Tuesday, September 17, 2013

No Silver Linings but Maybe Gifts

“Don’t let anyone tell you there’s a silver lining, because there’s not,” warned my doctor, of all people, a few months after N’s suicide. I appreciated her frankness. This was not meant to be, N is not in a better place, and this was not all for the best. He is not resting in peace and we the survivors are certainly not at peace with his death. There is no up side to this suffering. Even if there was, we would reject it because we don’t want to benefit from our son’s suicide. For my husband, that extends to reluctance to make  donations in N’s memory, lest something good come of this disaster. I don’t have a problem with donations, but I understand the ambivalence.

In the suicide loss literature and in my survivors’ support group, more seasoned survivors emphasize the “gifts” that this experience can bring. Presumably, they do this to give themselves and the rest of us hope—and that is no small thing. The gifts, or blessings, may not be easy to recognize at first, says a group facilitator, but they will come and they will be part of your healing. Intellectually, I can see that some survivors rebuild their lives to be more fully present, mindful, and compassionate, with a more urgent sense of the fragility and preciousness of life. Through support groups, conferences, and crisis lines, they meet a new community of friends with whom they share a deep and instant bond. Of necessity, I’m guessing, they grasp for and find a new lease on life. Over time, they are grateful for the changes in their lives—and maybe that is the real challenge of being a survivor, learning to find a way back to gratitude. All this gives them hope rather than dread for what lies ahead.

“The jury’s still out,” says my husband doubtfully. Six months after N’s death, I’m not counting on any magical transformation or even counting my blessings.  And yet, I notice change.
Once someone who projected strength and confidence, I have been showing my vulnerability and sharing my feelings more openly with others, including strangers. With this blog, I have found a new vehicle to pour out my heart and recapture my love of writing. I have stumbled on support in unlikely places, with fellow survivors, distant relatives, old friends I hadn’t spoken with in months or years, and at unexpected moments. 

These changes have happened as part of grief work. They will never make up for the horror of N’s death and the sinking sense of despair when I think of losing him. But they make sorrow a bit more bearable, the future more conceivable. And maybe they count as blessings . . .


  1. I agree that there is no silver lining, no gift that comes with N's suicide. It will never sit will with me that he is not here.
    This quote from David Foster Wallace was posted in a friend's Facebook in response to her writing teacher's suicide, and it gave me a perspective on how it can happen that a person makes that leap towards death:

    The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling - david foster wallace

    1. Wow, thanks for that quote - I only just saw it today. It has certainly occurred to me those of us who have never contemplated suicide, or as DFW says, been trapped in the flames, can never fully understand why others do it. That's why we have to learn from those who have had the thoughts and especially made the attempt and come back to tell the tale. And if we can't understand, how can we judge?