One Year Later – Surviving a loved one’s suicide.

John Lee HoffaAnniversaries typically go forgotten in my world- oftentimes I rely on technology to help me remember the important dates in my life. Funny how the one anniversary I’d love to forget is the one that required no effort to remember.  That anniversary is today.

Today is the day that John took his life one year ago. It’s the day that everything changed in my world.

I had trouble sleeping last night- woke up crying. I was thinking that today is going to suck for so many reasons- so in an effort to get a grip and get these thoughts out of my head and into a different space,  I decided to write it down. Sharing and perspective can make all the difference.  As I lay in bed unable to stop the memories and the tears- two things happened:

1. I remembered something my Grandma told me when I was little. We were talking about my Grandpa’s death and she said he didn’t want anyone to cry at his funeral. When I asked “Why?” she told me he said, “Don’t cry for me. I’m in heaven so there’s nothing to cry about. If you cry, your tears are for you- not for me.”

As I’ve lost people who mattered throughout my life, I’ve often reflected on those words. So true. While I try to get a grip I keep reminding myself that I am crying because I am sad for ME. Sad for MY loss. Sad for MY family’s suffering. Sad because of MY grief.  I start to feel a little selfish and I catch myself thinking- John is somewhere where my tears don’t do him any good. He is probably laughing at me and calling me names. 🙂 The tears stop temporarily.

2. My fourteen-year-old goes to sleep with Justin Bieber’s rendition of Silent Night on infinite replay. I’ll be honest, normally it drives me a little nuts (as it makes my nights no so silent) but as I lay in bed unable to sleep- one verse kept playing crystal clear- over and over: “Son of God. Love’s pure light. Radiance beams from thy holy face. With the dawn of redeeming grace.”

I am taking that as a sign.  I know for a fact that he is happy, in heaven and at peace at last. This just served to remind me of that- given the choice I probably wouldn’t have chosen Justin Bieber as a delivery mechanism- but at the same time it made me laugh. John had a great laugh and I would bet money now that he is definitely laughing at me and my melancholy.

So- the tears have stopped for the time being. I know they will likely return today, tomorrow, and at random moments- that’s expected. This past year has given me plenty of those moments. I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone who has lost a loved one to suicide but this is how I have felt on and off over the last 365 days:

1. Sad. Every so often something would trigger a memory of John and I couldn’t control the tears. They just came-thankfully in private.

2. Sorry. I sometimes felt disappointed in myself for not figuring out what he was going to do and not finding a way to save him. During those times I know he would say there was nothing I or anyone could have done- but my mind still wanders and wonders. Probably always will.

3. Happy. Because it’s what he would have wanted most. He wanted people to be happy- so I make the effort to be happy for him whenever thoughts of him are getting me down.

4. Angry. I really struggled with this one- especially early on. I couldn’t fathom why he would put all of us through this pain and suffering. I think if he had any clue of what it would be like, he wouldn’t have done it. Suicide doesn’t tie up a life and end things in a pretty package for anyone. Once the initial shock wears off the familly is left with the burden of funeral arrangements, going through belongings, carrying on the best they can while bearing with the questions and the guilt as they also try to grieve. Grief is an odd beast of a thing. Catches you when you least expect it and leaves this aching hole in your chest that sometimes can’t be willed away.

John Hoffa
John making me laugh

I have since made peace with the anger part. Had to forgive him as he truly didn’t know what he was doing- he was just trying to end his own pain and that was his focus. He never would have hurt a soul and I know he never intended to cause this enormous grief for any of us…he simply believed this would make things easier for everyone. He thought that if he was gone, life would be better and easier somehow for all of us. He was wrong. Suicide is never right.

I get that time heals wounds and softens the sharp edges of sadness and pain. I know that there is a process in the cycle of life that we all muddle through the best we can. I know that some days life actually feels normal and as we go on, we heal. Part of my healing process is through advocacy. Speaking out about suicide isn’t fun, nor is it easy- but I believe it is helping me and hopefully others to heal.  Maybe if we see that we aren’t so different from one another and that we all go through the same kinds of thoughts and feelings- we will be more inclined to help one another. (I say that with the assumption that others actually feel the way I do and that I’m not some kind of anomaly.) I know that reaching out and encouraging someone if they are having a rough day can and does help. It’s not that hard. We can all do better.

So I’ll manage to get through today one foot in front of the other – ever moving forward. I just ask that if you read this that you’ll stop for a moment and think of John. Think of the ones you love. My Uncle Hank always says that thinking of someone is like saying a little prayer for them. I know John will be getting many prayers today and the thought of that makes my heart hurt less and leaves a smile on my lips.


Author: Michelle Haag
John Hoffa’s cousin.


2 Responses to One Year Later – Surviving a loved one’s suicide.

  1. Michelle,

    What an amazing and meaningful take on how this last year has affected you as well as everyone else with whom John came in contact with. He was such a great guy and is greatly missed; however, through writings like this, memories and pictures…he will never be forgotten! <3 RIP John <3

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