Everyone on my mom's side of the family has a nickname. My mom is "Girl"; my step-dad is "Joser"; and my uncle Ruben is "Rubicks Cube". My sister "Chaya" calls my daughter "The Onion". I think the ability to come up with nicknames is some sort of Terrazas superpower and I'm sure I have a relative who gives nicknames to all of his neighbors in Durango, Mexico. It's our only real family tradition. I never called anyone by their nickname except for my cousin Jose. He was always Pepito to me. Jose never seemed to fit him because it was always too serious of a name for someone who was as silly and fun as he was. Pepito was the name my mom used when she called to tell me the bad news.
The details of that afternoon are still fresh in my mind, even a month later. I had just gotten back to my car after grocery shopping and saw three missed calls from my mom. I called her back and she told me that she had bad news. "Pepito is dead." He was only thirty-five, so I assumed he had been in a car wreck. At the absolute worst is that he could have been murdered. I'm not a stranger to losing someone that way. It would be a painful, but familiar type of loss. Then she said the word I never expected to hear--suicide. The shock broke into the most unimaginable grief I had ever experienced because I was mourning for the little boy I grew up with.
Pepito's face is one of my earliest memories. We lived in the same apartment complex, so we saw each other all the time. We used to play with his Hot Wheels and Ninja Turtles or watch The Land Before Time when my mom would visit his mom. He never excluded me and was always happy to play with me. As we grew older, he always marveled at the fact that I loved to read. The last time I saw him was at my college graduation and he told me that I was smart enough to be a scientist, despite the fact that I just earned a degree in history. I always wanted an older brother and God blessed me with the next best thing--Pepito.
Pictures from our childhood show a beautiful boy smiling at the camera. Since his death, I've realized that he was happy to be with my family because it was vastly different from his own. My mom always took him out with us and she was affectionate with him. I know now that his life was one of emotional, and possibly physical, abuse. He was made to feel like he wasn't wanted in his own home, but not at our house. I always wanted him around. I wish he could have known how much I loved him, but his depression may not have allowed him to believe it. Knowing the factors that cause someone to die by suicide and actually losing someone to suicide are very different things. In the hours after I received the news, I felt like I was adrift in my grief.
Saint Louis was the only place I wanted to be in the hours following the phone call. Aside from my grief, I had questions that only the Church could answer and I am grateful that my husband encouraged me to reach out to our church. Luckily, Father Doug was available to talk and pray with me that afternoon. He told me that my sorrow was the result of my love for Pepito. "If you didn't love him you wouldn't be feeling sorrow.” Something was eating away at me because I loved him so much. I needed to know if he was damned. We all know that suicide violates the Fifth Commandment, which makes it a mortal sin. Father Doug explained that there were two mitigating factors. The first is that if someone is in the grips of a deep insanity, they're not as culpable. Pepito had struggled with depression and alcoholism for quite a while and he saw no other way to ease his pain. The second factor is that a person can be saved if they ask for forgiveness before death. I also consulted the Catechism which says "We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives." (CCC 2283) In the end, it all boils down to the fact that I have to trust in God's mercy.
My grief comes in waves. Sometimes I'm able to put my feelings aside and accept the fact that he's gone. Other times my feelings are overwhelming. I'm sad because he was in such pain and he couldn't see how much his grief would affect those of us who loved him. I'm angry at him for leaving his children fatherless two days after Father's Day. Most of the time I feel such pain for the little boy who just wanted to be loved. Our world outside Saint Louis is more connected than it has ever been, yet people are more isolated than ever. It's easy to assume that the person smiling on Instagram isn't suffering in silence. If we are going to be a community that is devoted to preserving life, we have to be willing to discuss depression and suicide in a way that ends the stigma. Any time a celebrity dies by suicide, my Facebook feed fills with resources for those who are considering suicide. Telling suicidal people to reach out isn't a solution because it places the burden on the one who is suffering. It's only by making a more connected and loving world that we can help our brothers and sisters in the depths of their depression.