Tyler Lee Bennington , Frances Beatrix Spade, Ariane Bourdain

Do you know them? Maybe not. But I think you’ve heard of their parents.

Chester Bennington, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain

The three celebrities who decided to take their own lives in the last 11 months.

Whenever a famous person died by suicide, the world always talks about the one who died. We recall the person’s accomplishments (many of us are guilty of binge watching Anthony Bourdain’s show after hearing about his death), their social statuses, and their “could have beens”. But there are some people whom we, at times, forget or barely remember: the ones who were left behind with questions they will spend their lives seeking for answers; the ones who will be scarred for the rest of their lives. THEIR CHILDREN.

Kate Spade reportedly left a suicide note. A part of it state: “This has nothing to do with you… Don’t feel guilty”

My heart broke for Frances upon reading it because I’ve been there. It always breaks my heart when I hear that there’s another child who joined the club, which I wish no one would ever join — the club of children whose parents died by suicide.

It has been almost two decades since I lost my father but sometimes, I still feel the pain and grief of the 12-year-old girl who was seeking for the answer “why did Papa decide to end his life?”.  A question that no one could answer but Papa himself — but sadly, he brought with him the answer that could have completed the puzzle when we buried him almost 2 decades ago.

Papa was such a happy camper, he was cheerful and welcoming. He was the kind of person you cannot help but notice when he is in the room. He loved to laugh and make people laugh. He was no celebrity but everyone in our town knew him or at least heard of him. So when he died, we were all stunned.

Like any other suicide, no one saw it coming. He was still upbeat and funny even until his last days. He never looked lonely nor sad but he often came home drunk — which I thought was normal. For other people, Papa’s death ended after we buried him, but for us, his family, we grieved over his death and dealt with the pain even after years later.

The tragedy happened in a small town somewhere south of the Philippines, a country where mental health awareness is poor (even until now). It happened at the time when suicide was a taboo. I heard people talking about my father’s death. He was labeled as a man who had a big problem hidden behind his laughter but I did not hear anyone identified him as someone who hid his depression behind his laughter and frequent drinking. Since suicide was not something that was openly discussed then, I cannot blame people for assuming that my family was cursed. And the worst thing I picked up from eavesdropping adult’s conversation was, “he won’t go to heaven because he committed a mortal sin”. For someone who believed in the concept of heaven, that was the  most hopeless thing I can ever hear because it means one thing, I won’t be able to see my father again, even after death.

I walked through life with so much pain in my heart and chaos in my mind. I had lots of questions that I never dared to ask; questions I kept behind my “IM OKAY” mask.  Much to my dismay, all of it was left unanswered until, eventually, from questions, they became statements in my mind.

From “why did he not choose to stay for me?” to “I’m not goodenough”.  

From “have I not loved him enough to make him stay?” to “It was my fault”

These statements were ingrained in my thoughts which created a  great impact on how I see myself. I made myself  responsible for every failure and unfortunate events that had happened around me. Why? Because every survivor has a tendency to drown themselves with self-blame. They can be haunted by the dreaded “what ifs and if onlys” even in unexpected times…

Suicide is a tragedy that the survivors will carry the weight as they try to move forward with their lives. While those who died thought that the world will be better without them in it, the survivors’ life will never be the same without them. The remnants of the tragedy will be part of who they become.

It took me more than a decade to finally allow others to call me Crystha, (the name my father used to call me) without any pain or remorse. More than a decade to finally forgive myself. I was liberated from the weight I was carrying when I finally told myself, “it was not your fault”.

Looking back, my agony could have been shorter if I went through the process of grieving with respect to my own timeline. I made myself believe that I have to accept the reality that my father left me and I have to move forward immediately. I buried my grief and pushed my emotions to the wall because I thought it was not logical to still cry and feel the pain months or years after his death.

It was a long journey to be who I am after 20 years. It was a journey I did not walk alone. I am grateful to have high school friends who would rather hang out and talk than lure me to drink alcohol or any sort of placebo to “help” me forget. I am grateful that I found a community who introduced me to God and help me grow in my faith. CFC Youth for Christ helped me understand the most profound truth:

God loves me and He has  great plans for me

In believing that there is something greater than my pain gave me hope that one day, things will be okay. Through my friends and the Couples for Christ community, I never felt alone in my journey even during those days when I felt lonely and empty.

Although the tragedy devastated me, my mother and my brother individually, our grief and pain bind us together. We held hands as we brave the storm and it made us stronger. My love for my family and the love I receive from them helped me to keep  going. I have a home where I belong – the exact same place where I felt most loved.

