Friday, July 12, 2013

I Do Not Have to Agree with His Choice to Commit Suicide

I do not have to agree with my dad’s choice to commit suicide.

I know that seems obvious, but it switched on in my head like a lightbulb. It’s taken me a long time to believe these words. I’ve heard them over and over again, but they were abstract concepts. Logically, I knew they were true, but I didn’t feel they were true. All these years I’ve been struggling to make sense of his suicide, and when this sentence made sense to me, I felt lighter. I do not have to agree with my dad’s choice to commit suicide. I never will agree with it. He could appear before me right now and explain it all to me, and whatever reasons he gave would never satisfy me. I may have a better understanding and sympathize, but he would never convince me that taking his own life was an acceptable solution to his problems. If I know I will never agree with him, then I don’t need to spend my life struggling to make sense of it. How do you make sense of things when there is no sense to be made?

I am not responsible for my dad’s death, because if I was, it wouldn’t have happened.

To assume responsibility for his death, or to place responsibility upon another, robs my dad of his personhood and invalidates the enormity of his pain and his desperate need for relief.

You can forgive someone without excusing, rationalizing, supporting, or agreeing with their behavior. Part of loving someone is accepting all of their decisions, even when that person is self-destructing. There is only so much you can do, and then you have to let them go. You can’t control someone else’s life, and you can’t convince someone that life is worth living if they can’t see it.

I will always wonder what happened. I will never get over his suicide. I will always miss him. I will still get angry that he left me, but I know I will be able to forgive him when I am ready. For now, I do not have to agree with, support, excuse, rationalize, or try to explain my dad’s choice to commit suicide. It was his choice, he made it, it’s done, and I need to accept it, forgive myself, and forgive him.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Evolution of Grief -- Year Three and Beyond

At first, you wonder how you will ever forget the horror you’ve gone through. Will there ever be a day you don’t think about the suicide? After a while, that switches, and you worry you will forget how they looked, how they talked, what they’re voice sounded like, what they liked to do, and all the inside jokes and secrets you shared. You wonder what you’ve already forgotten.

Time has changed places, things, and faces. New technology is on the market, new shopping centers have popped up, and there are new friends and people in your life. You may have moved, family members may have moved, or you may have a new job. You think about all the things your lost loved one is missing out on and will never see. You wonder how your life would be different if that person was still alive. The pain is still there, but you’re coping. It’s amazing to think that it’s been more than two years and you are still here and functioning. You’re more confident you will make it, and things are feeling more normal.

You might have more positive thoughts and happy memories about the person you lost to suicide. The suicide no longer defines the person you lost. You start to see and remember the person’s whole life accomplishments that were erased or seemed meaningless because of the way the person died. You are over the shock and trauma of the suicide, and now you are mourning the loss of the person.

More importantly, you stop letting the suicide define you. You come to accept the suicide as a choice the person made that had nothing to do with you. You learn to forgive your loved one, and though you will never understand why it happened, you know that you can live with it.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Evolution of Grief -- Year Two

You don’t remember much of the first year after the suicide because your priority was on surviving. During the second year, you are processing and rebuilding. The denial is gone. You were able to put on a good show and pretend your loved one was on vacation last year, but this year you are fully aware that this person is never coming back. Things aren’t the same as they were before, but they never will be. Your life is now divided into two time periods, “Before the Suicide” and “After the Suicide.” These things are what make the second year hard (some say harder than the first year).

Out of survival mode, you are better able to think through your choices and the choice your loved one made when he or she committed suicide. But clearer thinking takes the edge off your pain. You still have bad days, and you still feel the need to self-medicate at times. You’ve created safe places to hide from the pain, good coping skills, established new routines, resumed your hobbies, but now you wonder, “Is this all there is?” You’ve surrounded yourself in the familiar, safe, and comfortable. It’s time to venture out and start taking risks again, but it’s scary. Every decision you make is around your grief. How will this be good or bad for me? How will this be good or bad for my lost loved one? How will I make this loss fit into what I need and want? Where is the meaning in all this? No matter what you do, it feels like something is missing. It’s not imagined. There is something missing in your life.

