Sunflowers to the Grave

Bailey Kirkeby, News Editor, Managing Editor, Entertainment Columnist

The hallway was alive as I rushed to Room 304 — countless telephones ringing, countless doctors rushing to treat their dying patients, countless people mourning their recent loss. Fortunately, I was lucky; I did not have a loss to mourn over. While this initially seemed like a good thing, seeing my best friend, Alex, draped in hospital sheets with cuts across his arms erased this thought completely.

Alex complimented the lemon-like shade of my yellow tank top as I approached his sterile bed, attempting to avoid the infinite cords and IVs keeping him alive; his palm felt cold under my fingertips, as if he was already dead.

Although Alex always made jokes about dying, no one ever supposed that he was actually suicidal due to the billion-dollar smile he constantly wore — a smile that was now outed as deceiving. We talked for hours, both of us avoiding discussion about what he had done, until visiting hours were over and I was ripped away from the bleak chair beside his bed.

The next day, I brought Alex a bouquet of sunflowers that smiled at him as they rested on his bedside table. Sunflowers were always his favorite flower — cheery, warm and inviting, just like his exterior persona. I would soon come to find that he was instead a rose: a symbol of hope and promise with thorns expressing pain and defense towards those that attempt to hold it, all held together in merely a few stunning petals propped up by a piercing stem.

After a couple more days of residing in the claustrophobic hospital room, the window revealing only a congested parking lot with cars of concerned loved ones and new widows, Alex’s cherubic doctor, Dr. Fitz, felt that he was well enough to be cleared. I thanked Alex’s doctor for saving him more times than Alex did. Although Dr. Fitz assured me that Alex was stable now, I feared he would attempt to kill himself again. I made it my mission to spend my summer ensuring that the most significant person in my life remained in my life.

Alex assured me that he was okay after I experienced a month of sleepless nights anticipating his inevitable relapse, Alex assured me that he was okay. I was relieved; my best friend was finally resembling the sunflower he always cherished, and I was able to sleep again.

Alex killed himself two weeks later.

I never personally knew anyone who died, and I was not prepared when the time came. I was not prepared for the guilty feeling that I could have prevented his death if I simply tried harder. I was not prepared to hear the conversations that we shared playing in my head on repeat, going over what I could’ve said to make him feel better, what I could’ve done to fix him. I was not prepared for crying in the middle of English class as we read a story with a character named Alex, nor in the middle of the grocery store when I walked past the orange creamsicles, a treat we enjoyed together every day after school. This treat was no longer a joyful indulgence but a sick reminder of what I had lost.

Most importantly, I was not prepared for the trauma his death would cause my health, both mental and physical. No one tells you about the threatening decline your weight endures because you cannot eat for months, the night terrors that wake you up several times a week, the daily hallucinations, believing the person you lost is somehow sitting on the edge of your bed even though you saw his casket being lowered into the ground; my will to live began to lower with Alex’s mahogany casket. Merely breathing seemed like a task I had to put on my to-do list, living on borrowed time until I was able to be with Alex again. After four years without him, I still often contemplate all of the different things I could’ve done to fix him — to save him.

Summer is seen as a joyous season with the sun constantly beaming down on everything, from parents to children to the beautiful sunflowers that Alex loved so much. Students view summer as a godsent, bringing light to our lives as we avoid our school responsibilities and finally get to relax. I couldn’t agree less. It is unbeknownst to many how much pain and darkness this warm season can bring. In the summer of 2015, instead of swimming in the glistening salt water of Florida’s beaches, I was swimming in tears of sorrow as I laid a bouquet of sunflowers on Alex’s grave, standing out in the midst of a thousand roses.

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts or other crises, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255. Crisis Text Line also provides confidential, 24/7 support via text message; text “HOME” to 741741.