September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Read and share stories to honor survivors whose loved ones died by gun suicide.

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Haley Parker Rinehart

In honor of Eli

In April 2002, my then four-year-old son, Eli, found an unsecured gun at his paternal grandmother’s home and shot himself in the head. It took numerous neurosurgeries, the removal of his right eye, right temporal bone and part of his right temporal lobe, but he survived. Gun violence changed my entire life. I had to watch my son relearn how to walk; his balance was now an issue due to unilateral vision. I had to watch him get bullied and made fun of. I watched him change from a bubbly toddler to a sullen, withdrawn child, then teen, then young adult. The scars that he bore, that to me showed strength far greater than any I had seen before, were the subjects of jokes and ridicule by my son’s peers. I watched the child who fought SO HARD to live want to die because of how he was treated. I watched his self-confidence decline. I also watched as he broke down and cried with survivor’s guilt for those who have been taken by gun violence. People have often told him he is lucky, but he doesn’t feel lucky. He feels guilty.

Gun violence has also made me more afraid. With every medical hiccup, I go into a panic, thinking “what if.” Eli has free-floating bone fragments in his brain — the after-effects of a shattered skull and eye socket. The neurosurgeons couldn’t removed them due to their locations without risk of causing more neurological and cognitive damage. What happens if one embeds somewhere and causes a stroke or seizure? What if one causes a blood clot to form? Or worse? And I also cannot rest when my children are away from me. I panic and worry that they might get ahold of something dangerous, be in a car accident, etc. Gun violence has put me on high alert. I don’t feel safe at my kids’ schools, the grocery store, movies, concerts, anywhere anymore. Guns are everywhere. I dare say I will always be this way, because one gun, one bullet, one second changed my life forever.

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