Men grieve differently.  I know that.  But still I was surprised when I found myself acting like a typical guy following my sister-in-law’s 2008 suicide.  A few months after I joined a writing class in the winter of 2010, I wrote a third-person story about that experience–about a man who hacks down a row of hedges in the aftermath of a loved one’s suicide. No question that it’s my story, but I’m guessing that I wrote it in third person because I was still too close to the suicide to write in my own voice.  That story follows.



What to do?, he thought, as he surveyed the ten-foot tall tree-like stems of the privet hedge lined up like a row of Queen Elizabeth’s foot guards who had stuck their fingers in electric sockets—bare decades-old spindly trunks, rigid against the ivy-covered trellis, each ending at the wall’s top in a blunt woody knob.  And spouting from the knobs sprays of young twigs, fat with buds on this late-winter day.

Leaning on the aluminum pruning pole he takes a deep breath, testing the air for signs of spring, but finding only a damp, musty chill.  This is going to be painful, he thinks, imagining how many minutes, how many hours, he’ll need to reach up and hold up this razor-sharp tool designed for precision cutting that he’d wielded like an ax last winter.  He has only himself to blame for the aching joints he’ll take to bed with him tonight.  And so he begins, lifting the pole and carefully directing it’s scissors-like tip toward its prey.  Snip, snip, snip, and snip again.  From one little branch to the next, he savors the satisfying snap as he compresses the ice-cold handle and the blades slice through the young wood.

Out of the corner of his eye he sees something fall from the parapet of the apartment building across the yard.  First one, then another.  Pigeons, throwing themselves into the still air, their breasts catching the morning light as they plummet to the earth, beating their wings only at the last moment to save themselves from almost certain death.

Is that what she did?  Fling herself from the ten-story building?  Or did she step off, as if descending a flight of stairs.  Does it matter?  But he wonders.  Did she walk back and forth, stopping occasionally to examine the parapet’s edge with the tip of her white sneaker?  Did she look down to see where she’d land?  Did she care?  Did the sun illuminate her blond curls then like it does now the silvery feathers of the dive-bombing birds?  How did she do it?  With outstretched arms and the grace of an Olympic diver?  Or did she tumble from the sky like a bundle of rags?  Ten.  Nine.  Eight.  Seven.  Six.  Five.  Four.  Three.  Two.  One.  Did she watch?  Were her eyes open on the way down?  What was the last thing she saw?  Was it the clear blue sky as she lay broken on the ground, her lungs empty of air, her body pressed into the earth?

So this is where he came on that winter afternoon when he learned of her leap from life, to his blue-stone paved backyard, to the towering, overgrown privet that he assaulted with a fierceness that drove him from limb to limb hacking through their dense, leafy crowns until only stranded stumps remained.  Breathless, he stood in a knee-deep pile of branches and leaves, arms and shoulders aching, wondering what he’d done, hoping the neighbors hadn’t noticed that a madman had just murdered his innocent hedge.

But you can’t kill a privet, which he knew even then, as he gathered the evidence of his crime in black plastic bags and hauled them out to the curb.  Come spring, from the woody stumps grew the tender, wild sprays of arrow-straight branches that now occupied his attention.  Snip, snip, snip, from one to the next.  And he imagined to himself that by late summer, the grievous wounds he’d inflicted on a bitter November day would disappear behind a dense screen of new growth and maybe then he could look at the privets without thinking of death.




23 Responses to One Man’s Grief: A Story

  1. aaron jargo says:

    I’m so very sorry for your loss and your written story made me tear up at work – it hit very close to home. I wish you the best and know, please know, there are so many of us out there that share the same feelings, both as survivors of attempts, or survivors of those who succeeded. I can’t lie – each day hurts inside, and for me there are a lot of triggers to those memories. Does time heal? I would have to say ‘perhaps’, because I think it only allows your mind and subconscious to process it in a more comprehensive manner. You have my deepest sympathies.

  2. germaine montero says:

    I just read your thing and it expresses what i wonder about when my son jumped out the window and hung himself. I cant stop hurting.

    • This was a poignantly beautiful story. I too can relate. Our daughter broke up with her boyfriend and he committed suicide. It’s so tragic. It’s so good to see all this writing about suicide and a great reminder to us all that we are all wounded in some way.
      We need to treat every person we ever meet with tender care, never knowing what they’re thinking. There is always, always Hope. Hope in Christ.
      I’ve been processing a lot myself, by both writing poetry and creating paintings with my writings. All of this will heal us.

  3. Jan Christian says:

    Poignant & stirring. Inspires me to write of my own brushes w/ self removal from this plane of existence.

  4. germaine montero says:

    Your comments touched me because i wonder the same things. I have never stopped hurting. I cant. But thanks for this site.

  5. Sully says:

    As we near the second anniversary of a beloved family member’s suicide, this essay strikes right @ the heart. Beautifully written, it captures the searing grief and shows the questions we all ask. God Bless.

  6. shelli says:

    Your words were beautiful. My husband took his life also. It was months before i could stop picturing him hanging himself.

