I always sleep with my phone on Do Not Disturb. Some days I wake up and there are 5 TikToks that one of my girls sent at 3 a.m., some days I wake up to a Land’s End email because once a year I buy a turtleneck for my mom, and one day in August of 2020 I woke up to news that Christopher had taken his life.
Christopher was the youngest of the three kids that I lived with when I was in high school. The night Christopher died, he was 21. I mean, legally an adult and able to drink, sure, but I get to still think of him as a kid, right? As having more life ahead of him than behind, as being capable of taking on the world and growing into a man? I kept thinking useless thoughts when I first found out like, “wow, I held him when he was a baby and now he’s gone.” I thought the other things you think when you know someone who dies of suicide. Shoulda called more, shoulda loved more, shoulda been more and saved more and forgave more and showed up more and.
Chris’ dad, Michael, called me a few days later and asked if I would officiate the service. While I am technically a registered-online reverend, my past few years with the church didn’t exactly make me feel like Officiating Material. But I love this family so deeply and have always marveled at how seamlessly they let me into their home and made it feel like my own. And I was a teenager at the time! Such a mess and always inviting my grungy friends over to eat all of their food and swim in their pool and jump on their trampoline and Michael and Hope just embraced this crew of theater kids and Christopher just joined in on our fun and our jokes and our bursts of energy and it was family when mine felt so far away.
So I recorded voice memos on my phone while I drove back to FL of what I would say. I thought a lot about suicide and the thousands and thousands of questions I had for Chris. I kept thinking of how much of a gaping hole a split-second decision in his life would leave in the forever of ours. I was pissed and sad and brutalized and wished I could grab him by the shoulders and shout some sense into him.
I called his friends while I drove and talked to them about Chris. They told me stories of an adult him I wouldn’t get the chance to know as well as they did.
I got to Orlando late the night before the service and turned my voice memos into typed words. I felt strongly at the time that I wanted to first and foremost honor Christopher’s life and not lean too far into how he died. So that’s what I wrote, that’s what I said, and that’s what’s down there.
In the months since, I’ve spoken a lot about how Chris died when I present for Everytown or when I talk about mental health awareness. I write a lot about it, too, ’cause the gaping hole when you lose someone to suicide isn’t one that easily mends.
But I think for now I want to keep honoring how he lived by showing off his grin and simply acknowledging how he died in the volunteer work I do, the conversations I have with loved ones, and this small little reminder that you’re all right and to trust me when I say the people in your life need you to make it to the other side of this split-second. And the next one.
Trust me, I promise, I know.