Friday, December 26, 2014

For the Family and Friends of a Suicide, by John O'Donohue

For the Family and Friends of a Suicide 
excerpts, from John O’Donohue’s (2008) To Bless the Space Between Us

As you huddle around the torn silence,
Each by this lonely deed exiled
To a solitary confinement of soul,
May some small glow from what has been lost
Return like the kindness of candlelight. . . .

May one of the lovely hours
Of memory return
Like a field of ease
Among these graveled days.

May the Angel of Wisdom
Enter this ruin of absence
And guide your minds
To receive this bitter chalice
So that you do not damage yourselves
By attending only at the hungry altar
Of regret and anger and guilt. . . .

May your loss become a sanctuary
Where new presence will dwell
To refine and enrich
The rest of your life
With courage and compassion. . . .

How many poems, much less blessings, speak directly to suicide loss survivors' experience? I am grateful to John O'Donohue for even thinking to include us in his book of blessings. And I am touched by his insight into how it feels--the "lonely deed" that "exiles" us; the unremitting "graveled days"; the powerful pull of that "hungry altar"; the need for "sanctuary." But I cannot accept, in the parts of his blessing that I have left out, the idea that suicide is something “sent for” as part of the “eternal script,” to be understood “with the eyes of providence.” That is like saying that suicide was meant to be or all for the best or that we are each allotted only a certain lifespan.  I know that O'Donohue and others who convey that message are only trying to offer comfort and meaning. As the mother of a young man who took his life, I can never see it that way. Instead, I take comfort and meaning from the rest of his blessing and its empathic, generous embrace. And I thank the friends who bring me writings like this at just the right moment.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Second Chanukah: More Light

Not too bad, I say to those who inquire how I am this holiday season. I can share a bit more in the sense of anticipation and celebration. I can gaze at Chanukah candles without the blur of tears. A candle meditation suggests focusing on the darkness in our lives and how we can bring more light to it—and instead of suicide loss, my mind fixes on a friend who just started hospice. I can hope that he finds solace in his little grandson, who was born the day of my son’s funeral 21 months ago. 

Before Noah died, I prayed for healing for his despair and for the rift between us. Since his suicide, I’ve prayed for guidance in walking the mourner’s path. How to give voice to our grief, cherish Noah’s memory, support others and ourselves, and restore our lives? I need this help and more as my prayers shift. How to be grateful for my living son and deepen our connection? How to be fully present as the mourner’s path wends increasingly among the living and less often through isolated stretches in a world apart? 

A few weeks ago, my husband suggested that I play something on the piano. I looked over at the piano, laden with a scrapbook of Noah’s life and a dozen framed photos of him that hadn’t been moved since his funeral. I knew I couldn’t make music on the piano under that weight. At the same time, I was wary of dispersing the photos and having fewer reminders. We talked; it was time. We found other places for the scrapbook and all but two of the photos. Now when I look at the piano, I feel lighter. There is room to breathe. A few nights ago, I finally played and my husband sang.

All is not goodness and light. When alone and thinking of family these past weeks, I shout: “Where are you?! Why aren’t you here?!” Self-blame rushes in on a tide of anger, a litany of why's.

How are you? Ebb and flow, flow and ebb. In mourning, we can only feel our way through, now and around the year.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Final Acts

I was relaxing with the Saturday newspaper, reading columnist Chris Erskine muse nostalgic about an old black and white photo of a family Thanksgiving. As usual, he turned his whimsical, slightly twisted wit to ordinary moments—as in noting how his family didn’t just have black sheep, they raised them. I was pleasantly buoyed along on his words when I fell on a sentence that made me wail and throw down the paper: “As with families, these photo-fossils survive. They remind us that families falter but are rarely finished. There may be bad moments, challenges, moral decay, deceit, tough love, belly laughs, hissy fits, spit-takes, boozy fights, gossip and grudges that never go away. But there are no final acts.”

No final acts. Families may stray and strain, but they endure. Even the black sheep and the exasperating ones will always be family. As if family is something greater than its parts and can accommodate everyone, anything.

But there are children who lose their way, far from family’s embrace or a vision of the future. Numb to love, they abandon us and commit the ultimate final act. Suicide blasts family to pieces on the ground in stunned silence. It brings everything we thought we knew, all the stories we told, to a bewildered, shell-shocked stop. It leaves a horrific hole in ongoingness, a permanent rip in the fabric of family bonds. We pick up the pieces, slowly resume our rounds. While others celebrate, we will always see that hole and mourn that absence.  

No final acts? I am reminded how we suicide loss survivors are banished from normality, sidelined from simple truths. We can no longer assume there will always be family. So much that others take as universal no longer applies.

How we need that “community of comfort” of fellow survivors to normalize our experience at holiday gatherings, like those of the Surviving After Suicide and Beyond Loss support groups. We don’t know these people like family; until a final act, we may have had little in common. Now we recognize one another on the mourner’s path. We tell our stories, hug and cry. We hold our losses in the light and cheer each step in the hard climb out of the hole.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Uncommon Wisdom on Making Peace with Loss

I’m feeling adrift and uncertain lately as I contemplate making some major life changes. I’m afraid of venturing into the unknown from this place of vulnerability, unsure whether my desire for change comes from a reliable source. I am not who I was, and don’t know yet who I am becoming in the wake of this loss. I am taking steps toward making peace with it, but not always clear about the next move. Common wisdom says you shouldn’t make big decisions when grieving. But I need to make some changes in order to have the time to grieve and write.

In the past few days, I received some uncommon wisdom from friends and fellow survivors.

When I told my dear, oldest friend that I was afraid I might see this decision differently later on, once I was more at peace with Noah’s suicide, she said, “When you are more at peace, you will be able to use that energy for the things you love and want to do.  And if peace still eludes you at times, you will have the space to do the grief work and other things for yourself that you are not able to do now.” This is perfectly clear to my friend, though it is still murky to me; I thank her for showing me a way forward.

At a holiday gathering of survivors on the theme of making peace with our loss, I was struck by simple statements from people who lost loved ones eight or more years ago: From a woman who lost her sister, “I have made peace with no peace.” From someone I can’t recall, “Don’t be afraid to remember.” And from another mother who lost her young adult son, one word: “endure.” She said that has been her watchword for getting through the pain and for what she wants to happen with her child’s memory. She wrote her son’s name and “endure” on a tag attached to a lovely origami crane as part of the closing activity at the gathering. We were told that cranes symbolize healing, happiness, and spiritual enlightenment in Japanese and Chinese tradition. For my crane, I could only think to write, for Noah and myself: “May your memory be for a blessing. And may all who loved you find that blessing.”

To my fellow survivors: What is your watchword? How do you find that next step?