Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘healing’ Category

image

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.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

My teenage daughter’s suicide in 1995 was a seismic event that sent shock waves through my world of meaning. To say the least, Mary’s death shook my belief in the sweetness and predictability of life and rattled my identity as a knowing mother-protector.

“Suicide appears to be particularly potent in its ability to shatter the most fundamental assumptions in life,” clinical researchers John Jordan and John McIntosh write. “For a period of time, many survivors are truly unable to make sense of why the suicide has happened, what role they played in the death, and its implications for their identity and their understanding of the world.”

According to Jordan and McIntosh, those shattered assumptions revolve largely around relationships. For a time, that is, a person bereaved by suicide must weather the wrecked presuppositions that he or she held with respect to the person who died, to his or her self-identity, and to other people, leading to a “protracted search for sense in a seemingly inexplicable death.”

For nearly two years, this blog has regularly concerned itself with relationship assumptions that have imploded. “Knowing Mary,” “An Insight About How,” and “Choosing Suicide” are posts that reflect my disoriented bond with Mary and my effort to repair the “psychological havoc” that Jordan and McIntosh report as common in suicide bereavement (Grief After Suicide: Understanding the Consequences and Caring for the Survivors, New York: Routledge, 2011, 249, 252).

Blog posts about guilt, anger, and post-traumatic stress disorder have addressed the collapse of certain givens about my self-identity just as other posts (“A Priest Waits with Us in The Emergency,” “My Suicide-Bereaved Family and the Police,” and “Social Uncertainty”) have spoken of my assumptions about relationship to others that have been altered, sometimes for the better.

In categorizing our overturned assumptions in terms of relationship, Jordan and McIntosh provide a potentially clarifying way of dealing with the inner chaos of suicide bereavement. Their work also points to a possible path of bereavement healing that will be addressed in future posts.

Read Full Post »

image

My brother George sent this picture a couple of weeks ago. He’s holding my daughter Mary at a Virginia horse farm on an autumn Sunday in 1980. She was three years old at the time, a delightful child, full of wonder, who would die by intentional overdose fifteen years later.

During the first dozen years of my grief for her, seeing the photograph would have jarred a routine question: “How on earth did my adorable little girl ever get to a place in her life where she felt she had to die?”

It was a question without answer, an insistent probe into the reality of my daughter’s life. In early grief, that sweet, innocent picture of Mary would not have seemed sweet and innocent. It would have called into doubt every good quality she possessed throughout her life. It would have prompted me to read the ugliness of her suicide back into the beauty of that picture-perfect moment. It would have left me grappling with the fear that, at depth, life makes no sense.

An essential part of healing after suicide is that of reviewing one’s relationship with the deceased and exploring how it can be “disentangled from the manner of death . . .” clinical researchers John Jordan and John McIntosh advise (Grief After Suicide: Understanding the Consequences and Caring for the Survivors, New York: Routledge, 2011, 200).

Disentangling Mary from her suicide required the discipline of many years: clearly the most arduous inner housecleaning of my life. But it finally gave my daughter back to me in a healing, peaceful way. Even more, it allowed the beauty of her life to return in its fullness.

Seeing the picture of her and my brother now brings profound gratitude. It calls up several lines from John Keats’s poem Endymion that I have been waiting to use ever since I memorized them in college forty years ago: “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: / its loveliness increases; it will never / Pass into nothingness.”

Read Full Post »

Yesterday, I was talking with a friend whose husband died two months ago of cancer. Remarkably positive in early bereavement and not someone given to denial, she commented that grief for my daughter Mary must continue to be difficult. In fact, she said it must be the worst, most unimaginable kind of grief. I wanted to reply that losing a teenage daughter to suicide has required a steady healing effort over nearly two decades, but words failed. What came forth was a small grief burst, an outcropping of emotion that I thought had been dispensed with years ago.

In many ways, grief for Mary has been routed: I’ve gotten used to her absence; I’ve found a place for her in my emotional life that has allowed me to go on; I don’t think of her with sadness anymore, but, rather, with something like puzzlement that tends to be more intriguing than anything.

But grief–that small, cold stone–continues to show itself from time to time, despite the healing. What’s changed since yesterday is that I’m now trying to honor not only its presence but also its life-givingness.

“Grieving is not just something that we do on sad occasions,” writes Richard Rohr, OFM, Catholic priest and author. “It is a mode of existence that agrees to carry the sadness of things without denying or dismissing the pain as an accident. It is a way of living that incorporates dying. It is a way of remembrance that refuses to forget. It is not a maudlin, depressed, or self-pitying thing, but a way of ‘compassion’ that makes room for everything and holds on to nothing.”

For those bereaved by suicide who may be haunted their entire lives by “if onlys” and guilt, Rohr offers especially pertinent insight: “The grieving mode keeps us out of the fixing mode. The grieving mode keeps us beyond the explaining mode. The grieving mode makes the way of blaming useless and counterproductive. The grieving mode submerges us into a world deeper than words or control.” (“Foreword,” in Robert J. Miller, GriefQuest: Men Coping with Loss, Winona, MN: Saint Mary’s Press, 1996, 10.)

From what I’m learning, the grieving mode plunges us into the only world capable of transforming us, the world inside where God lives, the world where real healing–the messy, tearful, human kind–can occur.

