Thursday, April 27, 2017

Lost in Loss

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with the word “lost” when it comes to suicide. How does a person become lost? How is it possible to lose a child? Did our son, Noah, slip through our fingers like some trifle left behind on a park bench? Were we not paying attention to guarding our greatest treasure? How could we have made not just a fumble, like any parent, but a fatal mistake that can never be undone?
Te amo más que mi vida, goes the song on a Spanish radio station.
The truth is we started losing Noah some time before his suicide as the wit and spark drained from him. I saw him slip deeper into the muck of depression and didn’t know how to pull him out. I steered him toward therapists and meds—sometimes successfully—and tried to draw out his feelings or engage him in things he used to love—unsuccessfully.
I thought I knew my son from years of extraordinary closeness. But I knew nothing of the extent of his despair and his craving for oblivion. And I didn’t know how to reach through his pain or my own frustration.
My fatal mistake was, on the last night of his life, urging him yet again to see a psychiatrist and get a part-time job. What I should have said was: It gets better. We love you and are here for you. Take all the time you need to heal.
My fatal mistake was, on the last day of his life, staying late at work because I dreaded coming home to a depressed, near-catatonic child who refused to get help. Had I found him two hours earlier, who knows?
I’ll always regret what I said and did. I’ll be atoning for it the rest of my life. I’ll never know if I pushed Noah over the edge or could have somehow saved him from the brink. These feelings stick in my gut, though I know that ultimately, a suicide is no one’s fault and there are no guarantees that any one action might have prevented tragedy. Indeed, one of the losses survivors confront after suicide is the loss of the illusion of control with those we love, as Dr. Stacey Freedenthal eloquently explains .
Amy Biancolli, who“lost” her husband to suicide, wrote a memoir whose very title—Figuring Sh!t Out: Love, Laughter, Suicide and Survival (Behler Publications, 2014)--speaks of her remarkable resilience and humor. I was struck by the light touch in her book and wondered how she managed to dodge guilt. But in a recent TEDx talk, “You’reStill Here: Living After Suicide,” she admits she’ll never be done with the guilt and the questions. In the face of that enormous loss of control, Biancolli had to focus on what she could control and reinvent herself. So she put this list on her fridge:
Be grateful
Be present
Make music
Have faith.
That’s a list I’ll gladly sign onto. We survivors need these simple reminders when we feel we’ve lost everything.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Three Questions After the Fourth Death Anniversary

Psychologist John Schneider advises those confronting any type of grief to consider three questions: What is lost? What is left? What is possible? The answers for me keep changing with each passing year after Noah’s suicide. Surely some things are possible now that I couldn’t imagine before. The loss itself takes up less space in my thoughts and daily life. But so, too, has the loss deepened and solidified, a stone lodged in my heart.
A partial list of answers to the three questions @ 4 years:
What is lost? Our precious boy – his many gifts and how he inspired and teased and amazed and worried and exasperated us. The things he would have done and places he would have gone and people he would have met. The endless list of all that was contained in a life, obliterated, never to be recovered. But most of all: the exchange of love. A family of four. The chance for reconciliation and a return to our lifelong conversation. The chance to see him grown and happy. A normal life.
What is left? A stone in a cemetery. A stone in a park. A small box of artifacts in a closet.
Doubt. Guilt. Regret. Questions. Tears.
The embers and tatters of memory.
The photos he made. The people whose lives he touched.
A living son, far from home.
Our puppies and spring garden and contented chickens.
Those who understand and share our pain, whether we’ve known them for years or just met them at a survivors’ gathering.
The beauty and wonder of the world.
What is possible? Remembering. Forgetting. Seeking wholeness. Opening the heart.
Continuing to try to understand.
Moments of happiness.
Helping others on this path.
Being grateful for 21 years.
Bearing unbearable loss.
To my fellow survivors: So many questions will never be answered after suicide. But we can try to answer for ourselves: What is lost? What is left? What is possible? How do these questions and their answers sit with you today?