After losing her son to suicide, Maria finds comfort at SafePlace meetings

Written by Maria Sallese, suicide loss survivor and SafePlace attendee

Pictured: Maria with her son, Mario

On February 25, 2019, my son, Mario, died by suicide. Less than one month prior, we celebrated his 26th birthday at his favorite Chinese restaurant. He loved their buffet. We spent many birthdays at that restaurant and I smile thinking about the last one. He made us ice cream sundaes, even though no one wanted them. Boy, were they terrible! They didn’t even look appealing. The sundae bar left a lot to be desired, but he insisted we were having them. He could be very persistent that way. His lopsided sense of humor and impish grin still makes me smile.

It’s been just over a year now since he passed away, and although I don’t wish for that day to define me, it is a defining moment on so many levels. It’s a new beginning for me because I’m no longer the person I was. It’s not a new beginning that I celebrate and it certainly doesn’t come without obstacles; time being one of them. For every step forward I take, it feels like I’m leaving him one step behind. The passage of time makes the distance greater. I look back and I still see him, and at the same time I can’t help but wonder if the distance will become so great that I can’t. I want to always see him on my horizon, not behind me, and so the new shape of my relationship with him is another new beginning because ceasing to have a relationship just isn’t an option. I choose to carry him with me into every day and everything I do; that’s how I keep him close. It’s not effortless and it’s not brave or courageous. For me, it’s a necessity. We always had a close relationship and I’m not able to let that go; I remind myself each day that I don’t have to.

I don’t wish for that day to define him either. The day he died is the day he lost his battle, but the fact that he died by suicide does not define who he was. He was a kind and loving soul who brought so much joy into so many lives. His kindness was genuine and his compassion was from the heart. He was never shy about saying “I love you” and he’d rather give you a hug over a handshake. His sense of humor was infectiously silly, raw, and, at times, uncensored. He truly was his biggest comedic fan! He’d struggle to finish a story sometimes because he thought he was so funny he could hardly get the words out.  He also struggled with anxiety and depression. He was a bit of an empath. He carried the weight of the world and he worried about everything and everyone. I believe it all just got too heavy.

Being a part of the Samaritans community has been an anchor for me this past year. The SafePlace meetings have been just that: a safe place to sit openly with my loss in the company of others who have lost someone to suicide. I remember my first meeting and how any fears I had about being there quickly dissolved.  As soon as I sat down it was as though a weight was lifted. I felt no stigma; only a sad common bond. There was no need to mask or hide. That was about four months after losing my son and I’ve not missed a meeting since. Listening to their shared experiences helps me navigate this unfamiliar place. With the Coronavirus temporarily changing how we socially connect, I’ll soon be attending my first virtual meeting. I continue searching for answers and understanding, and although there are questions I know I’ll never have the answers to, being there continues to help me process my grief.

Being involved in Samaritans’ events has also helped me. Remembering Mario at the Annual Memorial and participating in the 5K last year were both healing experiences. Doing things in memory of Mario, being able to remember him publicly as opposed to silently, and having so many friends and family come together to remember him is something I don’t quite have the words for. I can only tell you the feeling. It’s the feeling you get when you hear someone say your loved one’s name out loud. When so many people come together to remember the so many people that we’ve lost, it’s as though their names are being shouted from the rooftops. For me, that was powerful. I’m already looking forward to the 5K again this year. Planning ahead for it is doing something for him.

I miss my boy. I miss him every minute of every day. I miss him as the son he always was, and I miss him as the man I always thought I’d watch him continue to grow and be. That will never change. I keep him on my horizon. That will never change. Remembering him and talking about him makes me smile. That too, will never change.