Thursday, August 20, 2015

When Remembering is One-sided

"I will remember you; will you remember me?" I've been so preoccupied with how we will remember Noah that until I chanced to hear this wistful song again the other day, I’d forgotten about Noah remembering us, his family. The silence at the end of the question sent me into a long crying fit in the car. 

Mutual remembering is the bargain we strike with those we love, even if we eventually break up or lose touch. They matter to us and we to them; we have shared some experience together; we recognize each other’s uniqueness; we are different for having known one another. This bond sustains relationships and makes us wistful at life’s passages, from graduations and weddings to the end of summer camp.

In families, it’s an unspoken covenant between generations that elders will not be forgotten; younger ones will tend our shrines. The young will carry us with them in how they see and act and look in the world, maybe even pass some stray bit of us on to the next generation. The whole taken-for-granted enterprise of family—what we bequeath to the young (for better or worse) and how they receive (or resist) it. Our little toehold on immortality.

But a suicide breaks the promise, nullifies the bargain. All of us who loved the lost person will continue to cherish them and carry them with us, but their particular way of holding us in their hearts comes to an abrupt halt. What should be a mutual exchange becomes woefully one-sided. This loss of part of ourselves happens with any death, of course, but it is compounded by suicide and especially a young person’s suicide, when there are no good byes. This did not have to be.

It strikes each time with a heavier sense of finality: The piece of my husband and me that became part of who our child was died with him. Our particular spark will never move through Noah and be reflected by him and re-imagined and passed on to others. We will never be regarded and remembered and loved in quite that inimitable Noah-like way again. We have to learn to live with the silence in this one-sided relationship of remembering.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Of Shaming and Naming

True confession: I'm ashamed of how I sometimes give in to the shame and stigma that still surround suicide in our society.

At my group adult bat mitzvah three months ago, I decided not to include the part of my speech about grief after suicide because I didn’t want to dampen the celebratory mood of other families with a reminder of our tragedy. (Also because I didn’t want to risk being any more weepy than I already expected to be that day!) As a result, I felt invisible during the ceremony compared to classmates who shared highly personal speeches. About a year earlier, when I read the bat mitzvah class a reflection on how the suicide made me feel cut off from God and holiness, one person commented, “too much information.” I felt shamed and shocked—only slightly mitigated by sympathetic hugs from others. So is it any wonder I was wary of sharing my experience in a larger setting on our big day?

At family gatherings, I still find myself self-censoring sometimes and not talking about Noah when he comes to mind for fear of bringing people down and sucking all the air out of the room. Is this a surprise when most relatives continue to avoid mentioning him?

On this blog, it took months for me to write Noah rather than N. When I made the change, it was a relief, as if restoring his personhood and our connection. But I keep my full name out of postings for fear that students or colleagues will Google my name, see the blog, and judge me; I don't want them to know this fact about me, especially if they don't know me well. The blog still lists Mourning Mom as the author. And I know I will need to check with my husband and son about using Noah’s last name in a book I'm writing based on the blog, lest it somehow harm them or sully Noah's reputation or our family name-- in the eyes of . . . who?

The most moving moment at gatherings of suicide survivors for me is the closing ceremony when we hold hands or light candles and go around the room each speaking our lost one’s name and their relation to us. Some people, like me, have more than one name to say. We stand up and speak the names with sadness, love, and pride. These names that are spoken less and less often in the world as time moves on. These lives that we will never forget. In that setting, we stand together against shame and stigma.

I was amazed last year to see thousands of young people at the Alive and Running run/walk for suicide prevention, noisily lining up for T-shirts and water like at any fundraising race. Afterwards, I thought of changing out of my T-shirt when I went to a nearby café; it was OK for the race, not in public. But the cafes were full of people in T-shirts proclaiming their affiliation with the cause or the name of the loved one whose memory they were honoring. The S-word was outed on a sunny Sunday morning while other people enjoyed their brunch or cappuccino, and there was no shame. This gives me courage.

I’ll be walking in the event again on September 27 in Los Angeles, still learning to stand without shame in public as a survivor of suicide loss.  Join me?