Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dredging Up Anger, Part 2

There’s no need to force the anger, I tell myself. Just let it out when it surges. But my anger at Noah is so stuck, it takes will to dredge it up

I close all the windows. I try hitting a pillow while shouting and am quickly exhausted. I try punching and jabbing the air to loud drumming music. Nothing feels right. Finally, I bring out a pile of newspaper and begin ripping it to pieces. With each tear come tears as I think how Noah’s suicide RIPPED out my heart, TORE off a limb, SPLIT apart our family and peace of mind—and how I wish I could have torn the demons from his mind and ripped the date he died from the calendar. The action finally fits the feeling.

Anger at suicide loss goes beyond words. It’s not pure, clean rage but raging sorrow/sorrowful rage that is part of complicated grief. It’s hard to be mad at someone for dying (as in the traditional stages of grief) when they are the cause of their own death--and when they are the child who was under your protective care. For me, the anger gets trapped and tangled up in other feelings before it can even speak its name. I have to learn to sit with it, to make room for the unruly tumble that comes crowding in. No wonder it’s been an unproductive summer, full of procrastination, fatigue, and resistance. I am, literally, at a loss.

I’ll keep looking for ways to tap into anger. Maybe yelling into a wilderness abyss, finger painting on butcher paper, or tearing out pictures to make collage, as Sharon Strouse teaches in Artful Grief: A Diary of Healing . “I allow the coulds, shoulds and would haves to explode out of my guts,” she writes. “I honor my rage and give it all its due” in creating collage like her masterful “Code Red" .

Calling all old magazines! And recipes for anger unleashed.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Dredging Up Anger, Part 1

“It’s a good thing they closed the coffin or I would have socked him one,” said my older son after Noah’s funeral. I couldn’t blame him for being angry. All this time, I’ve been acknowledging anger as natural but not letting myself fully feel it. Anger at Noah, that is.
It’s been much easier to fume at other people and things. I hate suicide and people who romanticize it. I hate rope and knots and how simple it is to end a life. I hate the gruesome suicide of Noah’s good friend that set off his decline. I’m mad at relatives who didn’t or couldn’t speak openly with us about his death. I’m furious at psychiatry for its primitive understanding and treatment of mental illness and suicide risk. Why did it take decades and more than 1,500 suicides to finally (this year) approve protective barriers at the Golden Gate Bridge? Suicide survivors often share and commiserate about these frustrations, tiptoeing around the real source of anger.

I hate having my life hijacked by this nightmare. But how can I be angry at a child who was in desperate pain and not thinking clearly? If he was ill, how can I blame him? How can I rage when he’s dead and gone, and no fuming will make things right? Anger gets quashed and tamped down by these rational thoughts and the need for compassion. It dissolves almost instantly into tears of frustration and grief. Why can’t I own and express my anger? As the old Leonard Cohen song says, “It begins with your family and later comes round to your soul.” Anger seems lodged deep inside, stuck in the muck of this loss. It blocks my way forward, especially toward forgiveness. I have to dredge it up and chip away at it, but how?

I try reciting rage directly to Noah, spitting and cursing into the wind as I take a walk:
            How COULD you? How DARE you throw your life away and hurt us all so much?
            You stupid, stupid boy. You did a horrible, brutal, senseless, unnecessary thing that can NEVER be undone. You didn’t give yourself a chance.           
You BETRAYED us. While we were trying to help, you were planning this.
            I gave you everything I had as a mother and you give me THIS? You thought I was strong and I could bear it? THANKS A LOT!! I can’t believe you left without a goodbye or sign of love. I can’t believe there’s no more chance for reconciliation.      
Game OVER. Only it wasn’t a game and it’s far from over for us. I am furious you are GONE forever and somehow I have to learn to live with you gone, my poor, sweet, stupid child.  
            This DIDN'T have to be.

These words are true but feel scripted and awkward, detached from my body. I am fluent in pain but how do I speak anger? 

Maybe raging sorrow goes beyond words. Let it out, let it out.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Post-Pilgrimage: Now What?

