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Archive for the ‘making sense of that which makes no sense’ Category

img_0095-edit-2Late on a rainy night in April, 2002, my mother and I were driving home from a nearby town after watching my brother, George, perform there as “Brandy Bottle Bates” in Guys and Dolls. My extended family had finally begun to enjoy some of life’s pleasures even while mourning the suicide of my daughter Mary that had occurred seven years earlier. So as my mother and I chatted that night, I was also privately searching for answers about Mary as I had done every night: why did she intentionally overdose on her antidepressant medication? How could she do that to herself and to her family? How could she?

But then this: a white cat running across the road not ten feet from my front wheels. After a sickening bump under both front and back tires, I stopped on the road, windshield wipers clicking, wondering what to do.

“Drive on,” my mother said. “The cat’s dead, and the owner might live a mile away. I know you feel bad, but there’s nothing you can do.”

I did drive on, but the death of that cat troubled me for days. I visualized the owners finding the crushed body by the road and shouting, “How could you?” at faceless me just as I had shouted at Mary.

It finally dawned on me that those owners deserved an apology they would never get and that their not getting an apology made me something of a culprit. “I felt for them. I felt for Mary, as well. It wasn’t that I placed suicide and accidental animal slaughter in the same moral category; it was that my daughter and I had both done damage, and neither of us could apologize for it. However, merely imagining that Mary would want to apologize [as I wanted to] put an end to my ‘How could you?’ question and brought peace” (Marjorie Antus, My Daughter, Her Suicide, and God: A Memoir of Hope, CreateSpace, 2014, 198-9).

Then or now, I wouldn’t imagine Mary apologizing for the mental suffering she tried to end (and did end, I believe) with an intentional overdose. The agony of mental illness leading to suicide is described by psychologist Thomas Joiner as a “force of nature” nearly impossible for the rest of us to grasp or expect an apology for (2011 Suicide Prevention Conference: Myths About Suicide, YouTube, Google, Inc.).

Still, it’s restorative to imagine those who have died by suicide apologizing for the heartache, the bewilderment, the life disruption, and the chronic sorrow their deaths have brought. I’m also glad I was able to feel like a wrongdoer for a time. That feeling brought empathy, and empathy brought love.

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“The holidays would come and the past would hit Ives like a chill wind,” writes Oscar Hijuelos in Mr. Ives’ Christmas. “Memories of his son plaguing him, there came many a day, around Christmas, when Ives would plaintively wait for a sign that his son, who’d deserved so much more than what he had been given, was somewhere safe and beloved by God.” 

In Hijuelos’ novel, Ives’ son, Robert, was six months away from entering a Roman Catholic seminary to study for the priesthood when, talking with a friend on a New York City street a few days before Christmas in 1967, he was randomly and fatally shot by a passerby. “He was seventeen at the time of his death, and not an hour passed when Ives did not calculate his son’s age were he still alive” (New York: HarperCollins, 1995, 10).

I also began making that age calculation after my teenage daughter Mary died by suicide in 1995–her death no less inexplicable than the one portrayed in Mr. Ives’ Christmas. And like Mr. Ives, I also eventually came to see that my daughter had “deserved so much more than what [s]he had been given . . .”

My observation might seem to invite an “of course she did” response, but it took more than a decade for me to be able to make it. “Deserved so much more than what [s]he had been given” had to wait for shock to wear off and anger to dissipate. It had to wait for “whys” to fade and for “what ifs” to run their agonizing course.

“Deserved so much more than what [s]he had been given” followed only after a decade of writing My Daughter, Her Suicide, and God: A Memoir of Hope. Beginning in 2001 as a kind of self-therapy (I needed all available help), the writing became a way of bringing Mary back to life in a good way and working out where God was throughout her suicide and my grief. It finally became a way of honoring my daughter who deserved so much more than what she’d been given.  

However, unlike Mr. Ives, I did not need a sign to believe that Mary was somewhere safe and beloved by God.

My Daughter, Her Suicide, and God: A Memoir of Hope will soon be available on Amazon.

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While no one argues that suicide can ever really make sense for those left behind, clinical researchers John Jordan and John McIntosh report that the incomprehensibility of suicide, its blind spot, can be worked with in life-giving ways. “The blind spot refers to the inherent inability of the survivor ever to fully comprehend the mind and motivation of the deceased, and therefore the reasons for the suicide,” write Jordan and McIntosh. “Finding a way through the blind spot is not about making meanings that are profoundly comprehensive so much as getting to a place of meaning that allows the bereaved to reinvest energy in themselves and re-engage in daily life” (Grief After Suicide: Understanding the Consequences and Caring for the Survivors, New York: Routledge, 2011, 268).

The authors also describe a three-part healing process that accompanies those who are able both to navigate the blind spot and to strive for relationship with the person who died. Two previous posts dealt with the first and second relationship tasks as I experienced them: “trying on the shoes” of my daughter Mary in an attempt to understand our broken relationship and “walking in her shoes” in an attempt to reconstruct our relationship along positive lines. The third relationship task that I faced was “taking off Mary’s shoes:” making a new position for her in my life so that I could go on.

For me, all of the bereavement tasks came together in one decade-long endeavor after Mary died by overdose in 1995: writing a book titled My Daughter, Her Suicide, and God: A Memoir of Hope. Although it deals with Mary’s death and its prolonged effect on me and my family, the memoir mostly concerns itself with meaning and relationship.

In short, it’s a narrative meditation upon the meaning of my daughter’s life, her suicide, and God’s place in her life and suicide. The story is not “profoundly comprehensive” for all people but describes, instead, my navigation of the blind spot.

However, there was an aspect of the writing even more urgent than getting through the blind spot: my ardent desire to re-establish a relationship with Mary. Getting her back in my life in a good way was what I wanted above all, and writing through the pain was the only way to achieve that. My Daughter, Her Suicide, and God will be published in the early fall. 

 

 

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