The estate may be closed. If you handled the estate, you may be both excited and sad that it is over. Managing it kept the loved one in your life, and now that distraction is gone. You have more free time, and you’re unsure what to do with it.

Your friends and family have settled back into their routines and making the important decisions on how they will move on with their lives. People expect you to be over it by now. You are irritable and impatient, but no one makes the connection that it’s because you’re still grieving. The suicide was a long time ago for them, though it’s still fresh for you. Sometimes you wonder if there is something wrong with you because you’re not over it yet. That’s ridiculous! You need to grieve on your own timeline.

The holidays are here again. Last year, you put on your best fake smile and bullshitted your way through them. It was easy to come up with an excuse for why your loved one wasn’t there, but this year, there’s no getting around why. Without the safety of denial, the loss is present in the missing gifts and cards, the empty chair at the table, and the awkward family moments.

The second year anniversary of the suicide comes. You remember from last year that the days leading to it are harder than the actual day, but you still dread it. You may experience the same overpowering emotions that you experienced last year.  It feels like a giant step backward in your grief, but to forget what it felt like to feel that low is a reminder of how high you’ve come out of it. You start planning what to do this year for the anniversary. You might even start forming traditions and rituals to perform every year on important dates.

When the date of the anniversary arrives, you are both sad and relieved. You have made it through two years. You have learned to laugh again, learned to have fun doing the things you did before the suicide, and you have deepened your relationships with the people who supported you.  If you can make it through two years, you feel you can make it through the rest of them.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Evolution of Grief -- Year One

During the first year, you wonder how you’re going to survive. You’re told to take it one day at a time, but even one day sounds too long. It’s easier to go a minute at a time. In the first few weeks, you lie in bed watching the numbers change on the clock, and you’re both disappointed and glad that you’re still breathing. If you stay in bed, you can pretend the suicide didn’t happen. You can sleep, cry, and avoid people. When you get out of bed, everything is a reminder of your loss. Nothing has changed physically, but everything has changed emotionally. Your life no longer feels safe or comfortable.

You go to work, you resume your old routine, you smile, you say “fine” when people ask how you’re doing, but you feel hollow. Your friends, family, and coworkers are either sugary/saccharine sweet or they avoid you because the topic of suicide makes them uncomfortable and they don’t know what to say. You don’t know what to say. Simple questions suddenly become hard to answer, and simple decisions are now impossible to make. You wonder when you’ll be able to laugh or have fun again without feeling guilty. You’re irritable, you’re impatient, you can’t concentrate, and you dread the calendar because every day is the one year anniversary of something that happened with your lost loved one.

Some days you feel happy and like your old self again. You begin to think that you’re over it and you’re not afraid to have hope. Then tomorrow arrives, and you’re back to feeling like you did the day you heard the news. The ups and downs are inconsistent, unpredictable, and you never know what’s going to trigger your tears. Sometimes you want to move, change jobs, change your friends, change everything. Your personality is off, and you struggle to find a new identity. You do some crazy things that make sense at the time, but looking back later they are ridiculous and you regret them. You want to escape, but there is nowhere to go that eases the pain. You consider a second, third or fourth glass of wine at dinner. It just feels good to get outside your head for an evening every now and then.

Why? Why? Why?! There’s never a satisfying answer, and it bothers you. How do you reconcile and make sense of this? Who are you supposed to be angry with? Who is the real victim? You read books about suicide and you browse relevant articles online. You consider religion, medications, therapists, and support groups. Some things help more than others, but nothing completely eliminates the pain.

The months pass, but you don’t remember much of what happened during them. You’re still amazed that the sun rises and sets and everyone and everything continue on as if nothing has happened. Maybe time froze for you temporarily, and you suddenly find yourself caught up with the rest of the world. The novelty and denial have worn off. You no longer get the casserole dinners, some of your acquaintances may have forgotten your loss, and some of the people in your life are impatient that you’re not over it yet. Your relationships with your friends and family have changed. You no longer relate to your friends the same way. Some support you, some don’t, and some try and fail. Your family either comes together to grieve or gets torn apart assigning blame or being greedy. Some of them want or need your support, but you’re emotionally unable to provide it. You suddenly feel very lonely.

