I have a beautiful friend who teaches in the area of grief coaching and counseling, and she’s much more of an expert in this topic than me, but I’ve had my share of grief and loss in the past six months and I’ve learned a lot about the process.
Our brains are wired for survival, and when something awful happens we want answers and logical explanations. We want to understand how everything happened so we can better survive if it ever happens again. We are so hard wired for this that when we are deeply affected by a loss, we even dream or have nightmares about it because our brains are trying to figure it all out while we sleep.
I have been through grief since October from losing a baby, and then another in January.
Then last week my friend chose to end his own life in a tragic and shocking way.
It is a monumental loss. He touched so many lives and was loved by hundreds of people. I can’t even tell you how many people have told me that, “Tim was my best friend,” since his passing. I think that’s because Tim made everyone feel like he was their best friend.
Last night I went to a gathering in his honor to raise a glass and toast his life, to remember all the good stories about him, to laugh and comfort each other.
On my way to the gathering, I arrived early, driving over the bridge where his life ended. I couldn’t help but take that route, with a sick stomach the whole way. When my car reached the end of the bridge ramp into the city, realizing I had another twenty or so minutes, I drove to the part of the city where the bridge peaks and parked my car. I sat there and looked up. I looked all around. I tried to make sense of how it might have happened, what it might have been like, and prayed that it was swift and painless.
I watched the seagulls and birds fly all around the bridge and dive down into the water. I noticed two other cars sitting there with people in them, just looking up and around like I was and I wondered if I knew them, or if they knew Tim. I wondered if I was the only person who felt the need to visit the site and say goodbye. I wondered if they knew why I was there. I wondered if I was strange for being there.
At the gathering, there were lots of stories shared, mostly happy ones. But everyone talked about how they heard, who told them, what they heard, where they were…and as I hugged one of Tim’s best friends, I said, “You know, when I heard, I called his phone because I wanted to hear his voice one more time.” His friend welled up with tears and shook his head, choking back the urge to break down and cry, “Me too. Me too.” And we hugged again.
Someone else there told me that they drove to the top of the bridge, stopped their car and got out to stand and look down and say goodbye. She didn’t know why she did that, but she felt she had to. We’re not the only ones. It’s a common experience.
I read (in my quest to understand the unfathomable) that a typical suicide touches six lives. I can’t imagine that is true in most cases. I know Tim was special and well networked, and outgoing and he had a lot of friends and connections due to his nature and to the fact that he was a well-known attorney in a metro area, but suicide affects a lot of lives. Hundreds of people were affected by this loss. Not only were his friends and family affected, but our friends and family are also affected. It’s a ripple effect.
People who never met Tim feel the loss through our loss and our mourning.
I met some people at that gathering who said they didn’t know Tim that well, but they just can’t stop thinking about this.
Being together with everyone who shares this experience helped create some peace for us all, I think, because talking about things like driving on the bridge, calling his phone, or how they felt when they heard normalized what we’re all feeling and struggling with, however we are doing it.
I’ll never know why, even though I know why.
I said last night that Tim’s life was like drinking out of a firehose. He never learned how to adjust the flow. It was either full force or completely cut off. If he wasn’t at the firehose, I don’t think he felt like he was doing what he was supposed to be doing. But when he had to lean into it to keep from being knocked over, he was overwhelmed.
For me, I just can’t stop thinking that his life was too big for the body he was given. HE was too big for the human life he was leading. So he took the same firehose approach and went full throttle to escape the body that couldn’t contain the largeness that he was.
As I drove home last night, on the long drive from Milwaukee to Chicago, after hearing the details that I heard about what he did in his final days, I talked to Tim.
I told him that he always did everything exceptionally. If he was going to do something, he was going to do it well, and better than everybody else. Not only that, he always did the right thing by other people, and it seems he didn’t miss that detail even in taking his own life. So I congratulated him on a job well done.
Even in death, you were an overachiever, Tim. You seem to have done every part of it right. And that makes me so, so sad.
(Printed with express permission from the family of Tim Schumann. May God’s grace hold them and bring them peace in this excruciating time.)