The New Normal

Title: The New Normal
Format: Open Speaker Talk
Date: 04.30.2022
©2021-2022 Bob Cristello

My name is Bob Cristello, and I am a parent of suicide. In the early morning hours of August 16, 2017, my son, Anthony, took his own life at the age of thirty-five. Whatever I was before that day died with my son. Whatever I became after that day is also dead, and I have been born anew.

I am not a religious man, and I seek no further exploration of religion.  I am not a man of God, but I am a man who seeks God.  I say this often and to whoever will listen. I tell people that I speak to God, which is true.  I talk to God continually, wherever I am and regardless of my current company.  I believe that God speaks to me, as I believe God speaks to all of us.  I also wish to clarify that I am not asking you to believe this.  I only ask that you accept that this is what I believe.

I appreciate the opportunity to discuss a topic with you today that I call “The New Normal.”  Many communities use this term in various ways, and the grief community is no exception. For many of us who have lost someone to suicide, the new normal is a delicate balance between shock and grief on a continued basis. “Prolonged Grief Disorder” is now officially part of the DSM-5.  After a one-year grief cycle, this disorder occurs in  “the 4% of people who have experienced a loss and are still grieving and unable to return to everyday activities”. 

This inclusion in the DSM-5 means clinicians may now bill our insurance companies to treat us. It also means funding research and competition among the top drug companies for treatments. It adds stigma to an already stigmatized community. I have mental health issues, and I am no longer a grieving parent.  What concerns me the most regarding this new normal we are experiencing is that we are now the problem somehow.

According to Google, between 56 and 60 million people die each year.  Let us assume the number is 60 million.  According to the World Health Organization, every 40 seconds, someone dies because of suicide.  At 365 days per year, 24 hours per day, 60 minutes per hour, 60 seconds per minute, divide that by 40, and that number is 788,400.  When you calculate the percentage, 1.314% of all deaths are due to suicide each year.

The DSM-5 diagnosis of Prolonged Grief Disorder could happen for 4% of people who experience loss.  If every person who committed suicide had both parents, that would mean that 2.628% of people who have experienced loss could make up the entire community of parents who had lost a child to suicide.  Add a sister or a brother. That number goes up to 3.942% of the whole grief community.  This paragraph is wholly subjective, and these numbers reflect no actual statistics. However, it is sobering when every parent I know can not get over this loss.

Last November, I said that I would become an advocate for parents who had lost a child to suicide.  I also said I had no idea how to do that, and I needed help.  I work with a dedicated team of medical and mental health professionals, and I suggest to others that they do the same. I also highly recommend that people find a group to share with who will embrace, support, and nurture them.  I also discourage people from stepping out into the world to share their stories until they have a firm foundation in understanding:

  1. Traumatic shock occurs when you lose a child.
  2. Grief can only exist when shock is at bay.
  3. Grief is manageable. Shock is not.
  4. People do not always have your best interest at heart.

My family and I chose to share our experience, strength, and hope with the world. I know that the day is coming when my professional life will collide with this mission. I pray that I can provide financial security for my family and carry a message of hope to others. The world is much smaller than when I was born in 1959.  I have never been a timid person, and I had always enjoyed technology that would amplify the instrument I was playing or my voice when I would sing.  It is just a matter of time before my public timelines collide.

When that happens, things like The New Normal, or Prolonged Grief Disorder in the DSM-5, will hurt my chances to function as a scientist, analyst, or technology architect. So, please, make sure you understand all ramifications of choosing to step into the public discussion about suicide, grief, and loss.  Should you feel that this is something you must do, I have often stated that I need help.

I wanted to develop a clear message. The message is that there is hope, and I believe the world listened. Hope is not lost. It is forgotten, taken away, squandered, but never lost. I know you have not lost hope because you are seeking answers.  In the act of seeking, you are expressing hope.

Once you take this action, you will naturally reflect on what happened. The action/reflection cycle is nothing new, though it has gone through some modern rebranding. Push out thoughts of why. It is also essential not to get trapped into emotional corners where you feel you have no escape. Allow yourself to grieve. If you have learned to find the calmer waters of grief, embrace the blessings that grief provides.  If you are lost or confused, your thoughts are scattered, and you have to re-read these sentences, you might be experiencing the symptoms of shock.  

I am nothing special, though I spent a lifetime attempting to be unique. I am humbled to write, speak and share with the world. I have stopped writing for today and myself. I write for the future, for my daughter and son.  I cannot support religion because I do not believe God is there.  I respect and embrace religion.  I respect people of all faiths.  I appreciate life and the chance to live, and I did not have that before turning to God.  

According to my dog tags, I was born and baptized a Roman Catholic.  I will want a Catholic Priest to give me last rights before I die.  That will comfort me, honor my mother and father, and be my religion if one still exists within me.  I also believe that someone will pointedly ask me one day, and I just do not have it in me to deny God or Jesus Christ.  I also cannot deny Allah, Yahweh, or anything that people turn to in prayer to end suffering for themselves or others.  I honestly learned more about God from a Buddhist Monk who was once a door gunner in Vietnam.  We are all operating on faith at this juncture, and I only seek to embrace similarities.

I encourage you to reach out to people for whom you care. Tell people if they have touched your lives. I stand at the gateway to a new life, free of shame and regret. It has been almost five years since Anthony’s death. For nearly four years, I kept losing him over and over again.  I kept realizing he was gone, dead, never to be touched again.  I do not know how to express how it truly feels to those who have not lost someone this way.  I do not need to explain it to those of you who have.  

I have learned to say “I see you, and I love you” to others who share this journey.  

My name is Bob. Thank you for letting me share today.

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The best possible way to help in any situation is to bring about awareness.  It is important to tell our stories to each other.  When we do that with each other, we find significant change can come into our lives if we allow it to.  Once this change is within us, we cannot help but reach out to others. 

Who Am I, now?

My friend called me last night and I won’t use his name but he is the reason I am writing this today because I want the world to understand something. He wept, literally like a child sobbing and I felt such sorrow for him. He was crying “Bobby, I had no idea, what did they do to you”?

We Have No Choice

People see the life rush out of us. Some have the luxury of speaking to us over the phone as they place us into a state of shock. I feel empathy for the first responders who come to our doors, into our lives, attempting to dissuade us from seeing the pictures, the autopsies, the drug reports or listen to the stories heard from the friends and family they investigate.

Scrambled Eggs

Please know that there is hope, but if you do not carry that message it may not be heard. I am a soldier and I know no one is coming. That makes me responsible. I could not do it alone, I went a long way with the help of others but there were days that nothing on this earth could save me from shock and grief. I had to turn to something greater than myself, some people call that ‘God’. Some people simply call it service to the community because sharing our experiences, strengths and hope with each other is how this works. Others among us feel that no spiritual component is necessary though I do believe that road must be filled with a higher degree of difficulty.

Happy Birthday, Anthony

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.