Wednesday, May 27, 2020

What Is Possible, Revisited

Psychologist John Schneider poses three questions for the bereaved that are worth exploring for those living with suicide loss (as well as those grieving any type of loss during this pandemic). The questions are simple yet generative: What is lost? What is left? What is possible?

It’s crucial to address these in the most despondent stages of grief after suicide when the sense of loss is overwhelming and it’s difficult to see a way forward--to acknowledge the terrible loss while opening our eyes to what we carry with us from our loved one and what we may yet be able to do, love, understand. It’s also revealing to see how our responses evolve over time.

I recently found two sets of responses to these questions, one from a support group several months after my son Noah’s death and one from a blog post I wrote four years later. Before looking at the lists too carefully, I took stock of how the questions strike me now, seven years after the suicide. Some of my current responses:

What is lost?

A wonderful, witty, wacky soul and budding photographer.

A love like no other.

A brother for Ben.

Knowing, loving and being with the adult Noah.

Derailed or altered career paths for our family of three.

What is left?

A stone. A candle. Tears of sorrow and regret.

Memories shared and unshared; the fear of forgetting.

A closer bond with Ben.

Noah’s presence at the ocean, in a rainbow.

My voice, recovered and rediscovered; this blog, poems.

Ties to suicide loss survivors around the world.

Noah’s name on youth scholarships and suicide prevention events through our small family foundation.

What is possible?

A lot. Joy. Beauty. Laughter.

Compassion. Acts of lovingkindness.

More writing; a book of grief poems?

Ben’s art installations.

More young people & families, aware and prepared for crises.

A child named after Noah?

My thoughts from the three points in time have a lot of overlap: missing Noah and his gifts, our family of four, what might have been. Being left with the holdover of pain and guilt, the focus on his gravestone. At five months and at four years after the suicide, there were more questions, more troubling memories of his decline and death, more need to share our pain with others; those have receded somewhat. At five months, I wrote “I don’t know” under “what is possible”—but predicted, correctly, that my husband and I would get closer to Ben and that I would find a way back to poetry. At four years, I thought it was possible that I’d have moments of happiness, help others on this path, open my heart—and so I have.

A few years ago, I got a gratitude stone as a keepsake from a Survivors Day gathering. I put it by Noah’s high school picture more out of aspiration than conviction. Recently, while singing prayers for Shabbat at home, I happened to notice the stone when I glanced at Noah’s photo. I felt a wave of appreciation for my son’s life and love without the usual pang of pain that comes with missing him. So it’s become possible, finally, to feel the expansion of gratitude as the bitterness subsides. I can’t always access or sustain the feeling--but at least I’ve learned it is possible.

To My Fellow Survivors: Where do your thoughts go when you see Schneider’s three grief questions? Your answers are your own; there’s no recipe or timetable. It’s OK to feel stuck, OK to not know, OK to feel anger or forgiveness--whatever. Maybe you have other questions to add to the three. Keep a record of how you respond today and look back on it in a year or two; you may be surprised.

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