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Love is Eternal, Immortal

I was at work the morning my sister called from Boise. Tilde rarely calls so I knew instinctively something was wrong. Her voice broke into sobs as she delivered the news: Our brother Benny had passed away. He had ended his life.

Photo by Benny Quichocho

Let me tell you a little about my brother. Benny Joseph Quichocho was 11 years younger than me, a baby when I first moved to Guam. Even as a baby, Benny had a quiet and gentle spirit, one that stayed with him as he grew up. I have racked my memory and I cannot recall him raising his voice or talking back to anyone, ever.

When Benny laughed, his whole face lit up and his smile stretched to his ears. When he heard something that delighted or amazed him, his eyes would grow big and round with childlike wonder. He crocheted beautiful blankets and took stunning photos. He was very much an introvert and kept his thoughts to himself. He looked just like our dad. When dad’s hands were locked in arthritis, it was Benny who put socks on dad’s feet.

He was my father’s youngest child and only son. He would have turned 35 in August.

I’ve always felt that the traditions of mass and rosary to honor the deceased are more for the benefit of the living than for the dead. I don’t believe my prayers can sway God’s judgment. That’s between God and the one facing him. But I recite the prayers anyway because, in the wake of a crushing loss, it helps to have structure. It’s like having a guide to get you through the first nine days.

Photo by Benny Quichocho

Photo by Benny Quichocho

But then three days after my sister called, Guam got its first cases of Covid-19 and it wasn’t long before the island went into lockdown, consequently shuttering churches and banning gatherings. We plan to resume mass for Benny when restrictions are lifted.

It’s been a weird time, these weeks of grieving in quiet isolation. I’ve told very few about what my family and I have been processing. The pandemic is an effective distraction but there are moments when I’ll suddenly feel a mild grip of panic, a hardening in my chest, and my thoughts will turn to Benny.

I have never been in a place that was so dark I could not see a way out. I cannot fathom what torturous pain my brother must have endured. I do know that he was doing the things they say you’re “supposed” to do if you are contemplating the unthinkable: He was talking to a professional therapist, he was taking prescribed medication, he was regularly in touch with our sister who lived nearby. The two of them had plans to travel together later in the year.

I scan Benny’s Instagram for warning signs and all I see are gorgeous landscapes and artsy glimpses of his daily life. I don’t see any red flags – nothing that hints we should have known something was brewing. That things might be different if only we had paid closer attention.

Having had this time alone to reflect – and it feels very odd to say this because I don’t want to seem flippant – I’ve come to be somewhat at peace with Benny’s choice. Despite all of his earthly efforts, Benny ultimately decided to leave this world on his terms and I must accept that. None of us who love and miss him will ever know what his thoughts were in his final hours but I take comfort in the unwavering belief that God is unquestionably loving and merciful, even with gentle ones who succumb to mental health conditions.

Photo by Benny Quichocho

Photo by Benny Quichocho

In my heart, it is my greatest hope that wherever Benny is now, it’s with our dad and our sister Bessie, forever free from darkness and pain. And that one day, I hope a great many years from now, we’ll greet each other once again.

If you are in a dark place, may God give you the courage to speak to someone. You are not alone.

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