Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Piecing Together the Puzzle: "What do you hope to gain from that?"

It is not about gaining something but rather needing to know as much as we can about our child and his mental state, now that he can no longer speak for himself. My husband and I will never fully understand what happened, but we definitely understand more now than we did at the time of N’s death. There are fewer missing pieces of the puzzle, even if the overall pattern remains somewhat murky. This comes from talking with N’s therapists and friends; looking at documents like medical records and the coroner’s report; and reading his personal writings—all massive invasions of privacy that would never happen in the normal course of a young adult’s life. Each new bit of information could be unsettling, for sure, but ultimately we needed to know about the things he never told us--his shame at the prospect of medication, his fear of anxiety attacks, how he and his college buddies thought they were “bulletproof” and self-sufficient. We will never have a chance to know our child as a living adult, so at least we can try to know him better now than we did in the last period of his life. This makes us feel closer to him.

Well-meaning folks question why we are doing this because “what’s done is done – it won’t change anything.” But in fact, the search for clues has changed our view of our child and his struggle, allowed us to see a little deeper into and visit just a little longer in his world. It has allowed us to piece together a meaningful narrative based on as much information as we could muster. We have been compelled to do this. No doubt people want to spare us further pain. We are already in the deepest pain; there is no fresh pain to add. We couldn’t protect our child from his demons but we could dedicate ourselves to this search as the least thing we could do for him--to accompany him and try to sense his voice through the stages of his struggle.

Researchers Kari Dyregrov et al. write in After the Suicide  that the need to know and to search for clues is a natural impulse for suicide survivors as part of the grieving process; it is OK to leave no stone unturned, they say, as long as this does not become a long-term obsession. 

My husband and I met yesterday with a psychiatrist for a psychiatric autopsy based on our son’s history. I had been impatient for this day for weeks, yet I found myself dreading it. The meeting was gentle and informative, though as expected, not definitive. With this, we have come to the end of the road for the moment—another ending, a communing with N at a close. 

What will we do with our time now? How will we continue to feel a connection with our son? Will we revisit the puzzle years from now and see a fit among the pieces that eludes us today?

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