love you too Lynxx. I miss you, but I know you are here with me now.
My name is Bobby and, while I am in pain, I am walking the walk. I see you and I love you. Thank you so much for letting me share my life with you this year. Thank you, all, for coming into my life and watching me live.