Written by Damiann Hendel
Six months ago we kicked in Asher's bedroom door where we found him just moments after he shot himself in the head.
I thought he was faking...
Considering my frame of mind, emotions or activities it can feel like it was six seconds ago, six minutes ago, six hours ago, six days ago, six weeks ago and in a rare moment it can actually feel like six years ago.
Depending on your age, you may recall all the details when Kennedy was shot or when John Lennon was killed or when Ronald Reagan took a bullet in his chest. Many of us knew where we were, what we were doing and even what we were wearing.
I remember ALL the details from the day I lost my son to suicide on 11/11/14. I even have all of our affectionate and witty texts and selfies we shared that evening right up to the moment when he shut off his phone.
Naturally, I have read over our text conversation hundreds of times. I replayed the scene obsessively in my head, caught in a continuous loop, changing the outcome every time...
Existing in this horror movie was all consuming. I begged Asher to come to me in my dreams...After my initial zombie state, he has continuously visited me in my dreams every night. At times, he appeared so REAL that I would awaken in a complete panic, soaking wet. Some dreams were when he was young; the tortuous dreams were set in the present. I was aware in my dream state that he would always die at the end. I still dream about Asher every night, with varying levels of intensity. Many dreams aren't impressive enough to document while others can set an ominous tone for my whole day, leaving me clenched and stressed.
My emotions were completely out of control. I found refuge in prescribed meds and alcohol. After all, it was a celebration of Asher's life. There was a constant parade of mourners wearing their masks of shock, pity and morbid curiosity. The only physical release was when I would curl up on my knees, cry convulsively and pummel my head with both fists. The other release was power walking on the beach by myself while my sister sat vigil in the car. It felt as if I accelerated my gait, I would be catapulted into heaven...to be with Asher. Oh, I yelled at him, I begged him and God to take me…I told him if he acted impetuously and needed me, I would protect him in heaven. If I couldn't save Asher here on earth then he needed to save me…
After a month or two of self abuse and uncontrollable crying, I availed myself to ALL the help and love I could get. My estranged husband pushed away our personal conflict and moved into protection mode. He made sure that I was never alone and didn't harm myself. My sisters pressed pause on their lives to stay with me for several weeks at a time. They did everything for me…I mean everything! Most importantly, they just loved me. A few sacred friends made sure I was fed, hugged and safe. I opened up to a compassionate, brilliant and spiritual therapist. I connected with an empathetic psychiatric nurse, and EMDR therapist. I even went to a medium; I was keeping my head and heart open to everything. I journaled daily by dictating my thoughts (Frosty Feelings) into Siri. Initially they were mostly just one run on sentence,"I want to die! I want to die!" I have continued to document my journey of despair...maybe someday I will read my notes and share. I stopped numbing myself, newly prescribed antidepressants kicked in, sleeping pills allowed me to sleep through the night. I trusted my therapist and can speak to her both intellectually as a peer and as the patient. She truly understands trauma, and thanks to a couple of sessions in EMDR with a comforting, warm hearted man, I have been able to dissociate myself from most of the triggers instead of falling into the abyss. I can calmly tell you the story as if I was sharing the details of a juicy crime scene show.
Sometimes, I am amazed how composed I am. When I'm busy with activities and around people I can stay in the present moment but Asher never leaves my mind. I carry him in my heart and we often connect spiritually. Covertly, I'm in cahoots with God and the Universe, almost like the feeling when you are the only one who knows that Santa is not real.
Other times, I can't even leave my safe condo except to walk my dogs. I occasionally have a breakdown with less severity then I succumbed to in my early grieving.
Throughout the years, I have found relief from writing poetry. I wrote a poem around Thanksgiving and then I was devoid of any verse until one day after a visit with my therapist, a poem emanated from within and I detonated all of my pent up emotions.
There were and still are a few very special angels here on earth who have shared my path of grieving. One angel is a stone’s throw across my balcony. I really appreciate the sporadic texts and calls from friends and family. I have settled into sadness. While my life is still in crisis, others have naturally continued with their own routines. I feel somewhat abandoned… I sometimes hum, "Where have all the mourners (flowers) gone after Asher’s passing?"
I have gone into hiding, exerting conflicted energy into decorating the new condo Asher and I moved into less than a week before he killed himself. We had just gone shopping two days before his suicide for his new bedroom and hangout room furniture. He configured the rooms to accommodate all his friends for weekend sleepovers. We were on a path to happy...
Somehow, the condo is transforming into an adorable abode. Asher’s bedroom has become the guest room, decorated with warm sea colors and his hang out room is now the butterfly zen den. I often think of leaving and selling it furnished. I have no attachments left...
I was intrinsically connected to Asher's heart and soul but I didn't understand his brain.
Mental illness has always existed in society just like homosexuality, cancer and illicit drug use. Cancer is no longer a death sentence, did you ever think our society would accept gay marriage and medical marijuana? The prejudice of interracial couples doesn’t phase this generation. Kids diagnosed with ADD were separated or ridiculed by their peers. Now, kids openly brag about having ADD or want meds so they can keep up with the school work. We all judged tattoo or body piercing with disdain. Many of our own children and friends are tatted and pierced and we barely give it a second look. Television is inundated with commercials about erectile dysfunction and low "T!" Commercials on tv about depression are targeted only towards adults.
It is time for the stigma and shame of mental illness and depression to vanish. My sister wrote the draft for Asher's obituary because I was too loopy and still in shock. She wrote the basic obit but omitted how he died. I immediately changed it to read: Asher Reuben Hendel, 16, chose his own path to heaven on November 11, 2014. Of course everyone in the community already knew the details but the rest of our world didn't know yet. Everyone was shocked that Asher took his own life. I was completely blown away…
We already endured the gossip when my husband and I separated six months prior to Asher's death but now we were completely exposed! Oddly enough, I didn't care, after all, I lost my son so nothing else mattered. After the initial sadness after a pet dies , you often get another. Even after the most devastating divorce, spouses can be replaced. A child is irreplaceable…period, the end!
Looking back to the early weeks of mourning, I can't believe how many friends and acquaintances shared their stories of losing a loved one to suicide or who had felt depressed at times and either had suicidal ideation or attempts. These people felt very comfortable opening up to me; releasing their repressed pain. All of them asked me to keep our conversations confidential. I locked their stories in my vault.
You see, Asher was the local Robin Williams. He appeared to lead the charmed life. He had an infinite amount of friends and a really pretty and sweet girlfriend. We knew he suffered from anxiety and depression and got him all the help that we could but he didn't want anyone to know. All I can say is we were fortunate enough to have the means to get the help that he needed.
Some people believe if a person is determined to take their own life, it's not a question of "if" but a question of “when."
Since then we set up a foundation called Forever Frosty (that was his #). Please follow our page on Facebook. We want to help teens who can't afford treatment or educate people or spray the funds where we see fit. We have been approached by many groups asking for funds or our time.
I am still so raw that for once in my life, I am taking care of myself and not saying yes to every charity that needs help. The former me was the supreme volunteer. I will emerge from my cocoon in due time. I believe my biggest gift is having empathy and not passing judgement on others. I truly believe I can help other parents that are going through my HELL.
To quote my yoga teacher, "If you CAN, you MUST!” Please lower your heads as I conclude with a portion of my evening prayer I would recite to Asher at bedtime, “Thank you God for my baby, thank you for this child you gave me. He makes me know what life’s about, he makes me believe in you, no doubt…