English grammar and punctuation is intriguing as much as it is (very, very) annoying. A simple comma can alter the whole meaning of a sentence. With the placement of a comma, you turn calling Grandma to eat with you into cannibalism (“Let’s eat, Grandma” versus “Let’s eat Grandma”).
The movement of a word to a new position changes the meaning of the whole sentence. In fact, a misplaced word confuses a sentence. And a period ends one. But there is something about the semicolon; it continues the thought. A period ends the sentence completely whereas the semicolon is a decision to continue the thought of the sentence and keep on going forward.
In February of 2020, I decided I was going to die. My deep dark major depression had taken over. But I lived. Brothers and sisters in Christ walked alongside of me—then and now. In January of 2023, I saw the anniversary of that time coming towards me, the memories seeping in slowly like a bad nightmare. The pain I felt. The pain I caused in my daughter’s life, in loved ones' lives, I saw it like it was happening again.
As the three-year anniversary of my decision to die approached, I saw the pain in my daughter’s face. Three years later, she continued to struggle with it. I went through three years of weekly therapy to process and work through my depression. I had my medications adjusted. My daughter didn’t feel like she could fully talk about it. The three-year anniversary came and went. Nothing was mentioned. No words were spoken about it. The very topic and mentioning of that day in February of 2020 is taboo and never spoken of.
And then I decided to get a tattoo. A tattoo of a semicolon.
When I wrote my previous piece on The Network, I was contemplating the tattoo. I wanted others to know that someone’s deep decision to die was real; it shouldn’t be taboo. The topic needs to be discussed in the open. Depression is real. Depression hurts. It's a deep pain that leaves scars forever, especially if left untreated. I pained. My soul pained. And the scars that remained reminded me of the life I almost lost. I wanted people to know this. To bring awareness to mental health issues and the importance of being aware of those who decide to die.
And this is where the semicolon comes in.
That night in February 2020, I wanted to place a period at the end of the sentence. I wanted the thought to be final. That didn’t happen. I lived. The decision to end the sentence with a period was taken away from me, for which I am glad. Instead, there was a semicolon inserted into my life. I continued on. And now, as I look back on these last three years and look forward to so many to come, I choose to continue on, I choose life.
The semicolon tattoo is used as a marker, as a symbol, for those who are survivors of suicide. I've tried not to use that word in this post, but here it is needed. The semicolon tattoo shows that the person has chosen to live despite mental health issues, despite suicidal ideation, despite all things, they choose to live, to continue on. Some get the tattoo in honor of loved ones who have died because of suicide. Regardless, it is a marker, symbol, and statement that life has been chosen over death.
After researching tattoo parlors and prices and locations, I made an appointment. The tattoo artist, her tattoo room filled with artwork and previous inkings, knew what the semicolon meant. She asked no questions of it. A simple look of “I know” came across her face. I had never gotten a tattoo before. I was scared and nervous. It didn’t hurt like I thought it would. A clear bandage was placed on top of the fresh tattoo. Bleeding was bound to happen under the bandage.
As I drove home, I kept saying to myself “I got a tattoo! This is permanent!” But so was my choice to live, to choose to live each day. I began to sweat. I came home. My daughter looked at me with curiosity. She pointed to my right forearm and shouted, “You got a tattoo!”
I looked at it again, in disbelief of what I had done, and then I saw it. The bleeding had happened. And the sweat was building up under the clear bandage. The water of the sweat mingled with the blood of my wound. I then thought of the deep wound I had caused my daughter. My mind then went to the wounds of Jesus, his side pierced, blood and water pouring out from the wound (John 19:34). Signs of the covenant. Signs of the promise. I was making a promise to myself, to my daughter, and to God that I will choose life daily despite all things.
I looked at my daughter, full in the face. She, like me, loves English grammar. “You know what a semicolon does, right?” I asked her. She looked confused at first to my question and then gave the right answer—it continues the thought of a sentence instead of ending it. “This is my promise to you,” I told her, extending out my arm so she could see the fresh ink, blood, and sweat pooling around on my arm. “I will daily choose life and I will never do what I did again.” Her eyes welled up in tears. She hugged for the first time in months. She wouldn’t let go. She cried. I cried. The power of the semicolon brought us together.
The semicolon is a continuation of a thought. Daily now, I choose life. Daily I choose to live. No matter how dark, no matter how bleak, I choose to live. I know that my redeemer lives. I know to whom I belong.
And when the dark days come again—and when it feels like things will never be bright again—I will choose life.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available 24/7.
In the USA: Call or text 988
In Canada: Call 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645