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.

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