Francesca's Story

In November of 2018, my grandparents were in a fatal car accident after leaving my cousin’s wedding. My grandparents were my best friends. If you ask any of my friends or family members, they would tell you that I was always at their house every chance I got. I called them multiple times per day. I suffered from extreme anxiety over exams during my college undergraduate program and would throw up until I put on my grandfather’s shirt and called him to hear his voice. All it took to calm my nerves was him telling me that I could do it. He believed in me when I did not believe in myself. In that car accident, my grandfather died on impact. My grandmother, thankfully, after a few weeks of hospitalization was okay. That was a Saturday night; Sunday morning at 10:00am, I had an exam. I did not attend the wedding; therefore, I had no idea what happened. That Sunday morning, I did not hear from my grandfather, the very first time he did not call me before an exam. Then again, Monday before my second exam I did not hear from him again. I had no idea why he was not calling me or why neither of them were answering my phone calls. Monday night, after I finished my last exam, my mother told me that what happened. I fell to the floor alone and cried. My worst nightmare came to life.

Over my Thanksgiving break, my grandmother remained in another state in the hospital. My mom and uncle stayed with her; therefore, I went to my other Uncle/Godfather’s house to be with the rest of my family. I was a mess, and I got screamed at in my face for crying. My Uncle/Godfather told me that I had to be strong because everyone looked to me to see how I reacted. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a 20 year old. With the help of my aunt, I put my emotions aside, and helped prepare Thanksgiving dinner. I was even the one to tell the younger cousins that our grandfather was dead, because no adult had the heart to do it.

A few days later, my grandmother was transported to a hospital back home. Without thought, I moved into the hospital chair next to her. I watched the strongest, most prideful woman in the world struggle to sit up. I fed her every day and attended therapy sessions with her. I did everything I could to motivate her throughout her recovery. But, every single day for one week, she asked me where my grandfather was. And every single day, I had to tell her all over again. I watched her eyes that were once filled with hope, fill with devastation and despair. I held her as she cried. The entire time, I held my emotions inside and did not let her see that I was hurting too. At my grandfather’s funeral, I was the only one of all the immediate family who did not cry. Instead, I walked around and comforted everyone else. At the end, right before they closed the casket, after everyone else left the room, I stayed. I fell to the floor and cried by myself, because I didn’t want to upset anyone else. My best friend and my hero was dead and my top priority was to take care of everyone else around me instead of face my own grief. I stayed by my grandma’s side throughout the next month of her recovery. I slept on the floor next to her bed in my Uncle/Godfather’s house every night. During that time, my aunt and I got a lot closer. We stayed up late every night talking and laughing and watching movies, trying to find happiness in the little things. We tried to avoid the reality that was breaking us inside.

Then Christmas came, and I couldn’t handle the grief I was feeling. I was getting a lot of heat from other family members and being blamed for things outside of my control. My depression had slowly built up, until I attempted to hurt myself. My Uncle/Godfather laid down with me and held me. He promised me that we would get through this together and everything would be okay. I believed him, because he was always so strong. He always made me feel protected and safe, and I admired him greatly. I started hanging out with him more. I went to his house and read outside when only he was home, and he came outside and chatted with me. New Years Eve, we shared a stone crab and talked a lot. He gave me so many lectures on believing in myself and not letting anyone get to me. He even gave me the biggest compliment that one could get from him: “Your parents have no idea how lucky they are to have you as a daughter. I hope that my kids grow up to be just like you.” I knew I had to pull myself together to be the best role model I could for all of my cousins. I wanted to be for them who my aunt was for me.

