CW: This piece contains talk of suicide, depression and grief.
I miss the days before I knew what grief could really be. In my innocence, I thought grief was a process, with a clear end. I like processes; they’re sturdy and dependable. My grief would be a checklist, with XP gained when finally complete. But grief is more like the scratch permanently etched into my glasses, a pit in my stomach that never goes away. I thought time would cure my overwhelming and aching sadness, but it’s only grew more acute as I ignored it. I only had so many tears, there’s no way I could keep on crying 375-and-counting days later, right?
In July of 2018 I found out that a long-time friend I’d cut out of my life for self-destructive behavior didn’t get better. Johnny Bender, though I knew him as Johnny Wilson of For the Love of Punk, succeeded in taking his own life 587 days after we last spoke. It’s probably obvious to note our last conversation wasn’t kind. My final act was to pack up everything in my house he’d ever sent me for FtLP as a website, label and friendship and ship it across the country to him. That box included records, T-shirts, every sticker (peeled from surfaces around my house), every button (ripped from my clothes), notes, and several gallons of angry tears.
A lot had happened to both of us in those 587 days, but most of it was silence between myself and the man who’d been my mentor, best friend, teacher, confidant and closest thing to a sibling I’d ever had.
Johnny’s death was a shock to my system that I was never prepared for. I collapsed for weeks. I pretended to get better, that I was progressing toward accepting his suicide. I pretended that I didn’t think about him every single day, or see his face in passing cars or songs or laughs at a certain vocal range. I pretended through 50-hour work weeks, social obligations, family injuries, holiday parties, birthdays, smiles that never quite touched my eyes.
I spent months carefully constructing this image of healing during the day while spending late nights staring at the wall next to my bed hoping my husband slept through my muffled sobs. I’ve long perfected the art of both late-night and shower crying, a silver lining in my lifelong depression.
In my head I had 587 chances to change things, and I failed. 587 times I woke up, thought about what happened between us, and decided that next chapter wasn’t quite ready yet. So the last year since his suicide has rattled inside of me, pouring guilt and inconsolable sadness. I’ve been unable to write damn-near anything and music has been mostly painful. I started fading out of every circle of my life – friends, family, this website. Emails, texts and messages have gone unresponded. I couldn’t find the energy to face daily life because I was spending all of my energy pretending I was fine. I wasn’t fine, and pretending was getting me close to self harm and increasing thoughts of suicide.
My grief wasn’t the checklisted process I thought I’d deal with a year ago. It’s constantly sparked by little things – the mention of suicide, Denver, Teenage Bottlerocket, that Gamits song “Molly,” music festival season, the sound of Garrett Dale’s laugh, dusty shoes, suburban homes, my husband’s camera, small dogs – a list that feels like everything.
I hit a tipping point late last winter, after feeling completely left behind in my own life and found a therapist to help me navigate my grief – plus the support of my husband and our closest friends. I’ve talked about Johnny more than ever; sometimes I think he’s all I talk about. I’m crying a little less, though, and feeling a little more like my old self.
I’m not done grieving, and I don’t think I’ll ever be. I still think about Johnny every day and still find myself in somber silence. Doing anything that should be productive is a chore most days. I’ve also learned how to be better to the people around me, and more sensitive to those who are dealing with what life has thrown at them.
Grief is different than everything I expected, and it’s tough. After a full year I can say the best choice I made was to find someone to talk to. Mental health services are expensive, but if it’s not cost-prohibitive seek out a counselor or therapist to help. If that’s not a comfortable route, ask a friend, mentor, colleague, grief support group or religious leader. Once I began to experience deep grief I realized how many other people I knew who’d experienced it too. The most important thing you can do is let yourself experience your grief at your own pace and reach out when you need help. It’s unpredictable, but you’re not alone.
Here are a bunch of songs that have helped me cope a bit through this last year. I hope if you’re having a bad time they help you out too.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.