Monday, August 25, 2014

On Being the Victim: Embracing Self-Pity

Self-pity is taboo in our culture, tinged with shame like suicide. No one has any patience with a “pity party.” We are supposed to be strong in the face of grief. We are not supposed to feel sorry for ourselves or to want others to feel sorry for us. But with suicide loss, we can feel small rather than strong, less than instead of more than . We can need sympathy and empathy from others, not just in the early months but later as bitterness sets in.
Self-pity is part of the process. Survivors are the living victims of suicide. The lost loved one’s pain is passed on to us, along with shock, remorse, abandonment. Our worlds are in pieces on the ground. We are, quite simply, bereft.

As if there isn’t guilt enough, I feel bad when I’m crying for myself rather than for my son. A mother should feel her child’s pain and howl at missing that child, and I do. Then sometimes, I tumble into the victim pit and feel cursed. I am reminded of other grievous losses--my father’s suicide, and my mother’s death when I was 19. Self-pity engulfs me and leaves me feeling small, helpless, and exposed. Sometimes I feel like a motherless child -- and a one-child-less mother.

I cannot summon any strength or spiritual connection in those moments. I retreat into self-pity and wallow. Maybe we survivors need those moments away from the stress of striving to reclaim our lives.

“A victim,” writes Karyn Kedar, “is a person who feels less than whole.” In her book, The Bridge to Forgiveness (2006), she urges us to “keep moving away from hurt, keep moving toward wholeness” (p. 22). She sees anger as an antidote to victimhood, a necessary stop en route to forgiveness (p. 43):
“Well-placed anger is a healing agent. It tells you that what happened is wrong. Really wrong. It reminds you that you did not deserve the offense. Anger can restore a sense of self, of self-worth. It allows the victim in you to disappear. . . Anger can transform a victim into a person who believes he or she deserves goodness, wholeness and love.”

My anger gets spent in short bursts and quickly dissolves into tears of self-pity. I need to give full vent to anger, yes. But too, I need to feel whatever I am feeling without judgment. All emotions are welcome here, says a sign at the children's memorial garden where we now have a stone for Noah.

To my fellow survivors: It’s OK to feel sorry for yourself. I share your sorrow.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


I have held her off
too many days.
The banshee
crashes the gate,
slashing, burning,
prying my heart loose
I shed my life,
all I have been and known,
and shrink
to a tiny animal,
blind and mewling—
to a speck of a bug
before the looming universe.*

This is how it feels sometimes. Not right now, but last week. Not for days anymore, but for hours. Not often but occasionally, without warning, the whole big mess of a grief wave drags me under, back to the beginning. Only it’s not the beginning because I’ve lived with this loss now 17 months.

As time passes, I am overcome with the flat finality of the fact of my child’s death. With each new step or insight, I realize how much of my self has been shattered by his suicide. I thought I’d faced down much of the guilt and remorse for not being the mother my son needed as he grew into adulthood and became unmoored. I can accept now, better than before, that I was hampered in helping him not just by my own limitations but by his secretiveness and refusal to get help. I can see (at least in theory) how we survivors burden ourselves with guilt and an inflated view of our role in a desperate bid for a sense of control over disaster. But when a wave rolls in and knocks me over, it doesn’t take much to fall into the pit.

Last week, my husband was a steadying comfort. He knew just what I meant about feeling small. We are neither of us who we were 17 months ago.  We are bereft and diminished, with everything about our “assumptive worlds” called into question. To move forward and reconstruct that world takes everything I have ever known, and more.

*Note: All poetry on this blog is original unless attributed to others.