March 25, 2017 – 6 weeks later
My name is Samantha Thornton. I've always had a passion for others so I decided to become an elementary school teacher to plant the seeds of a love for education into little hearts. I am currently a 5th grade content literacy teacher. I graduated from the University of Central Florida (Go Knights!) and I'm currently living in South East Florida. Within these writings I hope to offer a unique perspective on suicide and grief and I'd like nothing more than to help others either start this conversation, think hard about their loved ones that would be left behind, or help my fellow sibling survivors not feel so painfully alone. “Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”
I got the calm, steadily voiced call from my dad at 8:30pm after spending the day at the happiest place on earth with my parents. I’ll never forget how strange I thought it was that my dad was calling me right after we parted ways and I had just gotten out of the shower at my apartment when my phone was ringing. We drove separately that day because my brother and I were helping my friend with an assessment that morning. I instantly asked, “Is it Andy?”, and my dad quietly said, “Just get here as quickly as you can”. I called my best friend and he kept me calm on the longest 15 minute drive of my entire life. It couldn’t be…last time he attempted we all went to the ER. Maybe the dog got out, maybe he drank too much of the alcohol I got him for his 21st birthday last month, maybe the house burned down. Anything but this. I just saw him earlier that day, he seemed happy. I decided to not allow myself to fully prepare for the worst.
I pulled onto the street that I grew up on and saw police cars lined up and down the side of my childhood home. I hung up the phone, pulled into the driveway, dropped my keys on the ground as my dad ran to me and heard him say the words I had been afraid of hearing every day for the past 7 years of my life. Andy’s gone.
I tried to run away and then I collapsed on the driveway while screaming as loudly as I could while neighbors, police, and investigators looked on. I have never felt such raw pain, terror, and heartbreak as I did in that moment, and I hope I never feel that pain again for even a second again. My parents held me until I decided to pull myself together for them. Officers helped me look for my glasses in the dark while I shook like a leaf, and we realized I had contacts in. Nothing made sense. Nothing seemed real. I immediately called my friend Samantha (yep, my girl bestie’s name is also Samantha, weird right?) and asked her to come to my parent’s house. She stayed with me the whole night and cried with me in the front yard until we were told by investigators to leave the area while the medical examiner took him away.
My poor parents were in so much pain I could barely stand to look at them that night. As badly as I was hurting, I can’t imagine the pain they felt. I am so thankful I wasn’t there when they found him, because I don’t think I could have handled it as strongly as my incredible parents did. I will forever be in awe of the two of them and the way they comforted others during the viewing and the service as their whole lives had been shattered. I am one lucky human being to have the parents that I have.
I could write an entire book on Andy’s 7 year battle with Major Depressive Disorder, Anxiety, and Insomnia, but through my posts I’d like to share my perspective as a sister, a best friend, left behind.
Andy had been Baker Acted twice before, but his second attempt in November 2015 was was the major factor in my consuming anxiety disorder. I constantly worried every second of the day about my little brother taking his life. If he didn’t text me back fast enough, my brain started spinning. If he seemed “off”, I couldn’t sleep. I found a therapist and began to work on myself and regaining control of my thoughts. One of the first things my therapist had me do was make a plan of what I would do if my worst fear came to fruition. I remember how hard it was to come up with that plan of thinking about losing my brother. I was so angry with my therapist for making me think those dark thoughts and write down a plan of action in case it happened. I’m so thankful she did though, because it helped me through the darkest days. Honestly, I don’t remember anything except for step 1…”Stay Calm”. The whole first week after his passing I thought to myself, “Stay calm, Samantha”, and I did. I did things that first week I never ever thought I’d be able to do. Who would do a better job than I would? No one. Who would care more than me to have things just right? It felt better to be busy and have things just how I wanted them done, than to be sitting around useless. It felt good to be productive and strong and loving. “Stay. Calm.”
I felt like I had to be strong for my parents these past few weeks, and I’m not really sure why I felt that way. They didn’t ask me to nor did they really need me to, but I felt like I should. I stayed calm, I did what I needed to do, and then everyone got worried. I wasn’t processing any of it. I didn’t WANT to process any of it. Why in the world would I want to feel an ounce of pain that I felt on March 25th ever again? I shut off. I barely cried at all outside of the walls of my therapist’s office the first 4 weeks. Everyone else’s lives began to go back to normal…and ours didn’t. I have these intense bouts of grief which cause me to hyperventilate or cry so hard I throw up. My hands and arms are still shaking 6 weeks later, just not as penetratingly. I lose things quickly. I feel out of control. I can’t listen to certain songs or watch Netflix because his name pops up on the account. Being in this town and this house without him here day in and day out, with the constantly reminders opening up the wounds that have maybe, just maybe, started to scab over; is the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced. “Stay calm, Samantha.”
On top of muddling through the painfully difficult tasks of these past few weeks, I have to deflect the insensitivities of ill-informed relatives and others in the community. The comments and questions people choose to say and ask me are the main reason I feel the overwhelming need to help educate others on this topic. People weren’t trying to hurt me, but their lack of understanding on mental illness astounds me. Suicide didn’t take my brother, years of crippling depression that he hid from most of the world took my brother.
I have decided to help others in any way that I can by sharing Andy’s story, my story, and educating others on Depression and Anxiety. I am not sure when I’ll be ready to do so, but I look forward to the day this insurmountable pain can be channeled into a positive outlet. My brother always told me how proud he was of the person I’m becoming, and I know that doesn’t stop now that he’s gone.
If you are going through a similar situation, whether it’s you, your family member, friend, or someone in your community; please lean on each other. I could not have made it through these first few weeks without my friends, my neighbors, and of course my parents.
Love one another, in tragedy and out of tragedy.
If you or someone you know is suffering with depression, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide, please seek counseling or for immediate help call the Suicide Hotline.
Visit Samantha's personal blog page All Things Considered