What Comes After
by S. Kay Murphy
My only tattoo is a distinct but unobtrusive semi-colon on the inside of my right wrist, inked when I was sixty-four years old and meant as a memorial to two friends whom I have lost to suicide. In recent years, semi-colons have become a subtle symbol on social media to promote suicide prevention and awareness. I’d been thinking about a tattoo for several years, but the loss of these sweet, passionate, endearing men from my life catalyzed my resolve, along with the total eclipse of the sun in 2017.
Remember that? What an extraordinary phenomenon of nature that was. I had lost both friends the year before, and I was still grieving their loss. Although the two never met, I know John would have loved Michael’s youthful exuberance and the fact that he was already honing his writing skills at the age of twenty. No telling what Michael would have thought of the old man with the shaved head, gravelly voice, and as many stories as he had tattoos. They were different in nearly every way, but they shared one similarity; both had despaired of ever finding relief from their emotional and psychological pain.
For me, watching the eclipse revealed a small truth that I have stashed away, to be brought out at times when I need to be reminded.
That day, I watched as people gathered with excitement and anticipation. A spontaneous cheer arose as the sky began to darken, and one of the reporters on scene mentioned the sudden drop in temperature. I scanned the crowd and saw faces that were absolutely enthralled. They were about to be shrouded in darkness, yet not a single person appeared to be fearful. Because no one doubted that the sun would appear again.
Imagine, though, what early humans must have thought and felt during their first experience with a total eclipse, how terrifying that must have been. We understand now that it is only temporary, an occurrence of nature, to be appreciated with awe for the fleeting moment it exists. But how must it have felt to watch as the sun’s light disappeared, to think that it would never return? This is a bit of what my friends experienced when they found themselves shrouded in sadness. Both felt, at the depth of their despair, that the world would never hold light or love or joy for them again. The pain of that perception so consumed them that they ended their lives in order to end their own suffering.
In my own life, I have felt despair as well, have endured intense bouts of depression when a release from pain loomed as a sinister temptation. But my tattoo is a reminder that a pause is not a full stop. It’s okay to not be okay for a while; those hovering shadows will not last forever. If we can just hang on, the darkness recedes, the light returns, and what comes after may just be the best part of our lives thus far.
S. Kay Murphy is a graduate of UC Riverside and the author of four books, including two memoirs. She lives in the Inland Empire where, despite heat, wind, fire and politics, she is grateful for every new day.