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.

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