To be lonely is a default tendency of every survivor. It took a lot of conscious effort to be better and humility to accept that I needed help.  Seeking for counselling and spiritual direction played a vital role in my journey. I never knew I needed to forgive myself until I found myself crying while narrating my story to Sr. Lazalee, a Carmelite Missionary who guided me in my journey to healing. Through her, I have learned to compliment myself whenever I did something right which helped me a lot in focusing less on what I did wrong. I became my own cheerleader. Then, I realized that a simple ‘Good job self’ was necessary for me to believe I actually did something right.

The choices I made from the 12-year-old girl to the woman that I am now are the most vital:

  • Choosing to step out and take a walk to destress rather than just stay  in my room and feel so defeated.
  • Taking action to name and verbalize my emotions
  • Opting to talk to a friend rather than carrying the burden of the world alone.
  • Deciding to be less hard on myself and respect my own pace.
  • Committing to spend time with my family deliberately and be reminded of a home where I belong
  • Choosing to humble down, accept my realities and run to God to find peace and solace.

I won’t sugar coat things, most of the days I won but there were days that I felt defeated.

Through time, I have learned to accept that it’s okay to  not be okay “today” but tomorrow is a different story. I need to hold on to the hope that tomorrow will be brighter. I became more aware of  my negative self-talk and strive to manage them so it wont inflict self-blame.

I embraced the fact that I can never undo my past; and that being in this club I did not sign up for is part of who I am, but the things I tell to myself, the values I adhere and the choices I make will define who I will become.

The pain that comes with the tragedy coupled with God’s redeeming love and my daily decision to move forward, eventually, bore good fruit. It made me more compassionate towards others. It compelled me to know myself more so I will know how to deal my inner battles. The journey taught me to love and be more patient with myself and others.  God’s grace transformed my suffering and led me to a life of purpose. I was led to be a Catholic Lay Missionary of Couples for Christ, a Catholic family renewal community. The community which made me believe that I’m not alone in my journey. I am far from being perfect,  but I am grateful to declare that I did not just surpass the tragedy but I transcended from it. I am grateful that God did not just allow me to surpass it but He made sure I will gracefully rise above it. 

To all the Tyler Lees, Franceses and Arianes out there:

Allow yourself to grieve because you have every right to feel sad or angry. You have every reason to feel the emotions you are feeling right now but please decide to go through the process of grieving. Hold on to hope that a brighter day will come and you will feel less pain.  It may take time or your pace may be slower than others but you will get there. You will soon see a ray of sunshine.

To those who know any “Tyler Lees, Franceses and Arianes:

Offer your genuine friendship. Make time to listen. Be the bridge that can take them to better days. Your company and presence would mean a lot to them. Allow them to verbalize their emotion and walk with them as they go through the process of grieving. Be mindful when they need space and when they need you to push through that space. Seek to understand what they’re going through. Research if you want to help them. Be the friend who will remind them to never lose hope and faith in God.

PRAY FOR THEM AND WITH THEM. A strong and amazing person  will soon soar high after this difficult journey but while they are still in sorrow, laugh and cry with them and please be patient with their pace.

To all of us who are part of this digitally connected world:

Let us win this battle of isolation and share positivity to every person we meet, may it be online or offline. Let us build a culture of encounter where people genuinely talk and listen in person.  Build the gap between yourself and the person next to you by connecting to them; talk about your day, how you feel… Let us learn to talk with no gadgets on the table especially in our homes. Let us be informed and discuss about mental health. Let us take our part in lessening the mental health stigma.

I will sleep tonight praying that tomorrow when I wake up, no one will join the club I never choose to sign up for.  I hope one day, I will wake up to a better world where people will not be afraid to talk about what they feel because they are confident that they will be heard.

I know it will happen.

You and I can make it happen.

10 thoughts on “The Unnoticed Story of the Survivor”

  1. Thank you Chrysta for opening up and sharing this – what I would consider very sensitive and personal matter – the Lord has, and is using you to be the ray of light to those who walk in dark path. Thank you.

  2. You and those in the same shoes are more than loved, for God is always with you all- loving you in spite of everything. ???

  3. ate shayne your life is a living witness to God’s immense and unstoppable love.. Grasya ka.. God bless:)

  4. Thank you te Shayne for wonderfully putting this into words. You have such a brave heart. I have always seen you as an angel sent by God because no matter how stubborn I was, your words will keep reminding me of how loved i am. You are indeed a gift to this world..mmwah!

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“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”

-St. Catherine of Siena

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