The world where goals and success are of sole importance is not a reality, it is an illusion.
By Jennifer Karey
"Oh my God, oh my God," the words rang through my ears and
seemed to shake my very soul. I was jolted from my bed after an already
sleepless night to Dad's horrified cry. The sheer terror that seemed to
strangle his words seemed to pierce my heart with each syllable. Even
from three rooms away, it echoed. A small beam of light crept under my
door as the light in my parents' room was turned on. Even as I reached
to open my door and investigate the commotion, I felt a heavy horror fall
over me. Something was terribly wrong, and my heart raced as my sweaty
palm turned the door knob. The scene in my parents' room was one I had
never seen before. The expressions, the actions, were foreign and frightening.
They both sat erect in their bed. Mom leaned close to Dad and held his
arm tight, waiting herself to hear the terrible news. Dad was a ghostly
white and his always steady hand was shaking as a few words found their
way through his trembling lips and into the receiver. Then he said it:
"My sister committed suicide."
The words seemed to pull me to the floor as though weights had just been
thrown upon me. The surroundings vanished. The room, my parents, everything
disappeared. There was no more sound. The world spun around me like some
sort of hellish carnival ride. I crumbled. The words wrapped around my
brain and squeezed out all other thoughts. My emotions could not be labeled.
I didn't know what I felt. My body began to shake uncontrollably, and
the tears ran down my cheeks. I couldn't speak. It felt as though I couldn't
breathe. The sound that I tried to make couldn't be heard. I was drowning.
I was being sucked down beneath the surface, unable to reach the air.
Hours passed and the sun began to creep out from behind the tall pine
trees in our backyard. A warm August breeze filtered in through the patio
door and seemed to dance around me as I sat curled in the big red easy-chair
in the living room. The tears still poured out of me, but I did not know
from where. After hours of crying I no longer felt their wetness on my
She wasn't gone. She couldn't be gone. The days often were a blur. The
image of my father's face, his trembling hand, played over and over again
in my mind. Yet, nothing seemed true. Nothing sank in. She wasn't gone;
she couldn't be.
A short week later, Dad returned home from visiting with his parents
and taking care of Sue's estate. He returned this time, not on a plane,
but in a car. He had driven all the way from Arizona in the red 1989 Nissan
Pathfinder Sue had left him. Piled on the backseat were boxes filled with
things from her home. He came into the house silent. Not a word was spoken
until we were all seated in the living room. My parents sat on the large
burgundy couch while my brother and I sat on the floor facing them with
our backs against the wall. The support that the wall provided would soon
be needed as my dad revealed the horrid details of how Sue chose to end
her life. I was sick to my stomach. I left the room.
For weeks the boxes sat untouched on my floor. Her clothes, her shoes,
her CDs, her things lay piled. The lacey white cardigan that she wore
on her wedding day lay neatly folded at the top of one box. Her life was
in those boxes. They were hers, but now I was somehow expected to take
full ownership of them. As I sat there on my bed staring down at the cardigan,
it sank in. She was gone.
School was scheduled to start in a few days, though I hadn't noticed.
I was still pondering, still searching for answers that it seemed no one
could provide. The questions pounded in my head, begging to be answered.
I was bombarded with one thought over and over. We were so similar. I
realized that just as I was now expected to take ownership of her belongings,
I had taken ownership of many of her qualities long before without ever
realizing it. Ever since I was very young, I was told how much we were
alike. I had taken on her personality, her perspective, her goals, everything
that defined her was either part of me or something that I wanted attributed
to me. Aspects of her were imbedded in my soul and my spirit. She was
exactly what I wanted to be. She was the successful doctor that I wanted
to be. She had a beautiful house built on the side of a mountain with
a breathtaking view that I wanted to have. She had the money-making job
that I wanted to possess. She had everything that I wanted to characterize
myself as having. She was me. I was her. Our minds seemed fused together
as one, each wanting the same things, each aspiring to be the same person.
Why would she end it, why would she leave behind not only her family and
friends, but everything she had worked so hard for? Why would I feel the
need to end it? I couldn't. I couldn't conceive of it. Everything was
right, everything was perfect. Or was it?
She was happy and healthy. She had the kind of personality that everyone
was drawn to and entranced by. She had large sparkly brown eyes that looked
like deep pools of melting chocolate. Her smile was captivating. Her intoxicating
laugh and enthralling sincerity and concern were unmatched. Her astuteness
in her field was astounding, and her presence could not be ignored. She
was always the optimist, finding the bright side of almost anything. She
was me. I was her. We shared the same unusual height, the same thick brown
hair, and the same thin frame. We shared all of these features, and family
members were always reinforcing that fact. What happened? What changed
her perception? Why couldn't she find the bright side this time? I couldn't
understand. There must have been some part of her life that was not so
complete, that was not so perfect. There had to have been something that
money and success could not provide her, and which ultimately she could
not live without. If that was true, what was that one thing?
