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.

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