Monday, April 7, 2014

Still Struggling with Others' Reactions

It’s not as extreme as it used to be. Here at the one-year mark after my son’s suicide, I no longer need to insert his story and my grief into every conversation. I no longer obsess over my expectations of others and my inevitable disappointment, like I did several months ago. But I still get upset when relatives come to the house, see the pictures and scrapbooks in full view, hear my passing references to Noah (intended to signal it’s OK to discuss him), and are silent. There is no acknowledgement of how they miss him (which I know they do), no inquiry as to how we are doing after the death anniversary. Once again, it’s as if our son never lived, as if we haven’t been going through hell—as if we should all just be moving on. I am tempted to leave the room but I don’t. After these encounters, I feel disheartened, disoriented. 

Recently, another relative made a hurtful reference to our son. Drawing a comparison to other struggling young people, they said, “At least X didn’t pull a Noah.” What!? Of course, I don’t want other kids to end their lives. But now, our child is reduced to a slang expression for a trick or a caper, a poster child warning of what not to do. Will he only be remembered for his suicide and not for, say, his wacky humor, his love for his grandparents, his amazing juggling skills? Is this the only way his name will be invoked?

From Our House, a grief support center in Los Angeles, comes a Bereaved Parent’s Wish List based on parents' comments from support groups of what mourning parents (not only suicide survivors) wish others would do or say (or not do or say). It reminds me of the wish lists I made in the early months of mourning on how others could help us. Not everything on the Our House list seems urgent to me at this point, and not everything is relevant to parents who lost children to suicide. I’m most struck by #1, 2, 7, and 9 at the moment. I’m including the whole list in case it resonates with my fellow parent survivors. Which of these do you wish you could post on your door or your Facebook page or . . . ? What would you add to or subtract from the list of your experience walking the mourner’s path?

From Our House Grief Center: A Bereaved Parent’s Wish List

1.      I wish my child hadn’t died.  I wish I had him back.
2.      I wish you wouldn’t be afraid to speak my child’s name.  My child lived and was very important to me.  I need to hear that he was important to you also.
3.      If I cry and get emotional when you talk about my child, I wish you knew that it isn’t because you have hurt me.  My child’s death is the cause of my tears.  You have talked about my child, and you have allowed me to share my grief.  I thank you for both.
4.      I wish you wouldn’t “kill” my child again by removing his pictures, artwork or other remembrances from your home.
5.      Being a bereaved parent is not contagious, so I wish you wouldn’t shy away from me.  I need to know you care now more than ever.
6.      I need diversions, so I do want to hear about you; but I also want you to hear about me.  I might be sad and I might cry, but I wish you would let me talk about my child—my favorite topic of the day.
7.      I know that you think of me and pray for me often.  I also know that my child’s death pains you, too.  I wish you would let me know these things through a phone call, a card or a note, or a real big hug. 
8.      I wish you wouldn’t expect my grief to be over in six months.  These first months are traumatic for me, but I wish you could understand that my grief will never be over.  I will suffer the death of my child until the day I die.
9.      I am working very hard in my recovery, but I wish you could understand that I will never fully recover. I will always miss my child and I will always grieve that he is dead.
10.  I wish you wouldn’t expect me “not to think about it,” or to “be happy.”  Neither will happen for a very long time, so don’t frustrate yourself.
11.  I don’t want to have a “pity party,” but I do wish you would let me grieve.  I must hurt before I can heal.
12.  I wish you understood how my life has shattered.  I know it is miserable for you to be around me when I’m feeling miserable.  Please be patient with me as I am with you.
13.  When I say, “I’m doing okay,” I wish you could understand that I don’t  “feel” okay and that I struggle daily.
14.  I wish you knew that all the grief reactions I am having are very normal.  Depression, anger, hopelessness and overwhelming sadness are all to be expected.  So please excuse me when I’m quiet and withdrawn or irritable and cranky.
15.  Your advice to “take one day at a time” is excellent advice.  However, a day is too much and too fast for me right now.  I wish you could understand that I’m doing good to handle an hour at a time.
16.  Please excuse me if I seem rude, certainly not my intent.  Sometimes the world goes around me too fast and I need to get off.  When I walk away, I wish you would let me find a quiet place to spend time alone. 
17.  I wish you could understand that grief changes people.  When my child died, a big part of me died with him.  I am not the same person I was before my child died, and I will never be that person again.
18.  I wish very much that you could understand – understand my loss and my grief, my silence and my tears, my void and my pain.  BUT, I pray daily that you will NEVER understand…

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