Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Unsteady Ground/Under Construction

I recently made a tough decision about beginning semi-retirement in order to have more time for myself. Since Noah's suicide, I have felt too pressed to commune with his spirit and honor my needs for grief work, writing, spiritual practice, and other self-care. I hated having to put those needs aside day after day to attend to other obligations. I am fortunate to have the option of making this decision, and friends who knew that wondered why I was hesitating. Why was I torturing myself over this? All I knew was that it was triggering deep-seated self-doubt and reminding me of old patterns that predate this loss.

The wise facilitator of my support group pointed out that any decision while grieving is hard. But it's especially hard after suicide loss because we have come to doubt the decisions we made about our loved one while they were alive. We have been weighted by guilt over the "what if's" and "if only's"of our actions leading up to the suicide--and those questions can still haunt us, even if they no longer obsess us. As grieving parents, we failed in our responsibility to protect our child. The disastrous decisions we made or failed to make imprint on our mind to freeze new action and obscure the way to decisions.

It doesn't make rational sense but it makes intuitive sense. It reminds me of one reason that my husband doesn't want to leave home for long trips. He wasn't home when Noah killed himself or when I found Noah dead; my husband came home that day to the worst nightmare and a crime scene. So when he leaves the house, he sometimes worries that something horrific could happen while he is away. Just as when I come home to a quiet, empty house, I sometimes dread that something horrific has happened to my husband or our pets.

As suicide survivors, we can no longer trust ourselves or our judgement or the ground we stand on like in the past. We have become the unreliable narrators of our own lives. We are scrambling to get our footing in a house whose foundation has been shattered and that we are reconstructing--like building the plane while flying it.  

"The loss of someone important to suicide assaults the assumptive world of the mourner," writes psychologist John R. Jordan.* "The suicide brings into question all of the things that the bereaved individual took for granted about the identity of the deceased, the nature of their relationship with that individual, and the mourner's own identity. . . . [S]uicide inherently challenges the belief that all human beings fear death and want to live, as well as many other guiding assumptions by which the survivors may have operated." Sound familiar?

The mourner's ultimate task, Jordan suggests, is to construct a "coherent narrative" about the suicide that is compassionate and "bearable for the survivor." This can take a long time. My fellow mourning mom, Marjorie Antus, finished her narrative nearly 20 years after losing her teenage daughter to suicide (see her new book, My Daughter, Her Suicide, and God: A Memoir of Hope on Amazon)--and she says that the journey continues.

From unsteady ground, I've decided to take time out for my narrative. I hope I will come to trust my decision.

*From Jordan, J. (2011). Principles of grief counseling with adult survivors. In J. Jordan & J. McIntosh (Eds.), Grief after suicide: Understanding the consequences and caring for the survivors. NY: Routledge.

1 comment:

  1. Oh yes. I question the silliest things now. Drive my children and some friends nuts I think. Want all of my children to live nearby to each other (won't happen) as they were spread all over the state when Jaie died.
    They simply don't get a parents fear (and intuition)