“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world,
When a child of ours deliberately ends his/her life our grief is compounded. We grieve the death and loss of a most beloved part of ourselves … of our own life and future. But we grieve as well, and foremost, the fact of suicide and all suicide means and all society perceives suicide as meaning.
Every emotional response familiar in grief is intensified and complicated to almost intolerable dimensions following suicide. We are in dread of punitive societal attitudes and religious biases. We fear for our surviving children. We become obsessed with guilt and unrealistic acceptance of responsibility. At the same time we feel a tremendous sense of rejection, inadequacy, personal failure and anger … anger at God, at ourselves, sometimes at other family members and, perhaps most painful of all, at our dead child.
I was thrust into this overpowering morass of emotional agony by the suicide of Kent, my bright, handsome twenty-four year old son. I could not be distracted from the horror of what he had done to his body, to his life and to the lives of those who loved him. How could this unspeakable, seemingly senseless act have occurred within my family? How was it possible his desperate state of mind had gone unrecognized and untended? We should have known! Somehow we should have been able to foresee and prevent his death! I found small comfort in the blessing of family, his heart-broken father and our four grief-stricken children, who shared the anguish of this tragedy. I saw my family as irretrievably broken … for one of us was to be absent forever. And by his own choice! I was inconsolable. I believed my life was over. Oh, I never doubted that my existence would and must continue. But I saw this continuance only as pain-filled days, stretching endlessly into years … to be endured without peace of mind or hope for happiness.
I was bereft of understanding as to why this unthinkable choice had been made. Inexhaustible, I searched for answers, for reasons, for justification I was never to find. I was desolate in my need that the magnitude of my wounding be understood and comforted. I felt assaulted, exposed, embarrassed and estranged from society. I was fearful, feeling disconnected, without bearing or direction for healing my brokenness and without reassurance for my sanity. For I was convinced the shock of finding my gunshot son had left me mentally unbalanced. The intensity of my feelings surely was neither normal nor sane!
In the following days and weeks I forced myself to go through the motions of living. My physical self performed mundane household tasks. I even extended comfort and caring to others. But it was a façade; a shallow veneer around a vast, cold nothingness. I was wretched with self-loathing, tormented by the belief that something I had done or failed to do had so robbed my son of self-love that he could no longer live with the pain of it. I thought I would explode from the embroiling force of rage, guilt and frustrated helplessness. Many times I struggled with a particular feeling and found relief from having “finished” with that part of the great complexity of my emotions, only to have it erupt again, confusing and nagging in its persistence to be reprocessed.
For months I remained entrapped; inert; impotent. I was obsessed with my son’s suicide and with finding the cause. It was the first and last thought of every day. Every heartbeat accentuated his death and my loss. Every moment was consumed by hurting … hurting … hurting. I grew so very weary of hurting!
Perhaps it was that suffocating, disabling weariness that stirred within me a fluttering resistance against remaining within the torturous confines of grief. For, though fragile and unsure, a new being labored to emerge, a being that wanted, needed and yes … even deserved to be freed! This metamorphosis was not achieved quickly, painlessly or without reluctance, for I feared the glimpse of myself and my life forever changed. I feared the future, alien and distant from the uncomplicated, joyous past; a future without the gentle teasing and dimpled laughter of my son. But I also glimpsed love and kinder times waiting to be shared with my living family. I glimpsed a future offering more than just survival.
With the slow disintegration of the sheltering cocoon of grief, I saw the compassionate Ever-Presence of the God I had raged against. His love encompassed me, radiating warmth into my grief-frozen soul. I was reassured of His acceptance of my child. My value was reaffirmed and the worth of both my own being and that of my son was restored. I knew the meaning of Grace!
I recognized a deeper, richer appreciation of my strengths and found renewed confidence. I sought those wounded like me and, as our tears mingled, felt the soothing balm of genuine understanding. I saw the isolated, untended anguish of others and in extending comfort found meaning and purpose for my own loss and pain. I learned something of suicide dynamics, gained insight into the overwhelming intensity of grief my son had been experiencing and found peace of mind in forgiving the way he chose to resolve it. Finally, I was able to relinquish to him, responsibility for his act and allow him the dignity and consequence of his own person hood.
I grew to accept the short time and great love shared with this child as an unconditional gift. I grew to accept that his death, my loss and grief are, and will always be, a part of my life. Most importantly, I grew to understand that they are not, or had ever been, the whole of it.
I will always sorrow for the death of my son, but my healing is no longer hindered by the consuming obsession with the cause of his death. At last, after many cruel, exhausting months, I am free of the bondage of my powerlessness over his choice and his death. I am free to take back into myself, to treasure throughout the remainder of my days, cherished memories of life with him; memories of his mischief, of his laughter and the sweetness of his less-than-perfect person. I am, once again, free to look toward the future with hope. I am free … to live again!
© 1988 LaRita Archibald
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