Title: We Have No Choice
Format: Open Speaker Talk
©2021 Bob Cristello
“Shock is a critical condition brought on by the sudden drop in blood flow through the body. Shock may result from trauma, heatstroke, blood loss, an allergic reaction, severe infection, poisoning, severe burns or other causes. When a person is in shock, his or her organs aren’t getting enough blood or oxygen. If untreated, this can lead to permanent organ damage or even death.” ~ Mayo Clinic
Hello faithful reader.
If we have not met, my name is Bob Cristello. I speak and I write for parents who have lost children to suicide. I also speak to groups of people who have children that are living and have never experienced the loss of a child to suicide. On August 16, 2017, at the age of 35, my son Anthony killed himself.
We have no choice in this matter, the decision was made for us by another human who is no longer being. We have no choice but to see the act occur or to be notified by another human who is still being. We discover, in an instant, that we are no longer in a state of being. We now have realized that on that day, we went into shock. The medical community cannot, with good conscience, sanctify this observation. Yet, all of the symptoms are present especially ‘Changes in mental status or behavior, such as anxiousness or agitation’.
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.
I often pray for the officers who found my son, knowing that they carry that memory with them in their head. I often pray for my family member who had to call me. She left me alone at the other end of the line, in total shock and dismay. She really had no choice in the matter. I am sure she didn’t want to make that phone call. I certainly pray for my sister who flew to claim my son’s body. I pray for every single person I am going to meet today and sit with into the early hours of the morning on a Zoom conference. I do love you, I truly do and I see you. Please, do not stop reaching out. I can take this, I really can. When I cannot, you will be there to listen to me into the early morning hours on Zoom. That is how this all works, it is really that simple.
Honestly, I had no choice this morning after buying a ten pack of coffee cards for the first responders in my city. A job I feel is mine to do also, though I am not really sure why. I walked into a crosswalk in my city of maybe 14,000 people and crossed with the complete security of the blinking WALK sign flashing. I was thinking of what I would write to you this morning and talking to the God of my understanding. In this moment, a gentle soul leaned on his horn and screamed expletives at me for simply walking home and quietly communicating with my God.
I did have the choice to return his expletives. I am a truly giving person in that way, especially at this time of year. But, the God of my understanding just reached right down into me and forced me to wave and smile. The God of my understanding also had me say Happy Holidays. I turned directly at the truck long enough to watch the vehicle stop and roll down the passenger side window. This gentleman, of particularly angry disposition, took a momentary pause. I watched him bow his head slightly, say nothing and wave. I also noted that he did not squeal his tires. I thought that perhaps he had experienced a moment of growth. I know I just had. That is also how it works, it is really that simple.
Why are we even saying any of this? Well, we honestly have no choice in this matter either. We made a decision to return to the land of the living while taking no action to do so. I will let you reread that last sentence one more time before continuing. The taking no action part, is critical to the success of your mission here. Your mission is to return to life.
Your mission is to learn what shock is, to recognize it when it hits you and to accept that it is a completely normal human condition of being. Your mission is to understand that you have lost a limb, absolutely amputated from the knee down. You must understand that you feel the itching and the phantom pain in your toes. That your mind says to you, do not look at it, you will lose your mind. Yet, you look. You see it is gone and you go into shock all over again. This is what happens to us when we lose a child to suicide.
We are suffering the loss of an amputation upon our spiritual perceptions of ourselves as complete and holistic beings. We have no choice. We would welcome grief. We know you think we are dealing with grief, but you are so far ahead of us that you leave us behind without even knowing it. We know, that this is not what you want. We agree with you, it is not what we want either. We just have no choice in the matter. We ask you to be patient as we minister to each other while welcoming you into the conversation as a concerned observer.
Your further mission is to share your experiences, your strength and your hope with the new person who is just coming into our virtual meeting places. You cannot do this without starting with sharing your experiences. Strength is optional, hope is not expected until later but it will come if you work for it.
What is required is that you keep coming back. That you find a way through the fog of war you live in to return to us and click on a heart, maybe a hug. Perhaps you will write a short post and say hello, that you are part of the family and that you need help. I did when I came here, I still do while I am here and others will long after I am gone from this world. That is your mission too, to pick up what I have started here and rebuild your life.
Then you can take action, and only then. The action you will take will be a searching and rigorous investigation of the question ‘What was my role in the death of my child?’ It is the only way to stop the incessant screaming for the answers of ‘Why?’ and replace it with a coping mechanism. The coping mechanism is accepting the role we have played and determining if we are responsible or if we are not.
That is a process that I implore you not to attempt out of sequence, for it can make things so much worse. It is why we pair off with partners, mentors perhaps, friends surely. We work through these tasks with someone who has explored them and come to an acceptance of their role. The actual outcome is so immaterial, for whether we find we are responsible or not it gives us a context to move forward.
I was taught by a wonderful man who was my mentor, my teacher and my father. A man I call Joey, but when I talk directly to him I do call him Dad. He taught me that there are times in life when, even though you may not wish to accept the responsibility, that all children could in an instant become your children. That you would, perhaps, give up an entire life and dedicate your vision, resources, experience, strength and hope to make a difference in the world. That you would have generations of your family dedicated to an idea that the world could be a better place if we looked at the education of our children. I also watched him accomplish it.
I say to you today that all children are my children. I say to you that they kill themselves at the rate of every 40 seconds according to the World Health Organization. “On average, adjusted for age, the annual U.S. suicide rate increased 24% between 1999 and 2014, from 10.5 to 13.0 suicides per 100,000 people, the highest rate recorded in 28 years.” Something is clearly wrong in America, on the planet Earth and within our human species. I have no idea how to change this. Yet, I stand here before you telling you that I will.
Like my father Joey, I will take the hits and let people think I am crazy and I will make a difference. Like my father Joey, I will stay pure and I will challenge myself to speak the truth at every turn no matter what the cost. Like my father Joey, I will learn to walk with God and accept the responsibility of being the most important teacher in the lives of my children.
We have no choice. We do not wish to do this, we do not want the responsibility or the burden. We see that no one else is showing up for the interview and the building is on fire and there are parents trapped in here. They refuse to leave because their children are dead, they are in shock, and they cannot move. I can climb into this burning car, like I have other burning cars and make small talk with the person trapped inside. People have seen me do it, and honestly probably still scratch their heads over it. I can do this with the same certainty of survival that I have felt when in burning vehicles, with weapons pointed at my head, surviving rape at the hands of a male music teacher at the age of 13 or enduring the torture that placed the scars upon my body that I hide from the world. I choose not to survive any longer, I choose to live.
You have a choice though. You can keep reading or you can just leave the conversation. My friends have circled their wagons and placed a wall of protection around me that even the Grinch who stole Christmas couldn’t steal. God has clothed me in the armor of righteousness, though he has still left me as a fallible and frail human being with no special powers beyond that of speaking the truth. I truly hope it is enough to sway you to join this conversation.
I see you and I love you.
My name is Bobby, thank you for letting me share.