Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanking Those Who Died By Suicide

International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day falls on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and is marked by events in many cities, sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). While others rush around with the start of holiday shopping and partying season, we gather with fellow survivors to speak our pain and remember our lost ones. We set aside time to bring our grieving selves to a place where they are welcomed. 

I’ve been to two of these events and have appreciated the chance to learn from and meet other survivors, especially parents who’ve lost children. This year, I invited my husband, who generally stays away from events in the suicide loss community other than his support group. Amazingly, he said yes. Even more surprising, he stayed for the whole afternoon rather than leaving in discomfort. We were both struck by how nearly everyone in the break-out group for parent survivors had lost a young son. And we were moved by the wisdom of survivors who after many years have, as one put it, “found a place for my grief journey in my life journey.” (You can see Life Journeys: Reclaiming Life After Loss, this year’s helpful AFSP documentary on survivors, here .)

The closing ceremony at the Los Angeles gathering was in a church sanctuary, holding us safe.  We were given thank you stones and asked to thank our lost person for one thing, out loud. “For Noah,” I said, “thank you for your love of life.” “For Noah, thank you for spending your last few weeks with us,” said Bryan beside me. Others gave thanks for things large and small – for making us laugh, for your creativity, for introducing me to sports, for being my goofy big brother, for the memories, for the years we had together, for giving it your best shot. No one hesitated, not even those whose loss was still raw. No doubt we all could have said much more.

“What do we do with this season of gratitude?” asks survivor blogger Janie Cook . “Maybe it would help if we were simply given permission to be grateful without being happy about it.” For the gift of a life that ended too soon, we may feel “a profound gratitude that spills out of us through tears.” 

This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful to Bryan for joining me on the journey. To our older son, Ben, for coming home from his travels to spend the week with us. And to Noah for the love and life we shared for 21 years. I know he would have been here if he could have to bake the pumpkin pie, perch his elbow on my shoulder, and let me kiss him on the head.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Letting In Halloween

I let in Halloween this year. It just sort of happened. I found myself peeking with curiosity at outlandish yard decorations that I passed in my neighborhood instead of avoiding them like I’ve done the past few years ; I don't need so much protection from death images that are someone else's idea of fun. I put out a pumpkin and bought candy to give to the little kids next door. When I saw them prancing around giddily in their princess and Batman costumes, I couldn’t help marveling at their cuteness and how exciting this day is for kids.
I remembered how our two boys loved Halloween and how we used to make a big deal of it, draping heaps of sticky plastic spider web over the bushes and setting up the strobe light and didgeridoo music on our front porch, making ever-weirder big jack-o-lanterns and scooping out the insides for my mother’s pumpkin cake. Ben and Noah helped give away hundreds of candies to what seemed like an endless stream of trick-or-treaters. One year when he was 12, Ben sat quietly on the porch in a hockey mask and black cape, then reared up suddenly with a roar when a hesitant little girl coming up the steps wondered if he was real.

                                                   (Noah as cowboy with brother Ben)

Noah never stopped loving the holiday. As a child, he often ended up not wearing the costume we had so carefully planned but he didn’t miss out on any of the action. Candy was a rarity in our house, so Noah couldn’t wait to get home with his friends and dump out his loot on the floor, amazed at his good fortune. He’d count and sort it, then make trades for the optimum assortment.  (I put his stash away in a high cupboard to be rationed out over the next couple weeks, while I secretly threw most of it away; Noah never seemed to notice.) As a teenager, Noah would meet up with friends and gallivant in the dark streets in some random assortment of odds and ends from our dress-up bag. At college, he appeared as a convincing geisha one year, Abe Lincoln the next. For a party in San Francisco, Ben recalls, Noah wanted to be a narcoleptic person with a pillow taped to his head but ended up as a boxer in short shorts and a bathrobe with his drink taped to his boxing glove.

                                                (Noah as geisha with college friend)

 I’ve returned to normal thoughts for Halloween instead of haunting images. For Thanksgiving, too, instead of dread, I’m thinking ahead to how we can avoid the traffic and who will do the clean-up. Letting in more light.

International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day this year is November 19. To find out about gatherings in your area, including screenings of a new documentary "Life Journeys: Reclaiming Life After Loss," click here.