LOSS, Love, Laughter
By Ken DeLeon
In real estate, they speak of the three L’s – location, location, location – as the most important components of a home’s value. In my life, the three L’s are loss, love and laughter; looking back, it was my greatest loss that put me on the path to finding love and embracing laughter. This essay is about how losing my sister, the most painful experience in my life, paved the way for future triumphs. This is a story of turning darkness into light.
I generally do not speak about my sister, Jane. But given the prevalence of depression, anxiety, and resulting risk of suicide in our upcoming generations, I feel it is my duty to shine the spotlight on this topic to help address this borderline epidemic that is now the second leading cause of mortality amongst teenagers.
My sister committing suicide is the single greatest fork in my life. My parents went through a bitter divorce when Jane and I were seven and five, respectively. She had the same genius as my father, who was a brilliant math professor, and would always tutor me while also standing in as a replacement for my busy mother. We were amazingly close, both going to the same elementary and middle school, sharing a bathroom, and having daily nighttime talks. Our lives were inextricably intertwined and Jane was my guardian angel, in the truest sense of the word.
Everything changed when Jane entered high school. The transition was hard on my sister, as all her friends went to the neighboring school instead. She was left to navigate the new school, with class sizes several times larger than what she was used to, all by herself. Shortly after school began, Jane fell deeply in love with a boy from the same school who was a year older. My sister fully immersed herself in the relationship and lost her sense of identity. I could only watch with concern when my sister began isolating herself from our parents and started being less open with me. Jane’s relationship was rocky from the start – she would be exuberantly happy, then despair when breaking up, only to get back with her boyfriend again shortly thereafter as if nothing had happened.
After dating on and off all through high school, Jane’s boyfriend went off to college a year before her. He and Jane still tried to date during this time. Then came the fateful day: on Labor Day of 1987, when I had barely turned 15, Jane’s boyfriend broke up with her for good. Jane took her own life later that night. I was the one who last spoke to her, and also the one who found her.
Losing my sister was a hand grenade to my heart. At first, I was overwhelmed with guilt. I kept replaying the last forty-eight hours in my mind and desperately tried to pinpoint what I could have done differently to save my sister. I tried my hardest to recall all our most recent conversations, and started imagining what particular words I should have said in our final moments together. Almost scientifically, I traced all the events, and looked back at every fork in the road leading up to Jane’s death in order to figure out where I committed the fatal mistake.
Guilt soon transformed into anger. I thought of this question thousands, even millions of times: How could she do this to me and our parents? No matter how hard I tried, I could not wrap my mind around Jane’s decision to end her own life, leaving everything behind, over a single boy. I recall the feeling of bewilderment – my entire face would burn red whenever I thought of my sister’s irrationality, and her resulting death.
But the passage of time changed my attitude and emotions. Slowly but surely, I began to feel more and more empathy for Jane and started to wonder how she felt and what she saw before making that fatal decision. Then, there was just the feeling of acceptance, and no more anger. I came to realize that my sister was so depressed and distraught that she truly did not know what she was doing and did not think fully of the consequences. When I think of how much Jane must have been suffering, the feeling of pure love swells up within me and I can finally connect the dots. Jane was my saint, my guardian angel. She gave me love, warmth, and the courage to be myself. Surely, she would have wanted me to move forward, to create a better life not only for myself, but for others. And so I swore that I would live a life worth living, to leave behind a legacy that she helped start. It took me six years since Jane’s death, from when I was just fifteen, to come to this revelation. I hope by sharing this personal arc of healing, I can help others accept their loss and find the strength and motivation to move onwards and upwards.
Since Jane’s death, I never take a life lesson for granted. Circling back to the three L’s of loss, love and laughter, the three main thoughts I would like to impart to readers to go from loss to laughter are:
1. Be 100% self-reliant. My sister’s fatal flaw was letting another person determine her self-worth. I am of a completely opposite train of thought: I do not need validation from others, as my self-worth can only be determined by myself. While I love being around others, I try to avoid the need to be liked by everyone, for that is such a limited way of living. I have the ability to generate my own happiness, motivation, energy, and satisfaction alone, and this has allowed me to create a new, more ethical and client-centric business model that has revolutionized real estate and forever changed the industry for the better. The paradox I have found is that when you do not care what everyone thinks of you, everyone cares to be around you. The great irony is that the key to setting others free is to first free yourself.
2. Focus on strengths and positives. Before Jane’s suicide, she was burdened with absurdly high expectations as the first born. Her 99% test scores in both Math and English were excellent, but the sad irony is that many geniuses use their intellect to overanalyze their flaws. Sadly, Jane focused on what she lacked versus what she had. To help myself recover, I vowed to take the best parts of Jane inside of me. I became more empathetic and aware, and also became a
better communicator. I ended every conversation with family members by telling them I love them, since those being my last words to Jane gave me solace. With Jane gone I wanted to achieve more in life and honor her memory by using her loss to fuel me to greater heights. My grades went from B+/A- to all A’s, and I sat in the front row and became fully engaged in school. Until age 40, I lived for Jane almost more than myself as I thought of her daily. I have now released this through finally coming to terms with her loss and now my focus is my children and my clients.
3. Become an inspiration to others. I became a motivational speaker so others could benefit. While it is wise to learn from your own life mistakes, it is even better to learn from the errors of others. I used the emotional loss of Jane and my other tragedies to speak to many local high schools. My four tragedies have given me a unique perspective on life, and I enjoy sharing this perspective on a volunteer basis at many local schools, to at risk youth, and suicide prevention groups. It is my hope that, having spoken to thousands of people over the last two decades, maybe the loss of Jane and then my speech might have helped a teenager get
through a hard night to realize that the sun will rise just as beautifully tomorrow.
While I still think of my sister, I am actually thankful that my focus is now more on my children. This is what Jane would want, and I picture her smiling at my trying to give the joy she was meant to give the world, and knowing that her greatness still shines on through my speeches and actions of trying to help others love themselves as the loss of Jane taught me to love myself.
My next article will detail the life lesson I learned when recovering from a nearly fatal accident when I was hit by a speeding car while walking on the sidewalk with my father.