The Struggle Defined – To Cope with Suicide of a Dear Friend, Hannah. By Emma Grace Tanner

Dec 22, 2015

Things That Are Good

Like most teenage girls, Hannah and I made a summer bucket list. Unlike most teenagers we made ours happen. We climbed to the top of Snow Basin at 4:30 A.M. to watch the sunrise, did a photo shoot in an abandoned building, and painted sunflowers on the jeans we looked tirelessly through thrift shops to find. In the summer of 2013 she taught me to love everyone unconditionally, leave my fears on the sidelines, and that when you are broken, don’t wallow, go make someone else’s day. That was just her style.

I am physically capable of smiling and laughing

My phone is ringing. I don’t think that ringtone will ever sound the same. I have to change it when I get home. This is the second phone call I didn’t want to answer today. I owe it to McKay to answer; he let me straighten his hair just because it was the only thing that made me smile, since the first phone call. That call… that day… June 19, 2014.

There are people who care about me

I route the call through Bluetooth and I don’t regret it. Just hearing a friendly voice, even if we were brand new friends, made the lonely drive home bearable. Little did I know the call that I didn’t even want to pick up would change the course of my life: the way I acted, what I did and why I did it was all for a brand new reason. At sixteen years old I gained a purpose. “Em, Hannah saved your life.  The only thing you can do now is to live your life more like Hannah did. To show her how grateful you are for what she did for you. She may be gone now. But you now get the chance  to do everything she never got to do, for the both of you.” McKay didn’t hang up until hours later when he knew that I was home, in bed, and asleep.

I have an amazing family

I was at my grandmother’s house when the first phone call came in that day. As I pressed the green icon, I felt and immediate sinking, “Emma… Did you hear about Hannah?” Gabbi didn’t have to say anything else, with the way her voice cracked as she said Hannah’s name, I knew what had happened.   After the call I walked into the living room, dragging my bare feet through the carpet, but the carpet didn’t feel soft anymore, I wanted to put on socks, but that took too much energy. Talking felt like trying to squeeze dried superglue out of the tube, so I didn’t. My family is not touchy feely, but my mom held me in her arms and rocked me that day. I imagine that she did the same thing when I was a baby and wouldn’t stop crying.

Hannah lived a life of adventure to be envious of

The posts from loved ones on Instagram and Facebook flooded in. Another beautiful picture of the brown-eyed girl the rest of the world knew of as the Student Body Officer President, funniest person in the room, talented artist, and everybody’s best friend. How does one handle this? I had never lost anybody even remotely close to me before. And Hannah is (or do I use “was” now?)  my best friend. The only thing I can control is my own actions, and looking through these posts only brought me down. Loving messages from family and friends were just a reminder I would never get another one from Hannah ever again. So I turned off my phone and left to stay with my brother, Jon, and his fiancé, Lochlan, in Rexburg.

I know my Father in Heaven loves me

Who in their right mind wants to be in Rexburg? Unless you are going to school there it’s not like there is anything exciting about it, but it was an escape. I didn’t need anything special. All I wanted was to go somewhere where no one knew my name and people wouldn’t give me the look of, “Oh you’re one of Hannah’s friends?”  The,   “I don’t know what to tell someone whose friend was found hanging by a belt in her closet” look. They looked into my bloodshot eyes the same way you look at the neighbor’s dog you just hit with your car. Guilty, sad, but unsure of what you can actually do. That is a little harsh, and of course people are kind and want to help, but Huntsville is a small town, and there was no escaping the sympathetic words and lackluster pity hugs. It was just not what I wanted to deal with.

I will forever think of Lochlan’s apartment as a safe haven. Her roommates were sweeter than the Tillamook ice-cream we binged on, and best of all, they knew nothing. Being treated like a human being was the best feeling in the world. We visited an art museum in Idaho Falls and I got to see my first Pablo Picasso in person. I sat in front of it for an entire hour. After that we went to the famous thrift shop where everything you can stuff in a grocery bag is five dollars. The smell of dusty clothes and vinyl records caused a few tears to sneak out of my stale eyes, but I bought a pair of vintage overalls and made a swift recovery.

The sky still rains

“Mom. I can’t do it. I just can’t,” I argued, my eyes still crusty, tendrils of hair plastered to my tear-streaked face. The only remnants of last nights’ battle with reality.  It’s now been a week since Hannah chose to leave, and the sun shines just a little dimmer to pay its respects. Today I am going to my first funeral. Almost as a mockery the argument of the morning is what I will I wear. “Emma,” My mother sits down on my bed, being the voice of reason she always is, “Would Hannah want you to wear black today?”

