Paying Attention to the Silver Lining

Annaliese Jakimides - Bangor, Maine
As heard on NPR’s Weekend Edition, January 20, 2008
Annaliese Jakimides

Annaliese Jakimides' son committed suicide when he was 21. Today she keeps his memory alive by talking with everyone she meets — just the way he used to. In these personal connections, Jakimides believes she has found a silver lining in her youngest son’s death.

Age Group: 50 - 65
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I’m 57. Divorced after 28 years of marriage, I no longer have a house. I own very little, make a marginal living, and I lost my youngest child to suicide when he was 21. At my core I am grateful for it all — even my son’s death. It gave me the lens through which to see everything.

I believe in a silver lining.

I will forever carry my son with me. How can a mother not? This is the only choice I had: I could either carry him as a bag of rocks or I could live a life celebrating him. Now let me be honest here: I wailed for months before I figured out how to trade the rocks for the joy, and found the silver lining thing. I’m a people person, but Arrick was really a people person. He told me once, “I talk to everyone I want to talk to.”

“Everyone?” I asked incredulously.

“Well, yeah, I might miss someone I need to know.”

And now, five years later, I’ve embraced my son’s philosophy.

My daughter on the other hand, is more cautious — she shushes me when she sees I am about to say hello to a strange woman by the subway stop. “You can’t do that, Mom,” she says half laughing, knowing that I now see every single encounter as filled with possibilities that can make a difference in my life; that I am more eager than ever to connect with others.

Waiting for the train, I hear strains of an Ornette Coleman tune. I smile, and drop a precious five-dollar bill into the open case. My Arrick played the saxophone. I wish I had his saxophone’s soft leather traveling bag with me, so I could give it to this man in case he someday finds himself on the way to a non-street gig. I tell him that. He smiles.

Arrick couldn’t figure out how to make his way, how to live out the rest of his life. I believe he wanted to. When I call up that beautiful face and those elegant cocoa-brown fingers running along the sax’s keys, I am always convinced of it. The youngest of three, Arrick was the smartest, the funniest, and we all say so.

He was also the darkest, but no one ever saw him as suicide dark. The why of these choices is often not clear — actually downright murky. I still don’t know what brought him to suicide. What is clear, however, is that my son continues: He continues to be part of my story, the family’s story, and every day now I’m still making connections on his behalf.

And so I smile at the checker in the grocery store, discuss architecture with the homeless guy who reads every bad-weather day in the library. I tell the woman my daughter thinks I shouldn’t speak to that I love her fuchsia hat with the funky feathers, and I thank the saxophone player for the fine Coleman on a subway platform in wintry New York City.

Arrick’s death made me sit up and pay attention. I lingered on the edges before, playing it safe, but I’m in the game now. Arrick showed me the silver lining, and I’m showing it to everyone I meet.

Annaliese Jakimides is a writer and artist. Her poetry, essays, and short fiction have appeared in publications including Utne Reader, Hip Mama, Bangor Metro, GQ Italy, and Beloit Poetry Journal. A native of Boston, Jakimides lives in Bangor, Maine.

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