Column: A shriveled red rose is all that remains

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By Mackenzie Clark

All of Kansas City and NFL fans nationwide are feeling the blow of Saturday morning’s tragic event. Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher first shot and killed his girlfriend, Kassandra Perkins, then took his own life, leaving their three-month-old daughter, Zoey, an orphan.

I don’t like to publicize my personal life, but this is an issue that hits home for me. When I was 14, my brother Johnny committed suicide. Words cannot express the devastation my family felt at the time, and we still feel it seven years later.

My memory of that night – Feb. 22, 2005 – has not faded in the slightest. I remember the unexpected knock at the door, the instant nausea as I came down the stairs and realized it was a police officer… hearing, “We found your son slumped over the steering wheel of his car…”

Instant panic set in as I asked what was going on. My mother turned around with tears in her eyes, barely able to utter those horrifying words that changed all our lives forever: “Johnny’s dead.”

Thinking back on that night, and the weeks following, still makes me as sick to my stomach as I felt walking into his house and smelling the lingering exhaust fumes. Going through his belongings brought up so many memories which first led to laughter, then straight back to tears.

Certain images will forever plague my mind: my sister Kathie, overcome with grief at the funeral, throwing herself on the casket in a fit of despair; Johnny’s 8-year-old son, Tyler, serving alongside the adult men as a pallbearer; the gravestone marked “Daddy.”

I will always cherish the red rose I took from the funeral. The color has long since drained from its petals, but in my mind it is still as vivid and vibrant as my memories of Johnny. Of course, every rose has its thorns.

I think it’s safe to say that every aspect of one’s life changes when one experiences such a devastating loss. The wild mixture of emotions the grieving process brings is, on a good day, intolerable.

Particularly around this time of year, when Johnny was the one who brought the whole family together, I find myself staring at the empty seat on the couch where he belongs. Perhaps sometimes I still even expect to hear the loud knock on the door signaling my brother’s arrival at our house just before kickoff at Arrowhead Stadium.

None of us could have seen Johnny’s untimely death coming, but we could have prevented it, if only he had swallowed his pride and asked for help. We would’ve done anything then, just as we would do anything now, to have even one more moment with the brother, the son, the father, the uncle who left us all behind.

We would give anything just to tell Johnny we love him one more time.

I feel like I’m standing naked in front of a crowd writing this column, but I think it needs to be done. Although words can’t do the emotions justice, if sharing this story makes just one person take a step back and realize that death is never the answer and suicide isn’t even an option, I know it’s worth it.

It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done or how miserable your life may seem at that moment; there is help for you. If things can’t get any worse, that means they can only get better.

If you take your own life, you’re also taking more than you could possibly imagine from everyone who knows and loves you. I guarantee they would rather sacrifice everything they have than lose you.

Please, please reach out for help if you need it; even if you don’t want help, please accept it anyway for your loved ones. Someone in this world will be lost without you, clinging to a dead rose, wishing they could see you just once more.

Contact Mackenzie Clark, editor-in-chief, at mclark68@jccc.edu.

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