Archive for the ‘abandonment’ Category


Roxy, our family cat of thirteen years, died on Palm Sunday. After eating nothing for a day or two, after being examined by the veterinarian and placed on steroids for possible asthma, after being wept and prayed for, Roxy was let outside on a warm, beautiful Palm Sunday night and disappeared from our lives.

Having witnessed the natural death of pets over the years, I’ve come to regard myself as seasoned in the ways of mourning for them: a solemn burial, a few reminiscences, a prayer of gratitude, an attempt to salve bruised hearts with the promise of new pets.

But Roxy’s death was different. On her last night, she remained affectionate even as mysterious cat logic took over, urging her to walk slowly away from those she loved who loved her.

“Tears are a river that take you somewhere,” writes Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her classic work, Women Who Run with The Wolves. Tears for Roxy took me to a place of grief that remains secure eighteen years after the suicide of daughter Mary.

It’s just that Mary had also been sicker than I realized. She had also used her own mysterious logic on the night she overdosed to leave those she loved who loved her; and like Roxy, she was incapable of saying goodbye. Tears that were shed for Roxy this week were also being shed for Mary, and they took me somewhere real.

“For years, classical psychology of all types erroneously thought that grief was a process that you did once, preferably over a year’s period of time, and then it was done with, and anyone who was unable or unwilling to complete this over the proscribed time period had something rather wrong with them. But we know now what humans have known instinctively for centuries: that certain hurts and harms . . . can never be done being grieved; the loss of a child through death . . . being one of the most, if not the most, enduring” (New York: Ballantine Books, 1995, 374, 385).

I’m grateful for the life of a small cat, and I’m oddly beholden to her. Roxy took me to where some of the Mary-grief lies. Now I can pay attention to it from time to time and honor it as part of me.

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Looking for Good-bye

Several days ago, a moving van pulled up across the street and men started unloading the home my neighbors had lived in for fifteen years. I thought maybe the neighbors were renovating and would be moving back in a couple months. “No,” said one son with a grin, “we’re moving, but only a few blocks away.” Even while congratulating Jack, I was saddened by the news. “Why is this move so troubling to me? I’ll still see these folks at Mass on Sundays, and it’s not as though they owed me a good-bye.”

It’s just this: someone did once owe me a good-bye she never gave–my teenage daughter Mary who died by suicide in 1995. Watching neighbors move last week was all it took to renew my sense of abandonment that, while attempting to soothe over the years, I continue to have and hold.

“To the extent that survivors construe the suicide as a willful choice on the part of the deceased,” write clinical scholars John Jordan and John McIntosh, “it may engender profound feelings of . . . abandonment in the mourner. . . ” (Grief After Suicide: Understanding the Consequences and Caring for the Survivors. New York: Routledge, 2011, p. 183).

But I’ve spent years pushing back against the notion of willfulness in Mary’s suicide. I now think she had no choice, given her hopelessness. Just the same, I carry the sting of “no good-bye” right beneath the surface, readily activated.

In Blue Genes: A Memoir of Loss and Survival, Christopher Lukas writes about family suicides and the abandonment he felt and still feels after a relative’s suicide. He describes his experience as an adolescent upon learning that his mother’s death was, in fact, a suicide: “Stunned is what I felt–stunned and startled and hurt. I was furious at Mother. She had taken her own life and abandoned me in the process” (New York: Anchor Books, 2008, p. 138).

About his brother’s suicide in 1997, Lukas writes, “He did not kill himself to hurt me and the others who were his friends. . . But I cannot let go of the fact that by leaving without saying good-bye, he left me, once more, all alone” (p. 244).

I will look for a way to say good-bye to my neighbors just as I’ve looked for a way to say good-bye to Mary. It’s what suicide survivors do. It’s something that can be done.

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