My pilgrimage to Europe on Noah’s behalf was packed with more pleasures than expected, though bittersweet. I managed to enjoy many sights, tastes, and experiences, especially when retracing Noah’s steps in France. I talked and mourned a lot with Noah’s French host mother; it was comforting to know she is still grieving and trying to understand, and to see reminders of Noah in the family home. We exchanged memories and photos and I met a few more of Noah’s French friends. I felt his presence most when alone on the family’s houseboat; I could almost see his long legs loping along the deck or bounding up the stairs, feel his energy reveling in a new life and language there. Some of my saddest moments were airplane departures, a reminder of Noah’s ultimate departure and the leavings and endings that have become so difficult. At those times, I felt alone and vulnerable, intensely missing my husband, my dog, and my living son. No wonder my husband has been unwilling to travel.
            The problem with going away, of course, is that you have to come back. I came home to the same unbelievable, unacceptable, incomprehensible, heart-sinking fact of Noah being truly and forever gone. Nothing had changed. There it was in my face again, undeniable. My husband’s loving welcome blunted the harshness a bit.
Jet lag mingled with let-down. I had completed my mission to reconnect with Noah’s French family, which I had yearned to do for more than a year. It felt like closing a chapter. What now? What more can I do—what more do I need to do--to mark this death and move through this grief? I am waiting for the addition of Noah’s name to a stone in our local Children’s Memorial and Healing Garden . I am starting to think about the daunting task of transforming this blog into a book. But in the near term, what is the next step in the journey, the next milestone to set? And what is there to look forward to with summer still ahead and no family vacation planned?
I knew I’d see my living son a couple weeks after my return, on what would have been Noah’s 23rd birthday . I held onto that. It was an unsettling weekend of downs and ups; then he left and the let-down and dis-ease resumed.
Maybe it’s finally here, the depression I’ve been warding off for months. A normal part of grief, I know. Since Noah’s suicide, I’ve been flooded with sorrow, yearning, anger, guilt, remorse, but have usually resisted numbness. Yoga, music, prayer and meditation have helped keep it at bay and reconnect me to the flow. I will keep trying for balance and line up some summer pleasures. But it’s taking more energy now to push back glumness. Do I let it in?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

More Than?

Noah was more than a person who took his life.
His life was about more than his suicide or any illness he may have had.
His biography is more than its last line about how he died.
I am more than the parent of a child who killed himself.
My relationship with Noah is more than my reaction to his death.
My parenting is about more than failing to save my youngest child

What does this mean? Refusing to be defined by labels and stigma, even though we assume some people judge our family. Refusing to let the suicide swamp our life force or overshadow memories of the lost child, alive and well. If all these things are “more than,” then there is much to salvage: more memories, more relationship, more parts of ourselves that have been on hold since the suicide. How do we hold this truth in balance with the immense, unacceptable weight of the fact that our child is gone and that some days, that is all that matters?

I’ve heard that a bit of a newborn’s DNA crosses the placenta into the mother—so it is not just sentimental for biological moms to feel that our lost children live on within us. Or that a part of ourselves has died with them. How can we be more than their struggles when we are so enmeshed with them?

My life and identity as a mother should not be defined by, minimized by, or permanently damaged by having lost my younger child to suicide. Yet this is the hardest thing to believe in my bones. My sense of myself as a mother still feels fragile and confused, contaminated and upended in pieces on the ground. Everything I did to raise this child remains in doubt, thrown into unanswerable question. It is humbling and humiliating. When I catch myself wanting to encourage or advise other parents with their “normal” family dilemmas, I realize I am the last person who should talk. I need to step back and listen and learn all I can. I need to be a good parent with my living child, including letting him go through this grieving time in his own way.

It’s the shaming, crippling parenting aspects of the suicide loss experience that I have thought and read and written least about, maybe because it's so threatening. Questioning one's parenting is a subtext in suicide loss memoirs from Iris Bolton’s classic My Son, My Son to the present, as if too hot to handle directly. Might parent survivors need to fully confess our doubts, regrets, and yes, sense of guilt, before we can embrace what it means to be "more than" parents of a suicide?  Just as survivors may need to fully experience our anger at the loved one who left us before we can forgive them.

We lose more than our future when we lose a child.