Monday, March 24, 2014

Suicidal Mennonite

When I was about seven years old, my sisters and I were running around inside the house being obnoxious and laughing and my mom said, “After laughing comes the crying.” 

She was just saying that so we would stop and, sure enough, shortly after she said that a buggy came onto our property and my mom went to see what they wanted. 

She came inside crying and went to her room for a while. Then she came out and told us all to sit at the kitchen table and she told us that her dad our grandpa had died.

We went over there right away. All my aunts and uncles were there and everyone was acting frantic and crying.  Shortly after we got there a van came over, full of Mexican men with suit cases. 

They hurried over to the barn and I followed them. Everyone was too upset to notice. As soon as I got through the door I saw him with the rope around his neck.  I saw a man look in his eyes with a flashlight and everything after that is kind of a blur to me.

That night it was windy and I couldn’t sleep the noise from the wind sounded like cries for help and I felt like no one was listening.  What am I supposed to do with this? I thought everyone else was sleeping, but I am sure others couldn’t sleep either.  No one knew what to say or do.  To this day when I hear the squeaking sound of a windmill turning I think of that day.

The men of the colony went to the town of Nuevo Ideal (Patos) to buy two big blocks of ice.  They put the ice on the floor of an empty room at the end of the barn and put a white sheet over it.  Four men carried his body over and put it on the ice.

They put saw dust around the ice to soak up the water from the melting ice.  That’s where he laid for the next three days while we all went to church to sing.  The next thing I remember is the day of the funeral and the coffin was not in the church like others normally were.  His was outside during the funeral.

I overheard many people say that my grandpa didn’t go to heaven because he hung himself and that’s why his coffin was not allowed inside the church.  As I got older, I thought about this a lot and I had so many questions but everyone else seemed to have forgotten. 

No one talked about it but I kept asking and learned that they buried him facing away from the sun while everyone who dies of natural causes is buried facing the sun.  It is my understanding that this is done to mark the grave sites of everyone that commits suicide.

I never really got any straight answers but I learned that he had “nerve problems” (meaning mental illness) and that he was on all kinds of medication.  Whenever someone was depressed or had a drinking issue or any problem that wasn’t physical, it was a “nerve problem”.

Many people since have hung themselves because they had “nerve problems”. There was always all kinds of gossip about who hung themselves and theories why but no one knew how to deal with it or where to go to get help.

For many years, I struggled with the thought that my grandpa would rather hang himself than watch us grow up.  Since no one could tell me anything about the “nerve problems” people were experiencing, this was getting on my “nerves.” 

Now that I can read, I read about how other people have dealt with it.  That has helped me understand that depression is often overlooked, sometimes because it coincides with medical illness or life events, such as feelings of hopelessness.

Again, I feel like I need to do something.  At this point, what I can do is learn as much as I can to keep my “nerves” in check.  I can be as strong as I can be, mentally and physically, encourage others to do the same, and create awareness so that people in my community know where they can go to get help.

I want to be an example to others so they too can learn that who you are or where you come from doesn’t have to determine where you are going.  

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