Tuesday, November 25, 2014
A friend posted five things she was grateful for every day for a while on Facebook and challenged others to do the same. The things ranged from the mundane to the profound. A regular gratitude practice—even noticing the little things--is supposed to make you feel better. It’s part of the restorative benefits of meditation, yoga, and other spiritual pursuits.
For many of the past 20 months since Noah’s suicide, I couldn’t face thinking about the tiniest form of gratitude; it seemed absurd, almost offensive, in light of the tragedy I was inhabiting. Grief and gratitude spring from such different ground—the endless, arid desert plain of loss; the lush, verdant meadow of blessings. I felt banished from the promised land. Gradually, gratitude crept back in, first through noticing natural beauty, next through recognizing the outpouring of love and support around me. But I saw these things from a distance; I knew they were there, I knew they were good and were helping me, but I couldn’t fully take in their presence.
The pressure to declare one’s gratitude can be oppressive this time of year. Rabbi Yael Levy teaches that when we feel out of touch with gratitude, it’s OK to acknowledge our grief and sadness in that moment. Maybe this is what Noah was doing at his last Thanksgiving when, as our family and guests went around the table saying something we were grateful for, he shook his head and said “pass.” At the time, I was irritated with his disdainful refusal to participate. I couldn’t help comparing him with our older son, who gave us thanks that year for supporting his college education. Now that I know more about Noah’s situation—now that I’ve been wrenched away from gratitude myself--I wonder if his mind was already too agitated and despairing to feel anything else. For that, now, I can forgive him.
I’m still not ready to feel gratitude for Noah’s life and the years we had together. Yet I know that’s where I need to go as part of acceptance and forgiveness of his suicide. Finding a way back to gratitude is our task as survivors if we are to integrate this loss and restore our lives.
What am I truly grateful for in this moment? I am grateful to a young cousin who recently texted me a memory of Noah putting on a fake Yiddish accent, pinching her cheeks, and pretending to be a Jewish grandmother exclaiming over how much she had grown! I am grateful for the people in my life who listen, care, and understand—including you who read this blog. I pour out my heart; you take it to heart, and sometimes even tell me about it. Thank you so much. May each of you find your way to some glimpse of gratitude this holiday season.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
It’s that November time of year. I haven’t been feeling well or up to posting lately, full of magical thinking that my back injury is another sign that I am broken and can’t function in the old ways. The days are getting shorter, and my husband is getting glummer as we approach The Holidays and the many suicide prevention and suicide survivor support activities that come with them. These activities are meant to provide a safety net at a hard time of year, both for those inclined to depression and for suicide loss survivors. Inevitably, these events remind us of our lost ones, vulnerability, and grief. But importantly, this happens in the company of others who share or bear witness to some of our pain.
To my fellow survivors: If you’ve never taken part in International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, consider going this Saturday, November 22, to a gathering in your area (see www.survivorday.org for locations; in the Los Angeles area, it happens from 1-5pm at Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services, 4760 S. Sepulveda Bl., Culver City 90230, RSVP firstname.lastname@example.org). This year, there will be screenings and discussion of a documentary film, The Journey, about a wide range of survivors’ experiences. It can be comforting to see and debrief this kind of thing with fellow survivors, but if you prefer not to, you can attend a virtual event online at www.survivorday.org/survivor-day-live/
Today, at the university where I work, I’ll be at a candlelight vigil for those lost to suicide. I’ll be giving a talk on lessons from our son’s life and death, including several suicide awareness tips for young people that I wish our family and Noah’s friends had known. I include them here and invite you to pass them on wherever you think they might be helpful.
Be a Lifeline:
5 Things Young People Can Do to Help Friends & Family in Crisis
From a survivor of suicide loss
1. Know that it starts with you. You can be a first responder when someone you care about is struggling. Young people confide most in their peers. You notice when their talk or texts become incoherent, when they are sleeping too much or too little, abusing drugs, isolating themselves, or saying they feel hopeless. For our son, Noah, these things began months before he died while he was still at college, but we didn’t know.
2. Talk to them. Don’t just notice that someone is acting strange and hope that it will pass. Try to get the person to talk with you about what’s on their mind. Do it now while they are still reachable; if not, they may end up in such despair that they are past helping. I’m grateful to one of Noah’s courageous friends at college who, while others were shunning him for his weird behavior, made a point of meeting with him every day to talk.
3. Show your concern. Don’t avoid the person and make them feel more isolated than they already are. Their strange behavior probably isn’t about you and may not be under their control. They need you now more than ever. Show your care and concern and listen. Be like those few friends of Noah who kept trying to contact him in the last weeks of his life, even after he stopped responding.
4. Tell a responsible adult. Don’t assume you can handle the problem alone, especially if you see serious changes in mood, behavior, or thinking. Tell an adult like an older relative, the friend’s parents, a teacher/professor, or a doctor/mental health professional. I have a lot of respect for Noah’s hometown friends who asked to meet with me to share their worries about Noah.
5. Be prepared to ask about suicide. Don’t be afraid to ask the person if they are thinking of harming themselves and if they have a plan; this question will not cause them to consider suicide. Know the resources available for help; prepare yourself so you know what to expect and how to respond. You can check out web sites like www.ulifeline.org that have excellent info on mental health for college students, or see if your campus or local mental health center offers training in mental health and suicide awareness, such as QPR or SAFETalk, or call a suicide crisis line like 877-727-4747 for advice. Be ready to call 911, if needed, or go with the person to get help; don’t leave them alone. I will always regret that I didn’t ask Noah the question at a crucial time and wasn’t prepared for the answer.
Thank you for being a lifeline!