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Timothy Schenke

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Without Tim - book cover

Without Tim:
A Sonís Fall to Suicide,
A Motherís Rise from Grief
Both Sides Now

I often looked into the sky, far into the distance, for Tim that first summer when I was walking, bicycling, or riding in the car. Iím unsure of whether I was looking for his face, a symbol, or just some type of connection. Bike riding, my favorite hobby, was also becoming very therapeutic for me. Prior to that summer when I had the opportunity to choose between sitting on the beach and taking a bike ride on a weekday afternoon, I often sat on the beach. As the boys grew older and I no longer needed to watch them as closely, I had gained a lot more freedom. My part-time work as a personal trainer allowed me to work from the wee hours of the morning until about noon, with a limited amount of work in the late afternoon and evening. I always cleared my schedule after 2:00 P.M. to attend my sonsí sporting events, medical appointments, and everything else, and I loved benefitting from this type of schedule during the summer too.

Now in the summer of 2008, I felt more restless sitting still, and seemed to feel better and think better with the movement of riding. Besides the riding itself, I also like to people-watch along the coastal towns. I live in such a great place, and itís a treat to see the locals and tourists flock to the beach. I like seeing people happy and seeing them enjoy what I love most.

Just before Tim died, I had been reading the book, Medjugorje, which is about the sightings of the Virgin Mary in Yugoslavia. My friend, Mary, had given me the book to pass along to Tim, with hope that he would read it, just weeks before he died. I had shared and supported Maryís suggestion and left the book out for a while. I pretty much knew Tim wouldnít pick it up and read it, so a week or two later I started reading it myself. One of the topics the book discusses is how some visitors to Medjugorje saw colors in the sky. Not all saw the colors, but they were a common sight. One day in July í08 I was riding my bike, and I saw a burst of color in the sky. For some reason, I felt certain that this patch of color was for me, either from the Virgin Mary or from Tim. I was tempted to pull over and ask someone else if he could see it too, but I opted against it. I decided that it was for me, I wanted it all for myself, and I didnít want or need to know about what anyone else saw. I cried a little, continued on, and after about twenty minutes it faded away. Color is a strong, positive motivator for me. Sometimes I feel that looking at certain colors, especially blues and yellows, lifts my spirits. I almost feel that I can internally feel them or even taste them at times. I believe in signs, and I think I remain open without falsely creating them for myself. My sense is that if you are not open to or actively looking for signs, you will miss some truly important moments.

Andy and I had returned to some of our favorite boardwalks that summer. It wasnít unusual for us to go alone because the boys had become disinterested and frequently chose to stay local with friends, as they had during the previous few summers. When we walked on Ocean City boardwalk or Seaside Heights boardwalk, I had such mixed emotions. Remembering the great times with all three boys at the same time was so precious and yet so hurtful. Andy said we didnít have to continue to come, but I wanted to, and the visits remained--and remain--bittersweet.

Throughout the summer months I completed the thank-you cards and began putting some of the items related to Timís death away--items such as the banners from MHS that I had hung on his bedroom walls; several Heights, MHS, and uniform shirts with signatures of Timís friends; stacks of sympathy cards; folders containing newspaper and internet printouts; and all business papers related to the cremation/burial. When I let a few of Timís close friends choose a t-shirt from his collection, each of them would smell the shirt and comment that it had "his smell." Funny, I never thought Tim had a smell. I am aware of Andy, Pete, and Daveís personal scents, but not Timís. I suppose thatís because itís too close to my own. It may be because he and I are not fans of cologne and we share the same laundry detergent and soap, or just genetics or human nature.

I had also begun looking through more of Timís things. I inspected his room regularly, I guess looking for a good-bye note or some very specific evidence of why he took his life, although nothing concrete ever surfaced. I often looked through schoolwork I had saved, especially personal pieces Tim had created or written. I think the most meaningful of all was Timís tenth grade English journal. It appeared that some days the students were not told what to write about, while other days they were assigned a topic. The assigned topic that caught my attention was to write about the best day of your life. Tim expressed that the best day of his life was his eighth grade graduation day because his parents were so happy. Tim had graduated as Salutatorian and had given a speech. He knew how happy and proud we were that night. Itís hard to express how touched I was; how Tim would choose the expression of our happiness as his happiest day. I wanted to hold Tim and tell him how much I loved him and appreciated his love for us. I wanted to thank him, over and over, for such a selfless choice. The journal entry brought me back to the one and only night when Tim admitted his suicidal feelings to me. That evening, Tim told me, "I love you, even though I donít act it." I have such sadness over so much unexpressed love on all of our parts.

That first summer after Timís death, neither David nor Peter would allow me to express any sadness about Tim. Davidís sleeping problems seemed to disappear, probably because he wasnít on much of a schedule. It also appeared that he was able to put away his feelings, which allowed him to function normally. I worried just how long these feelings would stay away, and Iíd say they remained dormant until late October or early November when he was less busy because soccer season had ended. I remember Davidís telling me to stop crying and threatening that he would go out if I didnít stop. Pete, on the other hand, would sometimes even show aggression. He became defensive and said things like, "You have no idea why Tim died." or "I hate you for nagging me, and so did Tim!" While David seemed unattached and was bluntly telling me to keep away, Pete seemed to be pushing me away with words, which was not out of character for my most outspoken child. I had to remind myself--and Andy--that Peter needed to express his feelings, as hurtful as they were to me. Even though Andy isnít usually verbally expressive, I do think he feels the hurt that I feel from our children when I get the back-talk because I am often speaking for both of us. He sometimes responds in my defense when the back-talk occurs, and that can be a helpful or harmful thing, depending on the day.

Around mid-August, I once again insisted that Pete and Dave try therapy, this time with someone different who also had been personally recommended. After one mandatory visit each, the boys declined, and I was again told they were functioning well and I was better off not to force the issue. It is still difficult to discuss my feelings about Tim with Pete and David. I have to walk that fine line between taking advantage of an opportune moment for conversation and saying too much, which results in shutdown. However, having a discussion about anything that involves Tim now is not nearly as stressful as that first summer. And even a small change has made a big difference.

One day, while grocery shopping, I heard the song "Both Sides Now" by Judy Collins playing throughout the store. It triggered such strong feelings that I started crying and for several weeks thought about the line, "Thereís nothing lost but nothing gained in living every day". I felt it was a depressing phrase, and I had a hard time getting it out of my head. Finally, I decided to look up the lyrics because I wasnít sure of them all. To my surprise, the line actually read, "And somethingís lost, but somethingís gained in living every day." I decided to act on this message and turn the depressing thoughts into uplifting thoughts. I try to remain open to as many signals as possible, and music can be one of my favorite deliveries.


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