Monday, February 3, 2014

Naming Our Grief

We give our children life and we give them a name; those are our first acts as parents. When a child takes his or her life, they rob us of everything precious for a time. We are left to contemplate what they gave us and what we gave them, including their name.

What’s in a name? When we called our younger son Noah, we were looking for an N-name to honor my husband’s grandfather, Nathan. We liked the sound of Noah, thinking only vaguely of the character of his biblical namesake. Also, as we would find out, there were lots of cute ark-related toys, ritual objects, and photo ops.

Since Noah’s death, I’ve thought more about his name than I ever did before. Like so many things these days, his name has become a lens through which to refract his life and this loss, in the hope of seeing another dimension.

Like the biblical Noah, our Noah was drawn to animals, loved his wine, and spent a lot of time in the water—in his case, surfing, sailing, swimming, kayaking, and playing water polo, not to mention relaxing in the hot tub. Like his namesake, our Noah was a traveler, often storm-tossed and far from home. Tragically, our Noah was not a survivor. The journey was too long and terrifying, the promise of green land too dim and distant. He was swept away in a flood of emotion and confusion, unable to imagine any olive branch or rainbow appearing after the deluge. 

We who loved Noah may think he didn’t seek shelter soon enough or take heed to build a vessel strong enough to withstand disaster. We may lament his lack of foresight or fortitude or faith. But unless we have ourselves been caught up in such a storm, we cannot know how hard it was for him to weather it as long as he did. We cannot know how painfully fear, shame, and despair twist the mind. 

In another cruel twist, Noah’s middle name was Chayim, Hebrew for life. As parents, it’s hard not to feel that in dying by suicide, Noah rejected life, aborted the journey before takeoff. Yet for most of his 21 years, he embraced life with gusto, curiosity, and love; his life was full of adventure and rich with friends and family. As he struggled to grasp what was happening to his mind, maybe he sensed—and could not accept--the prospect of illness constraining that life.

Noah Chayim: always in our hearts . . .

To my fellow survivors: What’s in your lost child’s name? How do you mourn through it? How do you name your grief?


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  2. I found your blog by accident and I am glad that I discovered it. My daughter, Amy, took her life at age 23 in August of 2013. I am also Jewish and I live in Colorado. I have just started reading your blog's most recent entry and I intend to work my way all the way backwards to the beginning. I have read everything I can find on the subject of suicide of a child and coping with the grief (some books help and others don't), I go to a grief therapist and I attend a suicide support group. I lost my parents when I was young but this is totally different. It is almost 6 months and nothing really helps with the bottom line, which for me, is getting through each day while missing her so much. It is an empty ache that nothing can fill for a parent since you are not only dealing with the loss of a child who was as an essential part of your life but also your lost dreams of what that child could have become. There is also the added burden of the guilt and self-blame that comes with being a survivor of a suicide. I call it "my quicksand" since it is so easy to fall into the pit of guilt and self-blame but it is so hard to climb back out. She was my only daughter and she was funny, pretty, smart and creative but she didn't believe she was any of those things. I just loved her for being my Amy. I have younger son who is 15 months younger than Amy. So far, I relate to so much of what you are saying in your blog and I do find that hearing the words of other mothers, like yourself, who are living through what I am struggling with every day can be a kind of comfort because they are the only ones who truly understand this kind of pain. I just loved the name Amy so there was never any doubt it would be her name if she was a girl... she was named for my great aunt Dora with her middle name Diane and her Hebrew name was Deborah. It turned out to be the name of her favorite college art teacher (she was an art and digital media student in college at the time of her death). Thanks for reaching out with your blog. I am reading it and it is helping me. I feel that I am getting to know Noah through your words and I intend to read all of them.

    1. Hello lavinajane,

      I am so very sorry for your loss. May Amy's memory be for a blessing. She sounds like a wonderful person, and your great love for her is evident in your post.

      The ache is still so raw at six months and what you aptly call the quicksand of guilt is still so deep. People say, 'don't go there,' but you can't tell your heart not to feel what it's feeling. We all process this differently. For me at almost 11 months, the guilt and remorse are still there but they swamp me less often; gradually, it's getting easier to be aware of the things I did do to try to help my son and focus less on what I failed to do. That said, the guilt may always be part of us now making the ache heavier, part of the unknowns and "what if"s.

      Besides therapy and support group, how are you taking care of yourself? Are you finding any comfort in Jewish tradition or community?
      I'm glad you found the blog and hope it will be helpful to you. If you prefer to write privately sometime, you are welcome to use the e-mail address on the About This Blog page.

      In shared sorrow,

  3. What a heartfelt and beautiful question you raise and tribute you make to Noah! Thank you for the tender honesty of this blog. It sounds as if your Noah and our Matt were similar in their eagerness to live life fully and their confusion and struggle to deal with a darkness they could not dissipate. It is just so heartbreaking.
    It has been almost 7 years for us… which seems impossible. The healing journey continues and I am so uplifted by beautiful voices like yours. Thank you for your encouragement to me in my effort to speak words that heal. It would be lovely to meet you.