*Note: The four posts in this category are posted from the first–published to the most recent.
The last entry I made on this blog was one of hope and gladness as I had come back from an illness that left some side effects. I was looking forward to returning to work. But that didn’t happen and the blog went silent. Why?
In August of 2016 the man that I’ve been posting about in “Being in the Room” (Part 1 and Part 2) decided to leave the room. He completed suicide. I’ve taken a year off to sort out my feelings and begin the healing process.
My husband Jon and I had many long talks about his situation. We both cried and we both knew that this could happen; it finally did happen.
I will be doing a podcast on this subject, so I won’t go into all of the details here. I may talk about the specifics in future postings. However, today I want to talk about getting through it. I don’t mean getting over it, I mean THROUGH it.
Let yourself imagine a mountain. You have some options, and they each have an outcome that can be managed. Some are better than others, and so, in making the choice of how to approach this landmark, a considerable amount of thought is needed.
In the first hours and days of Jon ending his life, I had to make some radical choices. I think I made some really good ones considering the fact that I was grieving, stunned, and without family physically present. However, I did have some friends who came and gave much-needed support. They cooked, cleaned, advised, and tried their best to show up in a nasty situation.
In the first days and weeks, that mountain loomed large, and I knew that I had to decide how to navigate it. I could go over it, around it, or through it.
Each of these thoughts caused me to think of what would happen if I had made the journey in that manner. I’ve never liked the term “get over it,” as it seemed condescending, judgmental, and uninformed. I discarded OVER right from the start. In thinking about it further, I didn’t want to track OVER the mountain. I didn’t want to miss things that I would miss by going over it. It didn’t seem like the thorough way of facing this situation. While hiking a mountain can be beautiful, this wouldn’t be that type of journey.
Going AROUND the mountain implied denial, and that wasn’t an option. I thought about how this seemed to imply that I’d view the scenery, but not touch anything, and that wasn’t appealing to me. Going around the mountain would leave the mountain intact, or untouched, and that wasn’t what I wanted to do at all. As I mentioned, suicide is messy and requires some hard work to deal with the damage and ruin that it leaves in its wake. While I knew suicide could happen, I had hoped it never would come into being.
I thought about tunnels. I like the technology that creates them and the stories of their builders. I like everything about driving through them, if they are well-lit. I watched with great interest as the Gotthard Tunnel in Switzerland was dug from inside the depths of the earth. My first visit to London was not taken on a plane, but through the Chunnel. Yup, I like tunnels and no, I haven’t gone through the Gotthard Tunnel yet.
So, in thinking about what I needed to do, the choice for me to tunnel THROUGH this mountain, and thinking of my journey in those terms, was a natural one.
As I chose to go through the mountain, I chose to be intelligent, wise, weak, vulnerable, and fearless. I realized that I could not control this situation. I could no more control it than control the crazy weather of the Netherlands. I do, however, have options even in tunneling through the mountain.
The First Option: Realism
For me, this has involved planning and visualizing, as well as allowing myself to feel the messiness of the entire situation. It also means that if I’m having a bad day, I allow myself to feel the bad day in all of its glory and pain.
When I say that I’ve planned this journey, it means that I allow myself to think through life scenarios and to imagine the outcomes. For example, the celebration of Christmas could have been really hard. But, thanks to friends, I was not alone, but rather surrounded in a house of love. Rather than letting the day simply come, I opted to take hold of the day. It wasn’t easy; it was better than waking up to not knowing what would be involved with living through the day. But, trying to maintain a certain amount of control is a good thing.
In visualizing and thinking ahead to the obstacles that come my way, I create positive scenarios. I remember the first “everything” that I’ve celebrated without Jon as being mostly happy. Yes, of course I wish he were here at times, but the reality of it is that he isn’t suffering, and for that I’m so thankful.
I’ve cried, or should I say, sobbed. I’ve questioned and wondered if I did a good enough job of supporting him. And after the crying is over the answer is a resounding yes!
I would not wish this on anyone. Going through hell is not fun, and in the past year I have faced hell more than once. The thing I’ve learned about this particular hell (and there are many such places) is that there is respect required in that place of darkness.
The Second Option: Receiving and Acceptance
My great-aunt was wonderful at giving to others, but she wasn’t very good at graciously receiving another person’s kindness. From a young age I became aware that not only did I need to be a great “giver,” but I also needed to learn to accept kindness with graciousness. This week, I had this lesson driven home to me when a friend came by to see how I was, as I’d failed to respond to her emails. During our conversation she said, “Oh, crap,” in hopes that I wouldn’t hear it. (I’m not that deaf!) Then, when I reacted to that remark, it clicked, and she, in an imaginary shaking of Gail, said, “I want to help!” She was hurt and angry, with good reason. I realized that I wasn’t receiving the service she was offering. I had been sick for two weeks with some kind of illness that had been going around, and I’d become hard to reach. We talked about it, and I admitted that having her come by was a good thing. It raised my spirit. It also forced me to realize that I need to assert my needs and let others determine whether or not it is possible to help out. Asserting one’s needs also means allowing others to think about what they are able to do for you.
I realize in talking about being a recipient of kindness that this isn’t always the case. People get confused and they don’t know what to say or do. They overreact or underreact. Sometimes, the best they can do for you is to do what they think they’d want done in your situation. They are only human. This isn’t easy to deal with, and I will admit that one of the lessons I’m still learning as I travel through the mountain is that I need to accept not only the kindness, but also the fact that the kindness might not always be there when you need it. It hurts deeply, but when I last checked, there were, and are, no perfect human beings on this planet! We are all doing our best, or so we like to think. However, sometimes our best isn’t good enough. When you are the recipient, accepting what is offered is an art that most of us need to learn to be better at. So, there are failures in this process: the hard thing is letting the failures stand on their own merit.
The Third Option: Patience
It is going to take time. It isn’t going to happen speedily.
Nobody wants to remain in grief and pain forever, and yet in order to get through the grief, it is essential to remain there until you can move forward. Forward movement is done in steps. If you try to force this forward movement, it actually sets you back. Facing the good days along with the bad, or not-so-bad but not-so-great days, is moving forward. This is not a science but rather a journey. Crossing the milestones, understanding that there will be many such milestones, and allowing them to come naturally is part of the process.
Being kind and gentle with yourself is also needed. Show yourself mercy. Come to understand that you are enough and that simply getting through the death of a loved one is enough. This has been my process. It would be accurate to say that this has been a roller-coaster ride and that I’ve been flipped, raised up, sent flying down, and jerked around. I’ve taken a couple of “Gs” and I suspect that I’ll be hit again. Smoother riding will come. (Is life ever completely smooth?) So, be merciful to your soul and it will pay off.
There is so much to be said about dealing with someone’s suicide. I have time to say it in multiple posts. But, the last thing I will say is that I’m at peace with my Jon and his death. I spent 22 years of my life loving and supporting Jon. I got to know his pain and the fact that each day he struggled to find shelter from the depression and pain that he lived with for 30+ years. There are times when loving someone means that you come to a realization that loving them entails letting go completely. Jon walked a pathway of life for years that held struggle and sorrow. Jon did not end his life impulsively, but rather with thought and an understanding that he had done all he could to heal. In his notes, he grieved that this would cause me pain. But, he also expressed his love for me. I respect that and honor his death. And in that, I have peace.