The other day I opened a fortune cookie, the fortune read: “Smile when you are ready.” I sat dumbfounded, staring at the tiny strip of paper that felt so heavy in my hand. The irony wasn’t lost on me, not at all. Can a fortune cookie carry such a profound and seemingly calculated message, or could this be a cosmic joke from the universe?
Two years ago, my younger sister and only sibling died by suicide. Suicide has touched me. No, let me rephrase that, suicide has raked its claws across me, dug in, and refused to let go. I’m now what is commonly referred to as a “survivor of suicide.” Meaning, someone in my life attempted suicide and did not survive it. The survivors are those still here. We are the collateral damage.
I have not been okay since she left and like all survivors of suicide, my life is forever changed. A part of me didn’t survive when she left, a part of me suffers over and over again each day without her. For my sister, the pain has seemingly stopped. For me, it hasn’t.
According to research, as a survivor of suicide, I’m now in a high-risk category for suicide myself. I will admit, I walk the line between wanting to end my own agony, but I don’t have the luxury of not realizing how this will heavily impact the people in my life. I know exactly how it will tear them apart. It will prey on their minds, many sleepless nights and bouts of hot, random tears triggered by a commercial on TV or another girl who resembles me in line at the grocery store. I can’t do it. I can’t because I see it from the perspective of someone still here. And that place is a unique, complex kind of hell.
Holidays and birthdays are hard. Average Tuesdays in February can be hard. Seeing people I know hanging out with their sister on the weekends—also hard. At this point, reality has set in: I will never help her shop for a wedding dress. We’ll never go hiking in New Zealand together. Instead, I have complicated grief topped off with a touch of PTSD. Maybe to you, I might seem angry at my sister for putting me in this position, but I could never be angry with her. She didn’t know. She couldn’t know.
It is because of her, all the good that she embodied, that I’ve made a commitment to stay because she could not. I will try new things like pottery and goat yoga because she would want me to. I will knit scarves for people because she used to lovingly tease me about my obsession with staying warm in the winter. I will tend my roses and pull the weeds around her final resting spot. I will go to therapy and I will heal. For us.
There’s still a lot of fight left in me, and I will use it to spread the word: someone, somewhere out there, loves you. If you can’t think of someone, I’d ask you to look again. Reach your hand out and see who grabs it, because someone needs you. Your future self needs you. You have a voice and it matters. Your presence affects people, your perception helps them in ways you might not even realize. And there will never be another smile like yours.
There’s a fortune cookie out there with a weird and cryptic message that was made just for you. If you haven’t found your fortune cookie yet, I’ll share mine. And if we don’t feel like smiling right now, that’s okay. The simple message gives us permission to feel our feelings. It almost seems to understand that we’re on a difficult journey, and sometimes it’s dark. The path is winding and we carry overstuffed loads strapped to our backs. But it’s also a gentle reminder that someday, maybe in the not-so-distant future, perhaps even tomorrow, a smile might catch us when we least expect it.
And we’ll be ready.