Now the anniversary of the death is approaching. The date is burned into your head. You can’t think about anything other than, “How am I going to survive that day?” You can’t stop thinking about how it happened, where it happened, how you heard the news, how you reacted… *shiver* *sob* You’re back in bed staring at the clock again. You thought you used up all your tears already, but they seem to have replenished in full.

You arrange to take the anniversary date of the suicide off from work. You do whatever you feel like doing – stay in bed, journal, get a massage, go out with friends, pray, look at pictures of your lost loved one. You realize that the day wasn’t so bad. It was just like any other day you’ve experienced this past year, and you wonder why you were so afraid of it. Once it’s over, you feel relieved. You made it through the first year.



Thursday, April 11, 2013

EMDR Therapy

Last week, my therapist tried a controversial type of therapy on me called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). It’s designed for PTSD patients, but can also be effective with depression and other anxiety disorders.

The session went something like this:

Tell me how high your anxiety is right now.
Tell me one thing you don’t like about yourself. What do you want to change that thought to that’s positive?
I am going to run my fingers back and forth in front of you. Follow them with your eyes until I stop.
Tell me what you’re thinking.
Now imagine a big dam, and there’s a brick lose. A little trickle of water is coming out. You are playing in the water.
Watch my fingers again.

She took me through some guided imagery, asked me questions about my dad’s suicide, and between talking she would have me watch her fingers move back and forth. It was a very interesting experience, and it worked! I had a different outlook on things when I walked out of there. It didn’t cure everything, and I would like to do at least one more session, but it took me to a place that talk therapy hasn’t been able to reach.

Here are a couple of links on EMDR. There are also videos of EMDR sessions you can watch.

If you feel are you stuck and want to try something new, I recommend it. Check with your insurance provider to get a list of therapists they will cover, and then you can see who has training in EMDR.

I will post more about my EMDR experiences in future posts.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Crisis Texting for Teens

I found this article over the weekend. It’s about setting up crisis texting for teens.

I think this is a great idea! Picking up a phone and calling for help can be intimidating, and teens may be worried about being overhead. This gives teens with another way to reach out for help in a way they are comfortable with and use every day.

What do you think?


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pile of Sh*t

It’s not fair. My dad is gone, and he left me a big pile of shit. I can’t just grieve; I have to plan a funeral, distribute the estate, clean out his condo, and sort through his stuff. He ran from his problems, and I have to clean them up. That’s not what friends and family do to each other, and I’m in no emotional state to be dealing with this crap.

How could he do this to me? I am relieved by his death. He is no longer suffering, and I no longer have to worry about him. But it’s not over. There is so much to do, and not just physically. The emotional healing from the suicide will last the rest of my life. There will always be a trigger, something to remind me of my dad and I’ll break down and cry. The world is no longer a safe place, and it feels empty without him.

I’ve heard people say that suicide is the most selfish act a person can make. I understand where this comes from, but I don’t entirely agree. Dad was only thinking of himself, but people who commit suicide are in an altered state of mind. I believe they think they are being selfless. They believe that what they are doing is better for everyone, and that our lives will improve and all will be happy once they’re gone. If they really knew the pile of shit they were leaving behind, they might not have done it. That’s what I hope. We’ll never know.

I like to entertain the idea that part of my dad’s “punishment” for committing suicide is that he has to watch the living struggle with his loss. If he is watching, I can let him know what I’m feeling. What would hurt him the most? Getting over it fast? Wallowing in despair? Being angry and bitter? What would he say about the decisions I made regarding what stuff of his to keep and what to get rid of? Dad was adamant that he didn’t want an obituary, but we did one anyway. Doesn’t matter what he’d say, now. He’s not here to say it. His opinion doesn’t matter anymore, and I can flaunt it in his face.

Wouldn’t it be nice if your loved one had everything done before they committed suicide? They got rid of all their junk, put aside their valuables, had the funeral arrangements made, and left you money for your therapy along with a list of support groups? Wouldn’t that be considerate of them? Maybe if they’d consulted you first about their choice to commit suicide, you could have talked some sense into them. You could have told them that you rather have them than a pile of shit.

It’s just not fair.