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Ugly Steps and Crooked Railings

By Nancy Bachmann

When we first bought our house, it had a wonky, completely non-code step that led up onto the front porch. It required you to think twice before attempting it, every single time, up or down. It made you think. Thinking is not necessarily a bad thing. We thought about fixing it, discussed it in depth, had plans in our head, and then never ever did.

Then came a time in life where mobility became an issue, and clearly that funky step was going to have to go. Sometimes in the middle of a crisis, changes just have to be made. We expressed our needs and delegated it to family and friends who gladly pitched in to help us when life was hard. We let go of the outcome and trusted in the process. We need to do this more in life.

So, the not-to-code step was changed, and new steps replaced it. I’m grateful for new steps in life, and new steps onto the porch. Now, I will say the handrail must have been a bit of an issue in the building process. It’s a bit off the mark in terms of balance and scale, and I always want to make it pretty. I want it to be perfect in terms of line, angle, and level. Much like I would like life to be true and beautiful.

I’ve learned a lot about imperfections, ugly steps, and funky handrails in my journey as a survivor of suicide loss. Life is full of hardships, great losses, tearful passages, and yes, ugly steps. There’s nothing beautiful about this journey, except for the beauty of life itself. Even in its most painful moments, if you dig deep enough, or release fully enough, there’s beauty to be found.

Among the ugly steps I’m faced with is finding the strength to sit with the pain, and also to push past it. I’m not as strong as people think, but I do believe I’m tenacious. I have to find balance in a world that turned up-side-down. I have to establish, sometimes over and over, what is mine to deal with, and what is not. Then I have to put a voice to that. Sometimes, that’s the hardest part.

It’s believing I’m enough and that I have gifts to give, even when others look at me and wonder why I wasn’t enough, why I didn’t do enough, try hard enough, why couldn’t my love be enough. Sometimes, the person wondering all that is me, sometimes it’s the outside world who looks on and judges me.

It’s walking the ugly steps and sitting with the ickies. It’s wondering if the good memories we shared will always be overshadowed the pain of my husband’s death. It’s wondering if I will always be judged by the result of his decision. It’s wrestling with the helpless feeling of an outcome you didn’t choose. I know, because I’ve experienced the pain from tactless comments and careless assumptions. Then there’s the worry that people will find my home (me by virtue of living here) somehow tainted by the tragedy that unfolded here.

It’s learning to go to events, gatherings, parties, and weddings alone when it takes every fiber of your being to go, to celebrate, to be active in the pleasures of life. Yes, I always know, once I get to a gathering, that I will be among friends. Still, it’s a hurdle to push past the angst of going. There’s another hurdle to cross at the end of the event when I go home alone. Yes, I envy those with partners and spouses, and I’m grateful for my friends and family who are so well-loved. It’s a wake-up call to realize how great that gift of belonging is.

It’s the ugly steps of the anniversaries of life and death, of birthdays, holidays, and other days that have meaning in our life. It’s knowing the 19th of the month will always be an emotional day, the day that changed life as I knew it.

But, and there’s always a but, it’s finding the value, the grace, the strength of the crooked railings and ugly steps in our life that brings growth. It’s not what I wanted, or ever thought possible. It’s a hurt that will never completely heal. It’s a turning point that was both tragic and unfathomable. Yet, I get to choose where I go from here. For now, I choose to accept the crooked railing and release the ugly steps life gave me. I have to laugh at the thoughtless comments people make about suicide, just as I have to cry at the very same thing. I have to understand that others can’t know of this experience unless they walk it, or unless empathy coupled with education teaches them otherwise.

It’s seeing there’s a great gift in sharing my story. It’s the hope that somehow navigating my ugly steps and embracing my crooked handrail will ease another’s pain. It’s knowing that speaking of suicide/mental health is awkward, painful and so completely necessary.

Someday, the railing make take on a new look. It may be made even, level, and proportionate. Someday, the ugly steps will soften and smooth out. I trust in that, just as I trusted in the renovation of the steps in the first place. I admit it’s hard to trust, after a loss like this. It’s hard to trust ourselves, the world, and that our equilibrium will return. But, when I choose to find value in all the moments, easy and difficult, I also choose to build trust. I’m finding beauty and grace in the ugly steps of life. Even a crooked handrail supports me when I grasp it. If I falter on the steps what matters is that I keep trying. Things don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. So, I hold tight to the railing and take step after step. I do this knowing it’s the right choice, that I’m never alone. That faith sustains me. If I can do this, so can you.

 

Nancy Bachmann used to define herself as a wife, mother, crazy dog lady, professional floral designer. Now she’s added survivor of suicide loss to her story. She was a lifelong big city girl. In 2012, she moved to a village with a population of 42 (give or take) in central Nebraska. It was either a moment of brilliance or insanity. Mostly brilliant, with splashes of rural insanity. She navigates life through a lens of gratitude, sustained by faith, sprinkled with humor, always with a dog (or two or three) by her side.

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