Sunday, February 26, 2017

Not Every Happiness

“I wish you every happiness,” says a tearful mom to her adult son on TV. She’d given him up for adoption as a newborn and was only just meeting him for the first time when it became clear they would never meet again.

Every happiness. We wish it when we leave someone but still care about them. We say it at graduations and weddings, at births and milestone birthdays. 

Every parent wishes it for their child. Noah knew that. He thought happiness was his birthright.

But as his mind began to betray him, the promise of all that happiness slipped from his grasp. It got dragged out to sea by a force he couldn’t fathom or resist. Every anxiety attack stranded him further from pursuit of the promise.  I can’t see the lines/I used to think I could read between, he wrote in his notebook, quoting Brian Eno’s GoldenHours .

He whose life had been rich with friends, cousins, lovers. Riding a wave on a surfboard for the first time. Perfecting the art of pizza-making. Becoming French for a year.

But not every happiness, no. There wasn’t time in 21 years. No time to find his true love or vocation. No time to make that trip to Berlin or to build a family of his own.

Every happiness --who gets that, anyway? We get at least a shot at it. Noah forfeited the game at barely quarter-time. 

This is what crushes me: that a young man who seemed poised for so much happiness died in shame and despair and will never get another shot. That he couldn’t hold on long enough to recover his stride, and I couldn’t help him. That my husband and I lost out on naches from Noah, Yiddish for the unique gratification that comes from watching your child grow into a full and fulfilling life.

To my fellow suicide loss survivors: Where did your lost one find happiness? How did the two of you enjoy life in the years you had?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Setting Grief Aside

Where has my grief gone? It feels remote and inaccessible lately. And with distance from my grieving self comes distance from Noah. I know that grief for my child will always be with me. But it’s gone underground again.

I was talking with a friend and fretting about days that go by without thinking of Noah or feeling anything when I walk past his picture on the piano or in the den. Memories of the living Noah recede into the shadows as I’m increasingly caught up in other things. That seems healthy, my friend says; that seems natural. I’m sure she’s right. But I hate how inexorably life rolls forward without Noah. I hate the numbness that comes from sensing his absence where his presence should be. 

I’ve fought against numbness throughout this journey. I’ve felt most alive when grief flowed freely, when tears brought me closer to my love for Noah, and when writing about it brought release. I plunged headfirst into grieving in the first year or two without understanding the need, with traumatic loss, to “dose” my grief and pace myself lest it become overwhelming. Of course, I had no choice at that point; I was undone. With time, it became easier to choose whether and when and how much I wanted to give way to grief. Psychologists Jordan and Baugher say that grief eventually becomes a more voluntary response that we can control, as opposed to the involuntary grief of earlier stages. 

But grieving takes enormous energy and some part of me must have recognized this when I put it aside a few months ago after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis . I had to stop and really listen to my body’s need to rest and heal. At night, I tried to ease into sleep with relaxation exercises; when I woke up, I prolonged the sense of rest by reading in bed. I concentrated all my prayers and meditations on my health rather than anything to do with Noah. And I put a lot of effort into staying positive—not my natural inclination!--and keeping anxiety at bay. At the same time, I was intent on finishing a book inspired by this blog that will be published in July (more on that this summer). I needed all the energy I could muster to meet my deadline and take care of myself. I see this only now as I reach the end of 20 radiation treatments and begin to reclaim my time, my body, and my grieving self.

Sometimes all it takes to unblock the numbness is to recognize and lament it. In the days since I began writing this post, the gates began to ease open. In five weeks, it will be four years since we lost Noah. By then, I trust I can cry again.