Read Full Post »

One morning in 2001, six years after my daughter Mary died by intentional overdose, a friend and I were talking in a parking lot. “You need to let go of your kids,” she offered.

My kids at that time were my son, then 27 years old and living at home with a disabling psychiatric illness, and my daughter, then 17 and a high school senior. Of course, there was also Mary, who would have been 23 years old had she survived her overdose.

I was not about to let go of any of them that morning. To me, letting go of the living kids meant allowing them to make their own decisions and mistakes in the belief that somehow they would find their way in the world. But neither of my kids was in a position to find his or her way in the world that day, and so I dismissed my friend’s remark as ill-informed.

Letting go of Mary, for whom I was still yearning, was an equally dismissible idea. More than anything, I wanted to overcome the estrangement between us and have her in my life once again in a good way. Letting go of her? Unthinkable.

The desire not to let go is apparently universal among the bereaved. “I’ve never spoken to anyone who mourns for someone they love who does not want to continue loving them in some way,” writes Thomas Attig, Past President of the Association for Death Education and Counseling.

The question is, how does a bereaved person go about loving someone after he or she has died? According to Attig, the first step is overcoming the mistaken notion that grieving requires a complete letting go of those we love. “There is no reason to let go of the good with the bad [in the person who has died]. The great majority of our closest relationships with family and friends have good in them. Those we mourn lived lives filled with value and meaning” (The Heart of Grief: Death and the Search for Lasting Love. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, xi, xvi).

When a loved one dies by suicide, it is deeply challenging to retrieve the good, the valuable, and the meaningful in their lives. Those left behind have to deal for years with the ugliness of suicide and its ultimate meaninglessness. But eventually, and not easily, it’s possible to let go of the pain and begin a new relationship with the person who died. It is possible; I think I have Mary back in my life in a good way.

Read Full Post »

After my daughter Mary died by intentional overdose nearly eighteen years ago, I was jolted by the realization that I hadn’t known her at all. I hadn’t known the high school senior I’d eaten with and talked to every day, for if I had known Mary, I believed I would have recognized her fears, her sadness, and her suicidal thinking and acted to protect her.

Just the same, “People can only know the observable behavior of another person,” write clinical scholars John Jordan and John McIntosh on the topic of suicide bereavement. They add that unless a person verbally or nonverbally expresses what is really going on inside, no one else can know it.

“Human beings are capable of masking their inner thoughts and feelings,” they state, “while outwardly acting in ways that can be quite incongruent with their internal state. . . . This existential ‘separateness’ of the inner consciousness of each of us from others is the foundation for the psychological boundary between self and others. . . . It is also the condition that allows suicide to happen in a way that people who ‘know’ the deceased may be utterly stunned by the act” (Grief After Suicide: Understanding the Consequences and Caring for the Survivors. New York: Routledge, 2011, 253).

My daughter did not express what was going on inside her until it was too late. Only in her suicide note did she reveal sadness at not fitting in with her friends and a sense of personal weakness that she despised. She wrote that she’d not been silent about her suffering and doubted anyone would be surprised by her suicide. Those comments bewildered me. She had been silent, and we were all horribly surprised.

But I was also off-base about something else: I had known Mary, at least on a heart level. I had daily experienced a depth in her that was open to love and capable of love, and I’d seen life-giving values arising out of that depth.

While it’s taken years, I finally realize how inaccurately Mary’s final act reflects who she was and still is. She was not her mental illness and suicide. She is someone I know and someone I love knowing.

Read Full Post »

Within hours of their son Mitch’s suicide, a psychiatrist friend told Iris and Jack Bolton, “There is a gift for you in your son’s death. You may not believe it at this bitter moment, but it is authentic and it can be yours if you are willing to search for it.”

“I gasped,” writes Iris. “[Dr. Maholic] was saying that my pain was a gift, that the dislocation of so many lives . . . was a gift.” Considering her emotional state at that moment–“numb, devastated, embarrassed, and wishing for my own death”–it’s remarkable Iris remembered anything her psychiatrist friend told her that afternoon.

“This gift will not jump out at you or thrust itself into your life,” the doctor added. “You must search for it. As time passes, you will be amazed at unanticipated opportunities for helping yourself and others that will come your way, all because of Mitch. Today you need to condemn him . . . but one day you will be able to acknowledge his gift.”

At the time, Iris was director of The Link Counseling Center in Atlanta, a private, non-profit headquarters for family therapy. Eventually, she began speaking locally about suicide beareavement and then enrolled in graduate school at Emory University to study suicidology. One outcome was her book, My Son, My Son: A Guide to Healing After Death, Loss, or Suicide.

In that work, Iris describes what she finally recognized as Mitch’s gift to his family. “For one thing, we all value each other more. . . . We are not always efficient or perfect. Nor do we always do well or wisely. Yet, despite all our blunders, failures, and mistakes, we manage to cope. And to cope–with love.”

“The meaning I have found in my son’s suicide,” she writes, “is to realize that life is tenuous for us all, so I have the choice of making every minute count with my family from now on and valuing them and friends and life in a way I never did before.”

When my daughter Mary died by suicide in 1995, no one dared mention the possibility of gift. I would have rejected the idea as tasteless bordering on cruel. But “suicide” and “gift” can inhabit the same sentence, I now see, even if seeing takes hope, work, and years to become clear (Atlanta: Bolton Press, 1996, 16-17, 95, 102-103).

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »