He Did the Laundry: A Sister Becomes a Suicide Loss Survivor
Listen to Editor in Chief Gabriel Nathan read this story:
In thirty-eight short hours, a full year will have passed since I became a suicide loss survivor. A year ago tonight, I was working out final graduation day plans for my daughter, coordinating the arrivals of relatives, confirming luncheon reservations, preparing for the work day ahead and thinking about my friend who had lost his mom a few days before. I had no clue what or who a suicide survivor looked like. Tonight, I sit here an almost year-long member of “club no one wants to be in” with the knowledge that there are more of us in this club than one could possibly imagine. It’s kind of a not-so-secret secret society that remains not-so-secret until you’ve experienced it, and then, suddenly, you find people in plain sight who are going through the exact same thing. They walk up to you at work, pull you aside when they see you out, or want to have lunch with you so they can share their stories.
This is going to be the first of many stories I share about the club; my highs, my lows, my musings, and most importantly, my brother. Mike has a direct hand in so many of the good things that happen every day, and I am extremely grateful for the bright spots in what is, otherwise, a hurricane of emotions. I can sit here and say that because of him and because of this past year without him; I have moved from being a person full of grit and resilience to a person full of gratitude who is willing to receive light and find good in every situation.
The everyday situation is a blessing because I get to live it, and a curse because I get to live it. It’s a privilege to be present in the moment at hand. Whereas, before, I might have been preoccupied with social media on my screen, I now actively put my phone down to live in the moment and etch moments into my mind. Mike would be very proud of this as he would make us put our phones down when we were around the campfire or spending time together. Maybe it was because he knew that those were memories of him we would cherish later, or perhaps this is my runaway train of a brain overanalyzing a pet peeve of his. Moments like tonight, doing the regular things, like washing and folding laundry, ironing, packing, and preparing for a trip to spend this anniversary with my mom—the world just stopped. Suddenly, I felt trapped under that pile of dryer-fresh clothes I dumped out on the bed…for some reason, on this particular night, I remembered that Mike washed, dried and folded all of his laundry the night before he departed. Then I asked myself, “If you knew you were leaving for forever tomorrow, why on God’s earth would you spend your last hours doing something so mundane?”
It’s a haunting question with a ton of weight attached because, in this context, you’re not talking in that hypothetical, “If you only had six months to live,” type of way, but in a “YOU PLANNED IT AND KNEW YOU WERE LEAVING EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING YOU KNOW BEHIND IN LESS THAN 24 HOURS, SO WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU WASTE THAT TIME DOING LAUNDRY” KIND OF WAY.
Yes, in that kind of way.
So, I thought on that for a while. I pummeled myself with un-answerable questions; why he didn’t get ice cream, get a favorite meal, go to a favorite spot, or even call me (ok, Mike never did that because we were more the shout through Mom’s phone kind of people). I also noodled on all of the classic answers to the question: he wanted to keep things normal by doing the laundry, he didn’t want Mom to have to deal with laundry on top of everything else she was going to have to do in the coming days, he wanted to throw Mom off the track that something was wrong… and the list goes on. Well, that huge pile of laundry on my bed stared back at me, silently, and it wasn’t going to fold itself, so back to work. Then I stopped again, because I was crying. I picked up my phone and IG chatted with my friend, Gabe, who gave me the idea to start putting these ramblings into something. So, with Gabe as my muse, I got back to crying, and got back to folding. Then I grabbed my computer, and took a picture of my washing machine so I could get to figuring this moment out.
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Looking at this photo of that machine—that thing that keeps things clean—I start to realize how it parallels my life over the past 363 days and right now. I notice how many cycles there are—pre-soak, colors, casuals, jeans, bulky items, towels/sheets, whites, active wear, delicates, and the list goes on. The day Mike died, a full week of pre-soak began. All I did was cry. Since we are talking about clothes here, in those first days, I truly understood what it meant in the Old Testament when someone was so sad they would rend (tear) their garments.
(Yes, more clothing and laundry analogies coming!)
I was drowning in tears and I felt no movement at all, perhaps it was the shock, or the medication, or a combination of the two. During my time in pre-soak, I did what any good daughter/sister would do…I cleaned Mike’s room and finished folding the last load of laundry! I found what I thought was his favorite shirt to have him wear for the funeral and interment; I felt it my sisterly duty to put him in his shirt from Austin, TX when he went to SXSW because it was the shirt he wore in the only photo I have of him and me as adults (and I am a little superstitious, so I wanted him to have a cool “ghost outfit”). I now really regret that decision, as I would have liked to have the shirt to hold onto; but maybe he needed it more.
I kind of forced myself into the “normal cycle” to get back into our routines as quickly as possible, perhaps too soon. The “pre” pre-soak you that you were before all this happened was a rugged pair of real denim jeans so, naturally, you think you can withstand the “jeans cycle” on the other side of pre-soak. Cold water and high-speed spins didn’t bother you much before but, mid-cycle, you discover you’re drowning because you’re in there alone and can’t keep up anymore. You realize you need something a little slower like the “casual cycle” so you don’t find yourself too spent by the end of the day. The problem here is that, while you’re thrashing and tumbling, your regular life needs you at the “jeans cycle,” but you’re a delicate trapped in a bulky item. What is the cycle for a delicate bulky item anyway?
Then there are the really, really, hard days, the ones where you’re in the “bulky item” cycle. You run to the restroom a dozen times at work that day because the waves of grief just kept coming. You’re so bogged down and waterlogged that you need an extra spin cycle to get you to the point where you can limp into bed, and you’re just so exhausted from trying to talk about how you feel that you just want to give up, but you keep spinning to offload more of the water. Eventually, you spin off enough water to get yourself to bed for the fluff of the dryer only to learn this is a drip-dry night and you’re not going to get much sleep.
Every now and then, I get a gentle cycle day. These were few and far between for a while, but they started coming with a little more frequency as time moved on. These are the glorious days that I might have a visit in a dream, a special sign or surprise, and a day with happy tears or NO tears! These are cherished days, and they help me to hold out hope that maybe, just maybe a few could string together. Gentle cycle days are a most welcomed respite for a faded soul!
Now that it’s after midnight and the beginning of day 364 in the “club”; I wind down like the spin cycle is finished, with wet cheeks from crying, limp and all in knots like the damp clothes I moved from the washer a few hours ago. I pray for a little bit of sleep to fluff me up so I can start all over again in a few hours. Here’s hoping it’s a gentle cycle kind of day, because this week is especially hard, and I am just not sure how many more high speed spin cycles my tired soul can take.