“Of course not… she would slap me if I wore black. I just don’t want to seem disres-…”

“Then don’t. Wear something that Hannah would be proud of.” Why are moms always right?

I looked at my closet and was disgusted; everything had a memory and that is exactly what I couldn’t face right now. While rummaging through clothes I had considered wearing a hundred times I saw something in the bottom of my closet, hidden beneath my snow boots, this is what she would have chosen for me. With thankful tears, I struggled out of the pajamas that were luring me back into bed for the rest of eternity.

Eventually, I walked out of the house in my white dress that had subtle grey tie-dye. The first time Hannah saw me in it she said, “That’s the dress you were wearing when we met in heaven. When God told us that we had a special connection, and together we could accomplish anything.” Hannah was always saying things like this. The veil over her eyes was tissue paper thin.

At the gravesite, just as her brother was saying goodbye, it began to rain. Hannah was with us, but now her tears fall from the clouds when we need them the most. We are told in church that if we pray to feel Christ’s love, no matter what, it will come. When I pray to feel Hannah’s love, it rains.

The sun comes up every morning

The only problem with my escape was it made the all too famous first stage of grief more prevalent.  Denial . Coming home from Rexburg if you asked me if I just lost a friend I probably would have answered, “Nope, it was just a nightmare.” Sophia, a dear friend to Hannah and me, took me on a sunrise hike; where that beautiful ball of fire welcomed us to the new day. I’m not angry person, but nothing made me more furious than thinking about having to go through another day.  We responded with therapeutic screaming in British accents and crying.  Sophia suggested I go and visit Hannah’s mom, Laura.

There was a piece of printer paper scotch-taped to the front door that read, “Come on in, tears and laughter are welcomed and encouraged.” I saw Laura’s empty eyes and I knew it was true. She made it just in time to give me a hug that only a mother can give, which also helped me from completely crumbling to the floor of the kitchen. The same kitchen where I spilt a bowl of brownie batter just 28 days before. These are heinous things, but there is no veto in death. I realized that feeling is so much better than denial. At least in feeling I know I am not alone.

There are good people in this screwed-up world

Hannah’s older brother, Chase, brought me down to her room, where Mr. Fluffy, the giant stuffed monkey that already contained more than enough of my tears, sat on her bed, greeting me like he always did. My reflex was to run and hug Mr. Fluffy, but Chase stopped me, he held me until my sobbing was at a lull and said, “Emma, I have always thought of you as a little sister. And now that Hannah is gone I don’t want that to ever change. She would talk about you. Did you know about that? Almost every time I called when I was working in Arkansas she would rave about some new treat that you made her; your cooking was something that gave her joy like nothing else. I’m going to tell you a secret…is that okay?”

I tried to nod my head but he was still holding me so tightly I was barely able to send the message across.

He understood. “A long time ago she made me promise that I would always keep you safe and make you as happy as possible. I want you to know I have no plans to break that promise.”

I have a strong testimony of the Atonement and Plan of Salvation

If I ever thought the Atonement was my life line before, it was even more so now. It was my comfort when I was in a wheelchair. I knew that Christ had felt what I was feeling and I wasn’t alone. But I hadn’t experienced death before, the spirit of the devil working on you at every turn to make you want to wallow in your sorrows, to believe that all hope was lost. Your loved one is gone and everything that is left of them is now buried in the ground. This tug-of-war on rare occasions still takes place in my head, but I know who wins the battle. I couldn’t be more grateful for my foundational testimony of the Atonement I gained when I was in 7th grade, when my health was slipping downhill. Now I was called to be a lighthouse to the sad and confused.

God has given me the perfect amount of trials to make me strong

June 19, 2014

Hannah Rashelle Warburton committed suicide today. She was there for me throughout everything; I know that she will still be there now, just in a different way. If the Plan of Salvation were not available to me, this would kill me. But it is accessible to me and I know that I will see her again and that I can and will feel joy. As for the list, McKay challenged me to write down all of my blessings while on the phone with him. I titled it Things That Are Good Even Though It Feels Like Hell, because the thought of a list of good things made me livid. I am surrounded by amazing people. Thank you Heavenly Father, you and Hannah prepared me perfectly.

Love always, em

(reprinted unedited with permission)


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About the Author

I'm a mom who lost her precious 16-year-old daughter to suicide on June 19, 2014. I am a mom to two young men and a wife to my wonderful husband. We learn from tragedy to make each day better. That's resilience.

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1 Comment

  1. Ashley Ludlow

    Tears are streaming down my face. What a beautiful memory. Thank you for writing this and sharing it with us.


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