I keep one thing on my desk that I'll probably never take off of it. A card I received from a mom whose seventeen year old daughter committed suicide January 27th, 2015.
That card has meant so much to me. It has always made me search deep inside of myself and some of the things I've seen an experienced. Which is weird because I learned a long time ago to disassociate myself and my personal feelings from the horrible things I have to see at work. Sometimes, it freaking baffles me that I've hung onto that card for so long. I'm constantly reminding myself of the horrors of that evening. How I picked up and carried Natalie's mom away from her daughters body. When the neighbor came to see lf she could help and I said, "Her daughter killed herself," and before I could keep going she broke down and went to her knees. I yelled, "Snap out of that shit! I need you to help me with the mom! You can break down later!" And to her credit she stood back up, nodded and grabbed Natalie's mom away from me. And lastly, when I was alone with Natalie, in her closet where she had hung herself, she was on the ground and I held her hand and recited the Lords Prayer.
I remember thinking about how beautiful she was, even in death. I had never met her but it was obvious by her belongings that she had her own style. She was a painter, and her mom had one of her paintings printed on the cards she sent all the first responders. The painting is titled, "Infinite Mind," which, to me is telling just how cool Natalie was.
Unfortunately she was also pretty tormented.
I've read that card probably a hundred times. I think I've kept it so long because it just shows me how amazing Natalie's mom is. She found her daughter and has to live with that God-awful memory. To think that she took the time out to send all the first responders a card thanking them and acknowledging what and awful experience that was, says so much about who she is as a person. Had that been my daughter I'm pretty sure I never would have had the strength to do that.
I guess that's why I've hung onto the card. The painting on the front is pretty cool as well. But it's a good reminder that in someone's worst moments they could find that strength is inspiring. I couldn't count how many times I've been to someone's house and a loved one had committed suicide. I've learned to push those memories out. I tell myself all the time, "Time to go to work," when I pull up on those scenes. Then I file the memory and discard it as just a crap day at work.
But I'll never forget Natalie. Not because of the horrible scene or anything, I've been on calls way more grotesque, but because her mom found the strength to send me and the other deputies a personal card. Her mom has and continues to inspire me, two years later.
Fast forward to last Saturday. Early in our relationship, Christina and I went on a run date. And we've been running ever since. Well, she's been running, and I've been jogging-heaving-limping-crying-passing out-shin splinting-almost dying- trying to keep up with her. (the first run date I had to fake an injury at mile 2 because I was pretty sure I was going to have a heart attack) Either way, I thought it would be cool for us to do the Jingle Jam 10k together so I signed us up.
There is a great blog post in me about the fight we had at mile 3 and the cemetery plot fake flowers I bought her to ask for forgiveness, but that's for another day.
The night before the race I went to the packet pickup and got our bags which had the sponsors catalogs, race shirts, and runner bibs. Later on, as I was going through the bag I saw a brochure for Natalie's Light. I had no idea what it was but instantly recognized the face on the brochure.
Of the countless tragedies I've seen in two years, there was the one face I'll never forget, because her mom sent me a card.
Natalie's mom and friends turned her tragic suicide into Natalie's Light. A non-profit group whose mission is to, "prevent suicide through awareness," and their vision is to, "bring people together with resources to live a purpose-filled life." I read their brochure and felt like crying. I told Christina the story of how I was the first one on the scene that night two years ago, and how her mom sent me a card that I've kept ever since. Along with the brochure about suicide and suicide awareness, there were purple Natalie's Light wristbands that both Christina and I wore the next day.
Several times during race I looked down at the wristband.
This time of year sucks for cops. A lot of us are working the holidays away from our family. This year I'm working both Christmas Eve and Christmas night. But we recognize that we signed up for that. The thing that makes it suck is the amount of suicides we have to go to. A few years ago between Thanksgiving and Christmas my shift alone handled four completed suicides. And there are only four patrol shifts. In other words, in a county of less than one hundred forty thousand residents there is roughly 744 hours between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (31 days) Our shift worked a fourth of those hours, 186 of them, and during those 186 hours four souls took their own life in a pretty small, partly rural county.
I wish people that were thinking about doing that could look down at the wristband I wore the other day. I wish they could see the impact of making that decision is going to have on their family members. I wish they had the strength of Natalie's mother, who in the face of the worst possible situation, has inspired me and countless other people.
I wish if anyone ever gets to the point they think there isn't any other option they go to, www.natalieslight.org.
Read her story. Even if it doesn't make you think twice, there are plenty of resources listed to assist you. There is help out there.
I'm sitting here at my desk, and right next to the monitor is the card her mom sent me. Her mom wrote on the inside of the card, and I'll keep that to myself. The inscription on the other side reads, "We are grateful for your expression of compassion and sympathy. They have been blessings of peace and inspiration. From the Family of Natalie Lauren Wood. May 9th, 1997-Janurary 27, 2015."
Nah, I'm not ready to accept that. If there is any inspiration going on it's coming from Natalie's mom.
And her beautiful daughter, Natalie.