happy birthday, lucy

Just now, as I was paying a bill online, my eyes fell on the date: 10/17/2020.

Lucy’s birthday. She would have turned 60 today. The force of this revelation smacked me suddenly and sideways, and I burst out in tears, then more tears, then more.

I’m still bursting. My beautiful older sister stopped aging at that unending moment in the spring of 1992 when she took her own life, downing bottles of psych meds before curling up in a fetal position on her bed in Cambridge, Mass.

She was 31. I was 28. When I turned 32 four years later, I felt a breach in the space-time continuum that’s never fully healed — just as I felt after turning 56, a year older than my late husband when he died by suicide in 2011.

This is the inexplicable, unavoidable truth of grief following suicide loss. It never truly ends. You’re never truly over it, because it never truly stops being an affront to all that you know and love — including the tidy forward pace of time itself.  You and your absent dear one were meant to travel it together, plodding side by side as you both age. You were meant to swap belly laughs, chit-chat, glances and insights en route. You understand that they were hurting; you accept that it wasn’t their fault; you do your best to comprehend their darkness and accept that they saw no escape.

But their departure from this universe rips yours to shreds, and the only way forward is straight through the chaos. There’s just no sidestepping, no dancing around it. This is true at the beginning — when you get that first, horrific phone call or answer the doorbell to find cops on your stoop, their faces gripped with empathy — and it’s true again and again and again and again and again, whenever the force of their death and your grief rears back and strikes you with bare-knuckle, out-of-the-blue force. You can’t duck it. You take it. You feel it. You give it its due. And, somehow, tripping over the shards of your past life, you move forward.

As the years pass, these blows to the heart occur less frequently, but that’s not to say they ever stop entirely. I was startled by this new reassertion of grief nearly 30 years after Lucy’s death, but I shouldn’t have been. She was, and I am not exaggerating, the most unfailingly good, indelibly beautiful and astonishingly gifted person I’ve ever known, a concert pianist whose whole soul expressed itself at the keyboard. She was hilarious, with a profound knack for the absurd. She was giving, always setting aside her own load of torment while her kid sister whined about some guy she had a crush on. And she was candid, always, about her unrequited love for a life that never loved her her back. She never took it for granted; she only wanted it to cause less pain. 

I miss her. I will always miss her. I can’t imagine reaching an age when I don’t miss her, when her death becomes so-what and I stop grieving entirely. As a person of faith I believe that I’ll see her again, laugh with her again, and maybe sit back with margaritas at some poolside somewhere in an eternal moment of light and joy that never slides into darkness.

But in the meantime, I’m here. And she’s there. So from my little kitchen in Albany, the tears still wet my cheeks, I declare to the heavens: Happy Birthday, Lucy.

18 thoughts on “happy birthday, lucy

  1. Dear Amy, Thank you for the gift of words that name the pain. My beautiful wife RIta died this past January of Pancreatic Cancer that ripped her out of our lives in a matter of weeks. We were able to get married on our 28th Anniversary because the Supreme Court said we should not be denied that right. As I watch this march to take that right away I am profoundly sad and feeling quite lost without Rita by my side to weather this. Thank you for opening my heart today with your words. I am grateful.

    • Chris, I am so sorry for your loss — and all the other pain that you shouldn’t need to carry right now. My hope is we get through this difficult phase, with brings its own brand of grief to so many. Thank you, and bless you.

  2. This is beautiful, Amy. It really captures the grieving people do for loved ones, not just initially but throughout our lives. ❤️❤️❤️

  3. Thank you again, Amy—she was goodness itself. As much pain as she had those last years, the hope and light and joy that help me fend against threats to my happiness are her eternal gifts to me. No regrets for knowing both of you and your beautiful, transcendent family!

  4. I also lost a sister to suicide when she was 32 and suffering from postpartum depression. It has been more years than I can take in. I miss her still and always will. It is the saddest most gut wrenching loss of all.

  5. I just want to hug you! I remember you so well and your sister and parents a little bit. Isn’t it ashame that this gift of life we have is so filled with pain? I was told by my German Grandma; if you don’t feel pain you don’t know joy and gratitude. So I want to believe and hold onto that! You are an amazing woman!!!!!

    • Margaret, thank you so much — I wish I could hug you, too!! I’m glad you remember Lucy and my parents a bit. And for what it’s worth, I think your German grandma was right: We can’t have light without the dark. Yin/yang. Doesn’t make it easy, but maybe it gives the dark some meaning.

  6. I recently heard grief defined as loss of the assumed life. Your post reflects that, and my experience is that as well; like 9/11 and the Holocaust, I will never forget. Happy Birthday Lucy, and thank you for the time you were here on earth.

  7. Amy, I’ve been searching for you, seeking something like I don’t know what? Like the book after Figuring Shit Out to tell me the next “chapter” in life. How do I live it? It’s late and I was looking online to see if you had written another book, when I chanced upon this blog of yours and what comes up right away is your “Happy Birthday Lucy” article. And once again I am hit with the “coincidences” in my life to yours, as my name is Lucy and my husband of 31 years was named Chris and he took his life on September 26, 2020, just 4 months ago. Our two children are older than yours were (of which I am grateful), 27 & 30, but they and our 8 y.o. grandson, of whom we helped raise, are devastated at the unbelievable loss of their father. As is EVERYONE who knew him. He was beautiful, intelligent, talented, an athlete, a fantastic family practice doctor, loved by his patients and colleagues, as the dozens of letters sent to me attest to (many saying how he had helped them with their own depression). He was a committed spiritual person who strived to live a life of meaning, of service and gratitude. He did not have a known history of depression or bipolar disease (of which I am also grateful), but that in some ways has made this all the more painful. He hung in there for six months trying the medications recommended, but in the end gave up. How could someone be healthy and functioning one month and by the next so rapidly deteriorate into massive anxiety and depression and come to believe he would never get better? WTF??? His brother, 5 years ago, at the same age, also took his own life; so there’s that. At his brother’s memorial, Chris grieved the most, at one point, in front of everyone, taking both his kids hands and loudly begging them to never do something like that. And I say again, WTF? How could he? Yet, I now know depression is a cruel disease and definitely can be terminal.
    I’m still banging my head against the wall wondering how the fuck this happened to our family? And what the hell, now I have to get old all on my own? He was supposed to be here with me, growing old together.
    But your book and Ted Talk helped my daughter and I. When we had to rapidly shut down his solo medical practice (so few of them left these days) and figure out so many of the logistics, of which I am still dealing with, we now give a high five and say, “we’re figuring shit out”. Please write sequel Two. I really need it.
    Thanks Amy.

    ~Lucy Snyder (Gallery)

    • Lucy, I am so, so, so sorry for your loss, but I am grateful you got some use out of my book and found your way here. Bless you. I am constantly amazed by the expanding universe — and the shrinking world — as people connect. I wish we didn’t have grief to bring us together, but here we are. Hugs through the ether, and thank you.

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