Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Advice From an Advice Columnist

I saw this posted in an online newspaper and thought I would share it. I am a big fan of Carolyn Hax, and this is the first time I’ve seen her answer a question related to a suicide survivor. The question is from the girlfriend of a suicide survivor asking how she can support her boyfriend. She feels he is using his father’s suicide as an excuse for poor decision making and being lazy.

I like Carolyn’s answer about survivors needing to form themselves into something new since they will never be the same again. I also like that Carolyn doesn’t dismiss the boyfriend’s grief just because the suicide happened years ago. It’s easy to think that people use tragic events in their life as excuses for everything else that’s gone wrong. I’m sure some do, but we also have to remember that there could be truth to it.

What do you think of Carolyn’s advice? Do you relate to the girlfriend or her boyfriend?


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hitting the Reset Button on Grief

It’s fall again. Every year the weather cools down, the leaves turn colors, and I notice I’m walking on a bed of soggy brown leaves instead of gravel on my way to the lake. The Halloween decorations pop up in stores and on the neighborhood houses. The days get darker earlier, the sunny days fewer, and then one day it starts raining and doesn’t stop until July.

I love Halloween. I love the colorful foliage, and I love the smell and feel of the air after the rain has washed out the stagnant summer heat. But I also remember enjoying these fall days when I heard my dad committed suicide. So with every fall I get a dash of depression, some years worse than others. It could also be seasonal affective disorder, the sadness that summer is ending, or that I also lost two pregnancies in October. Whatever the reasons, fall is a dismal time of year. Yes, I love Halloween and Christmas even more, but then there’s the gloomy months of January and February to suffer through, and then the tease of March and April as the weather can’t decide if it’s going to warm up or stay grey and dreary forever. It’s like the weather is a physical manifestation of my emotional turmoil.

Maybe this is why I decided to revive this blog. As much as I try to “move on” from my dad’s suicide, I can’t let go of it. Every October is like hitting the reset button on my grief. Every year it’s easier, but every year it’s still there, and I have no reason to believe that it will ever completely go away. I’m not even sure I want it to. When the grief goes away, so does the memory of my dad.

When I started this blog, I'm not sure I knew its purpose. I think I used it as a place to post my fears and thoughts without any sort of organization or goal. That was fine and somewhat cathartic, but now I have a better idea of its intent. This year, I decided to handle my grief differently. I look back over the five years and see all the heartache and missed opportunities, but there is also a lot of amazing and joyful things that took place. It’s all about perspective. When you look back on your life, what do you see? Do you see all the bad things or do you see all the good? You will see whatever you are looking for, so where do you choose to dwell? I’m going to stop dwelling on the awfulness of my dad’s stroke and suicide, and start focusing on what I can do to keep his happy memories alive.

This blog is now about honoring those we have lost in the past by keeping the joy they brought to us alive in the present. By making this choice, I hope to turn October into a celebration of his life instead of a celebration of Prozac.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Coming Soon...

Please forgive my long absence. I was two months pregnant at my last post, and I wanted to focus on my baby. I now have a beautiful 8 month old daughter, and I am ready to get back to writing.

I plan to revive this blog over the next few months. Keep checking back for more entries and a new look. Meanwhile, you can email me if you have any topics you’d like to discuss.

Thank you for your loyalty.


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.