​Flash forward a few days, I left to go back to school. One night, my mother sent a text saying my grandmother might need brain surgery and she is seeing a neurosurgeon tomorrow. I drove home at 3:00am to make sure I was there for that appointment. She did not end up having the appointment that day, so I made the most of the trip home and visited with my family. My aunt and Uncle/Godfather asked me to babysit Saturday night so they could go out. They promised to be home at 7:00am. This was the very first time I asked them to be home by a certain time because of plans I had the next day. I went to their house and watched their kids, my two little cousins, who I would consider little sisters more than cousins. I spent the last 7 years babysitting them all the time, and doing everything I could with them, from taking them to the movies to watching their dance performances to karaoke battles. We put on the Taylor Swift concert that night and had a dance party. My Uncle/Godfather was so annoyed by my singing (he always said I was the worst singer ever) so he said “I’m waiting outside.” I said, “I love you. Have fun tonight, make good choices.” The same goodbye I said every time I babysat to both my aunt and Uncle/Godfather. Little did I know that would be the last thing I ever said to him. They were not home the next morning, so I dropped the kids off with my grandmother. During the day, my aunt was texting me. I was mad at her for not keeping her promise to be home, so I did not take her seriously. However, after her third text, I jumped in my car to go see what was going on. She called me while I was on my way that she needed me to come over. While she was on the phone with me, my Uncle/Godfather killed himself. I chased the police to the house, not knowing what had happened yet. I wasn’t allowed out of my car at first, then I wasn’t allowed on the property. I kept asking, “Are my aunt and uncle okay?” They avoided answering, but they asked me a lot of questions. After what felt like forever, they let me walk close enough to see that my aunt was okay, but no one would tell me where my Uncle/Godfather was. Then, one cop walked out and said, “Yep, her husband is deceased.” I felt my heart drop, and I fell to my knees, but in that moment I saw my aunt look at me and I knew I had to hold it together. They walked her over to me and confirmed with her what had happened. She collapsed in my arms, and I lifted her off the ground. From that moment on, I didn’t leave her side. I moved in, withdrew from the semester at school, and did everything I could to help my aunt and two little cousins. Everyday, my mind was consumed with guilt that I didn’t arrive sooner. I felt responsible, like I should have known and stopped it. I stayed up till 4/5am every night with her to help with the stuff he left behind and held her while she fell apart. Every day, I woke up at 6:30am and made breakfast for the kids then took them to school. At his funeral, I read the Eulogy written by my cousin, his daughter. Throughout the funeral, I did not break down, and that took everything inside of me. Imagine losing one of your best friends, almost losing the other best friend, stepping up to help your grandma through a major recovery, falling apart but knowing that your Uncle/Godfather will always be there for you so you try to pull yourself back together, your Uncle/Godfather committing suicide, and then taking on a role that no 20 year old could be prepared for. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew that I had to be there for them. My aunt and Uncle/Godfather were always there for me, and I would do anything in the world for my aunt and two little cousins. After two months of not sleeping and holding in all the pain of losing my Grandfather and my Uncle/Godfather on top of the pain of watching a woman I looked up to who always found a way to laugh fall apart, I lost myself. My heart broke more and more everyday, and I started to look for a safe place. I found it at the cemetery. Sitting with my back against my Grandfather’s tomb, staring at my Uncle/Godfather’s. Eventually, that safe place became the worst place for me because I imagined being with them.

After a while, my depression again consumed me, but this time I had no one to turn to. When I tried talking to my aunt, she cried and I hated feeling like I was hurting her. So, I let the horrible thoughts continue to go through my head. I attempted to hurt myself two more times. The last attempt, I brought myself to the hospital because I was extremely afraid of myself. I was Baker Acted for 5 days before starting an intense program of Neurofeedback Therapy for ten weeks followed by weekly therapy sessions.

It’s been almost a year now and I am doing better, but recovery is a long and difficult process. Now, I am starting “Inspiring My Generation.” It is a nonprofit dedicated to promoting mental health awareness and normalizing the conversation. On this platform, I will share all the tips I learn throughout my recovery, educate others on mental health, and engage in conversations aimed at normalizing the conversation. 

originally published 7/28/2019

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