Birthdays and holidays can be tricky business for suicide survivors. My sunshine boy Todd would have turned 37 last summer. On his birthday, we celebrated with a trio of fellow survivors that were ready to party; in fact, they had a plan in mind. They came to the table with love, laughter and a list. The list changed everything for me.
We picked the party setting, a favorite taco shop in Hillcrest called Tacos Libertad. We referred to it as Tacos Libertodd, just for the celebration. The chief party planner informed us that all conversation had to comply with the afternoon’s theme: Todd. Plain and simple. A friendship circle who’d never met Todd in real-time wanted to see him through the lens of his parents.
And that’s the point, isn’t it? We want our lost loved ones to be known and be remembered for their lives, not for their exits. The list was the tool our friends crafted to bring Todd to his own party. As Rex and I went down the list, some repressed memories resurfaced as we recounted some of Todd’s childhood escapades, something sadly absent in our last decade. Laughter, surprise, delight, curiosity, even shock happened. Todd was in the room!
Tell us about the day Todd was born. Unpacking the birth history of a beloved child brings a flurry of images: birthplace, community involvement, family highlights and creative chaos that surfaces on the day a child is born. As we reviewed and reflected, we thought of all those 35 mm photos in Todd’s baby book. “Do you remember, Rex? I was giving piano lessons, not knowing I was in labor…”
Do you recall specific times when Todd made you laugh? That brought a stream of giggles as we recounted examples of our very hilarious child.
Tell us about Todd’s first girlfriend. Todd could have existed in an episode of “Friends” and preferred group- I had fun remembering the girls who wished he’d asked them out!
What is something that makes you proud to have been his parents? Is there a word-count for this reflection? We were proud of his character, his passion, his integrity, his convictions, his ease with people and the wide net he cast with the marginalized. Great question.
Did Todd have any hidden talents that may surprise those who never met him? As a gifted musician with a great memory for lyrics, he could sing (and usually play) songs from every style or musical decade. He knew my generation’s music much better than I did, including the names of the group’s band members. It hardly seemed fair!
What is the best gift Todd ever gave you? The two irreplaceable gifts from our son—his music and his words. Accompanying Todd when he sang or played violin was magical and memorable. It doesn’t get better than this!
How is your life better because Todd was your son? As a young adult, we considered him our teacher in so many ways. He mentored his parents, challenging us to color outside the lines and extend more grace. He taught us that being right is not as important as being kind.
This list was crafted by a parent for a parent and reflected questions my friends wished someone would ask them about their loved ones. They left Tacos Libertad with a brief and engaging biography of our sunbeam.
My advice? Give a list to a survivor you know and love. They need the list and you need to meet someone they dearly loved.
“Bad things happen. How I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have: life itself.”
- Walter Anderson