I began to shift my attention away from the suicide itself and to reassess
my own life. We were so similar, in every way. I realized that I did not
want to feel what she felt. I did not want to ultimately find myself embracing
death as a method of filling a vacant place deep within me. I was struck
by what I held important and what is viewed as being the "perfect
life." The success, the job, the house, the money, the car, everything
that people work so hard to attain throughout their lives, is not what
is important. It was not enough. It wasn't what I truly wanted at all.
Ever since I can remember, I have been motivated to work hard and get
top grades. That was what was important. Goals that I set for myself depended
upon getting those top grades. Without them, I wouldn't be accepted to
the college of my choice, I wouldn't get into medical school, and I wouldn't
be able to make my dream job a reality. I wouldn't have any of it. In
the wake of Sue's death, I forced myself to look inside and pull out what
was really important to me. What I found were things that were deeply
buried beneath layers of aspirations and academic success. I was ashamed
to see how little emphasis I had placed on my family and friends. They
had been almost completely encased in a chrysalis of academic aspirations.
I was disgusted and frightened with the trend I saw as I dug deep beneath
my surface. I was doing what she did. She never had time for family or
friends. She never had time for anything. They were secondary to what
she sought personally and professionally. The conclusion I was drawing
brought chills rippling down my spine. No. No. I didn't want to do this.
I did not want to come to a dead end where I had nothing but material
and professional success to support me. I needed to reorganize what I
sought in life. I reoriented my thinking. My family and friends finally
began to break out of their cocoon and reemerge into the new environment
I had created. The butterfly had emerged and found new life in its reborn
One evening, I came into my parent's room and found Dad sitting on the
bed attempting to write his monthly report. When he looked up, I could
see the frustration and his own lack of concentration. He smiled and I
sunk in next to him on the plush comforter. "Dad, can I talk to you
about something?" With that, our three hour conversation began. I
told him everything I had realized about myself. I no longer wanted to
follow in her footsteps. I didn't want to be her. I explained that I wanted
to focus on my family. I told him that I had grown up. I wasn't stuck
within the small confines of my childhood reality. Our family had experienced
a great loss, the first of its kind, and I had overcome. I had grown from
it. The reality that I created no longer contained the childish belief
that everything happens for a reason and everything ends with flowers
and sunshine. I no longer tried to ascribe meaning to what was happening
around me on the basis of this knowledge (Mishara 20). My naive outlook
was replaced with an entirely new one. I told him everything. He had listened
attentively to every word, and when I finished, he didn't say a word.
Our conversation ended with both of us in tears. His reaction stunned
me while bringing to me a great sense of peace. He leaned over, crushing
his paperwork, and gave me a hug. I could feel the tears seep into my
blue pajama shirt, leaving behind small dark circles scattered across
my back. He understood. He understood what I had newly created for myself.
I had built a more distinguished image of the world and a clearer concept
of how things work, what is important, and who is important (Mishara 20).
The abyss was gone. The chasm was closed and sealed. I stepped back from
the jagged ledge. I wasn't going to fall.
All my questions did not find their answers. I don't think they ever
will. However, the agony of those questions is no longer a burden. I have
come to accept her decision, whatever the reason for it might have been.
In the devastating aftermath of that decision, I learned from her. She
taught me a lesson that will stay with me forever. Though her intent was
never to set an example or teach a lesson, she drastically changed my
perception of what is important. I can't take what I have for granted.
I cannot allow myself to become distracted by my goals. They are important,
but should not be so consuming that they have the ability to thrust me
into a fog, stumbling and groping for what is truly significant.
There are more important things in life than success. I have come to realize that. The realizations that have appeared to me have been incredible and life-changing. I have come to recognize what is truly significant and how that world, that reality, can be shattered at any moment. Life cannot be taken for granted and cannot be wasted. We cannot afford to live within a world that doesn't exist. I had lived so long coiled within my cocoon, tangled in the interweaving silk strands of academic goals. The world where goals and success are of sole importance is not a reality, it is an illusion. My eyes have been opened to a new world where life tears apart the soft silk strands and reaches towards the beams of sunlight that filter through in the form of family and the future. While some of my questions remain unanswered, the internal questions that had scratched at and wounded my spirit began to heal. I just wish similar sunlit beams could have penetrated Sue's thick-layered shell before the dark chasm closed on her forever.