  7. Cheryl A. Iadarola says:

    So many feelings are swirling through my heart and mind. No one can understand how traumatic an event suicide is esp for the survivors. On 9/2 i will be remembering my brother Mark who took his own life 10 yrs ago. A friend also took her life 10 days ago.It is unimaginable to me the pain they were feeling to think this was an answer. Unfortunately the pain never eases or goes away, however you do learn to go on in life. You will never be the same, nor will you look at life the same way. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  8. My daughter, Heather, finished her first year of college, 10 days after her 19th birthday, she went to a Hotel and hung herself. The maid found her. May 23, 2007 was the day, she is the oldest of six kids. She was intelligent, beautiful, loved, ambitious, motivated, and so much more. Nobody knew anything was wrong, she hid it well.
    She had so many hopes for the future, I encouraged her with positive comments, what happend? My heart aches still, I miss her so much. I am never going to be the same……will time be kind in healing my ailing heart. Somehow, I cant envision it. She lives in my heart and of those who loved her. Why?? Is the only question I have.

  9. Bobby says:

    Thank you for your essay. It reminds me of a cold, rainy early November East Tennessee day in 1986 when my friend decided the world was too much to take and ended his life one Friday morning before we were to report to high school. That was the worst weekend of my life. I had never before and have never since felt like I was moving thru warm jello and I couldn’t understand anything going on around me.

  10. Teresa says:

    4/7/07 – A day that changed my life and the lives of my entire family….My big brother took his own life, how could someone so strong do that to me? Why? Why couldn’t I help him? Life will never be the same….My protector was hurting and I had no idea

  11. patricia berberian says:

    Very symbolic ! obviously touching to many who share that type of pain. I reach out for answers that may never come. my faith sustains me on most days yet my heart is forever broken by the piece my daughter took with her that day last April when she made a choice to find peace her own way. The pain she felt so deeply for being just 20yrs Is hard to comprehend. Did she ever know how many lives she touched ? I do know I am a better person for having shared those 20yrs. with her. I miss her more than words could possibly convey. my heart hurts and gut wrenches for all who share this pain. this forum and journal writting helps me. keep writting and reaching out for continued support ! God bless you.

  12. Mary says:

    Thank you for sharing your feelings. And how true it is, I am haunted by what my son felt in his last minutes. The pain is always there, .

  13. Gary says:

    I wonder what my dads last moments were like as he walked across the basement with the 12 gauge shotgun. His heart must have been pounding. Did he think of me and how much I would hurt. Did he feel I had let him down in some way. What was the last thought that went through his head as the trigger was pulled? When did he put the spare loose shells in the drawer by the gun rack. No doubt in my mind they were put there for him to use on himself. What was going on. When did it start to go wrong.

    The story written made me think of my own questions and writing them makes my tears flow and that helps. Thank you so much for this opportunity to share.

  14. Carol says:

    I often have pictures in my mind of my son walking down our basement steps to the place where he hung himself in the early hours of the morning when we were all asleep in our beds. It tears me apart to think of how sad, lonely, & hopeless he must have felt; and I wasn’t there to help him & let him know how much we loved him. I want so badly to go back in time & make everything right for him, to do things differently-to be more compassionate & empathetic to what he was going through. Sadly, I can’t.

  15. thanks for sharing the story
    i tried to take my own life
    but my fiance helped me get through that period
    thanks for sharing your feelings
    it helps for support and inspiration

  16. Patrice says:

    After my friend killed himself I cried so many tears. My parents did not understand. I loved him so much! All my dreams have come to a stop. Through college, grad school, and my career. I never stopped thinking about my friend. He was so special to me. October 13, 1988 was the worst day of my life. So many refer to it as just unreal. I promise you if I did not give myself over to God I would have never recovered. I am still leaning on His everlasting arms. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of my friend.

  17. Very touching poem, especially knowing it was real for you.

    Suicide is one of the worst ways to lose a loved one. There are too many What if’s? Why didn’t? How could? Just very painful and final with many questions that will never be answered.

    Depression is a culprit, and unfortunately, unless family members and/or close friends are attentive and in tune to a potential suicide’s lifestyle – it could happen to anyone. There are always signs to look for, but at times we are all too busy to be our brother’s keeper. Also, not everyone knows when to get help for depression, or if there is any help out there for them. It is just a very difficult thing to deal with, but I am sure some suicides could have been prevented.

    Let us make ourselves available so family and close friends can reach us.

  18. Antonio says: – check this song out its dedicated to kids who are against bullying and sends a message that no matter who hard life gets, suicide is never an option!

  19. Karen Julius says:

    August 1, 2011, My oldest grandson hanged himself from a tree, at the beach where we all always went for the fourth of July, times that my grandson loved. He had a good job, he was planning on moving into a place with his cousin, he was planning a vacation with his cousin and his uncle, then he went to the beach, sat on a log, and thought about what he was doing, and then he took a rope climbed a tree, put the rope around his neck and jumped, killing himself.I raised my grandson, and love him so much, I am a broken person now, because I don’t understand and blame myself, for not giving him what he needed. Since then I have been thinking about suicide myself, wondering if my grandson knew something I don’t.

  20. ali bryant says:

    I am someone who tried committing suicide 3 times but my boyfriend has saved me everytime I didn’t see any reason of living I felt alone and I realized I was loved by more people than I thought but I still feel alone sometimes.

  21. Steve says:

    “Men grieve differently. I know that” –people grieve differently. Has nothing to do with what tools you’re carrying.

    I found this story left me cold. Truly a piece without a heart.

  22. JJ says:

    Hi, I want to initiate a new movement which I call ‘LIFE IS PRECIOUS’. I am aware of how depressing suicide can be for a person and hisORher loved ones. I pray and hope that as I partner with JESUS to start this new movement soon (even if there are sacrifices that I may have to make in the process), at least one person’s life will be touched and changed for the better, so that living on Earth is treasured.(BECAUSE GOD LOVES ALL WHOM HE HAS CREATED…)

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