Thursday, February 27, 2014

Craving the Ordinary

I find myself wishing for the small, ordinary things. For the chance to see my son coming toward me in the airport after time away. To eat a simple meal together. To hear about his day or his trip or his opinion of something, anything. To see him going out with friends, roughing up the dog, or making fun of me with his brother. To go on a family vacation, anywhere, just for a weekend. To kiss the top of his head. What I would give to wind back the clock to relive those ordinary moments.

My mother raised me to strive for the extraordinary, and I passed that on to my kids. It wasn’t until middle age that I began to appreciate the simple things of life, but I neglected to pass that on. Noah felt pressured to be extraordinary and have an extraordinary life. He didn’t realize that he would be loved, regardless of accomplishments. We didn’t realize that the magnitude of his anguish was extraordinary and that his most extraordinary act would be one of self-destruction. That the most distinctive thing about our family life would be this tragedy. I would trade that in for ordinariness anytime.

I hear co-workers talk about having their child home for dinner and watching TV together, or going to a ball game, or taking the dog to the park. I see parents with their young adult children, shopping, eating out, going to a movie. I want to stop them, grab them and say: You are so lucky. You get to sit down to spaghetti with your child, even if they are glum or you are arguing. Cherish that time.

I’m getting used to the crushing fact that we will never experience a graduation or wedding or grandchildren with Noah--that the only anniversary we will share with him is the anniversary of his death. But I can’t believe we will be forever deprived even of those little moments of family life that everyone takes for granted.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Resources: A Conference and a Book

A couple of resources for my fellow survivors:
-       --  Never Alone: Survivors Supporting Survivors is the 26th annual Healing After Suicide Conference of the American Assn. of Suicidology and American Fdn. for Suicide Prevention. It takes place Saturday, April 12, at the Century Plaza Hyatt Regency in Los Angeles, following the Never Alone AAS conference for researchers and mental health professionals. Click on Registration Materials for the conference and see pp. 25-26 for the program of workshops for suicide loss survivors, which looks varied and well-planned. Registration is $135 for non-members before March 15, $150 thereafter (see p. 41 for rates and registration form); scholarships are available (see p. 27). Hope to meet some of you there!

-        --  I finally started reading Unfinished Conversation: Healing from Suicide and Loss – A Guided Journey by Robert Lesoine (Parallax Press, 2013). It is a sensitive, honest blend of suicide loss memoir, journal exercises, and meditation prompts, much of it with a Buddhist perspective. At first, the author’s losing a best friend to suicide in middle age seemed far removed from losing a teenage or young adult child. But there is much to learn from and relate to here for anyone who is mourning the interruption of years of close conversation with a loved one. Lesoine suggests not only writing letters to the person but creating two-way conversations with them, including “do-over” dialogs about their suffering. Sample chapter titles: Disregarded Warnings; Unanswered Questions; Emotional Roller Coaster; Revealing the Shadow; Abandoned; Saying Goodby to My Buddy.

I will be adding this book to the Resources pages of this blog and would welcome hearing about books that have helped you on the mourner’s path.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Graveside Valentine

Who knew Valentine’s Day would be so hard? I’m not a sentimental person but since my sons were little, I always made sure to give them little hand-cut hearts, candies and other silly trifles. This year, I had a nice visit with my living son a week before and texted him a virtual valentine. I realized I would need to go to the cemetery to give Noah his. 

I thought the cemetery would be full of mourners bringing valentines on February 14, but it was empty. I had only been there once since the gravestone was installed and had marveled at the little things left at its edges: a bronze Class of 2009 decal, half-smoked cigarettes with lighter, seashells, a child’s inked stamp, a pair of plastic solar-powered flowers moving up and down, a set of earbuds. It was comforting to see signs that others had been there. I was still getting used to that little square of earth as our family’s place to commune with Noah. This time, I brought an envelope of pink paper hearts with “Mom” on the back, which I staked out around the edges of the gravestone with toothpicks to prevent their blowing away. Thus festooned, the marker looked suddenly festive.

I wanted to shower Noah with love--the love I should have showered him with in his time of need, when the will to live was slipping from him. Since leaving home, he had walled himself off from me and I didn’t know how to get through to him; I was waiting for an opening, not realizing I needed to open my heart. In his last, low weeks at home after leaving college, I should have told him every day that I loved him, that I wanted to help him, that it gets better with help and time. Instead, I stole an occasional kiss to his head or squeeze of his hard shoulders and showed my love by pushing him (in vain) to see a psychiatrist. Thank God I blew him a kiss the night before he killed himself. Yet I am left with the crushing sense that my son died without a mother’s love.

Suicide makes those of us left behind doubt our love. Over and over, we retrace the missed chances to show our love, to fling it out as a lifeline. Over and over, we realize that our love wasn’t enough to save our loved ones or keep them close. We wonder whether they felt our love or truly loved us. 

When a child is terminally ill with physical illness, parents keep vigil at the bedside, declare their love and try to mend old hurts as they prepare to say goodbye. When a child is in psychic distress or mentally ill and secretly planning to end their life, there is no chance for loving vigils and farewells. Loved today, gone tomorrow. How differently we parents might have loved had we only known. 

My boys never acknowledged the valentines I gave them over the years. I could only hope that they received them and felt my love. I can only hope that if not at the end, then at some point in his suffering, Noah felt or at least remembered my love.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Grief Poems 1

I’ve been searching for grief poems that feel true to read at Noah’s one-year memorial. There is a lot out there to appeal to a range of tastes and feelings. Some grief-related web sites have made a point of collecting their favorites; I will start doing the same here. 

Here are two that speak to me, one from utter despair and one rising toward hope. I’d be grateful to know what grief poems you have found and treasured—please share!

 Funeral Blues by WH Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, 

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.  

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum  

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead

Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead,

Put crépe bows round the white necks of the public doves,

Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,

My working week and my Sunday rest,

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song,

I thought that love would last forever: 'I was wrong.'


The stars are not wanted now, put out every one;

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.

For nothing now can ever come to any good.


The Thing Is

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.