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Archive for March, 2015

img_0095-edit-2How might someone gauge personal healing after the suicide of a loved one? The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) lists twelve “symptoms” of inner peace that apply to the family members of people living with mental illness, but I think those symptoms pertain, as well, to family and friends living in the aftermath of suicide:

1) Tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than from fears based on experiences from the past.

2) The ability to enjoy each moment.

3) Loss of interest in judging self.

4) Loss of interest in judging other people.

5) Loss of interest in conflict.

6) Disinterest in interpreting actions of others.

7) Loss of ability to worry.

8) Frequent episodes of appreciation.

9) Contented feeling of connectedness with others and nature.

10) Frequent attacks of smiling through the eyes of the heart.

11) Increasing susceptibility to love extended by others as well as the uncontollable urge to extend it.

12) Increasing tendency to let things happen rather than to make them happen.

“If you have all, or even most of the above symptoms,” NAMI states, “your condition of peace may be so far advanced as not to be treatable” (NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program, National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2014, 9.17).

Playfully described though they may be, values and perspectives do shift when someone we love lives with a mental illness or dies because of it.

For example, before my daughter Mary died by intentional overdose in 1995, I had spent a good part of my adult life trying to figure out other people’s motivations, usually erroneously, as I would later come to learn. But at Mary’s wake, I began issuing a series of “I don’t know” statements that endure to this day.

I didn’t know that Mary had been thinking about suicide for two years before her death as her journals revealed. I didn’t know and couldn’t imagine the inner pain she was carrying, more or less silently. I didn’t know much about Mary or anything else during the wake, the funeral, or for several years to follow.

Those “I didn’t know” admissions continue to chasten. But they always lead to one searing truth: if I hadn’t known what was in my own daughter’s heart, how could I pretend to know what is in anyone else’s heart without that person telling me?

The answer: I don’t know. While endorsing NAMI’s “symptoms of inner peace,” my suicide bereavement adds nuance to numbers four and six on the list. It isn’t so much that I’ve lost interest in judging other people or that I’m disinterested in interpreting their actions. It’s that Mary’s death has exposed my incapacity for doing so, the acknowlegment of which does bring a kind of peace.

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