Where Strength Grows Best

My great grandpa killed himself. This actually crosses my mind more than you’d think, considering I never met the man. My great grandma found him hanging in their barn before I was even born. Every time I hear of someone taking their own life, I wonder about what haunted their dark place. What was too heavy to carry any longer? When I think about my great grandpa’s suicide, I think about how it must’ve felt to bury his own two year old son after watching the silo he was dismantling fall the wrong way, crushing his toddler’s bones right in front of him. His moonshine production kept their farm afloat until the mafia caught onto him stealing their business. I think about the torture he endured when they kidnapped him, repeatedly dunking his body into a frozen lake and leaving him to find his way home on his own. I don’t remember how many days my grandma said he had gone missing for. I suppose by the time dementia crept into his brain, nobody was surprised by his deteriorated mental health.

The Bible says that suicide is a sin and I’ve heard we inherit the sins of our ancestors, but the events that haunted my great grandpa must have made his decision seem worthy of mercy. I believe that’s what suicide is sometimes – mercy. The world couldn’t see the pain caused by accidentally killing his own son, the trauma that lingered from being punished by the mob, or the scars carved into his brain by the dementia that crippled it. No, the world didn’t see that. The world saw my great grandma Geneva, cutting down her husband’s lifeless body, selling the farm, and putting on a brave face for their daughter he left behind. The world saw my grandma, grieving a brother and a father, raised by a single mother in a time when fatherless, unmarried women were pitied far more than a man with mental illness on the verge of killing himself.

I’ve caught myself feeling hints of resentment towards the man who first broke my grandma, the one who left his wife and daughter in the wake of his distress. I also know that when somebody takes their own life, there is no one, singular sinner. There’s just a broken man hanging in barn, found by a devoted wife who subsequently, was broken too. I guess if I carry the sins of my family, perhaps it explains the pieces of my brokenness that I don’t understand.

My great grandpa never got to see his daughter become my grandma, the woman who raised me and whose death broke me. She once wrote:

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If it’s true that we inherit sin, could our broken places be passed down, too? My blood is laced with my mother’s eyes and smile, my father’s humor (and nose), my grandma’s unconditional ability to love, and the broken places handed down from ancestors I’ve never met. Some religions may consider my great grandpa to have been weak, but the strength that grew from the cracks his death left behind now flows throughout my veins.

Being strong because you’re brave is admirable, but being strong because you’re broken is in our blood. It’s our broken places where strength grows best.

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