Dancing outside my comfort zone

Today, I’m going to do something so completely different from recent blogs, that you may think this came from another writer entirely, but I assure you, it’s all me! 

On the advice of a friend, I started reading “The Quitter” by John Acuff and as I read through the part about finding your “hinge”, I realized that, whichever way I cut it, writing is my passion.  When he asked if you’d even do it for free, I have and I would.

This led me to reflect on what really caused me to start this blog which began on Facebook in early 2009, later migrating here when I got frustrated with the format and lack of space.  And that something is what I keep referring back to as my “18,000 words of garbage”.  But the fact is, it isn’t all garbage, and it did have a really good purpose, so what I’m going to do today is share the first chapter of what I’ve tentatively titled “Live After Suicide:  Healing and Forgiving”.  

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                                                         Chapter 1: In the beginning…
     
My mother chose to end her life on
December 28, 1993, less than a month before a cataclysmic earthquake rattled
Northridge and quite a bit of Southern California.  Choosing to remain in bed when my father left
for work due to some unspecified malaise, she sought to get rid of the pain
with a bottle of sleeping pills.  She
didn’t leave a note or a sign but left behind her 6 year old granddaughters, her
infant grandson, my sister, my father and me.   And scores of unanswered questions.
For years, I was angry with my
mother.  Angry because, as my father
struggled with depression and the well-meaning questions from friends and
family, she’d left him to find her cold body in the bed they’d shared for
nearly forty years.  Angry because she
left the granddaughters who loved her, even when she was making their mother
crazy with her opinions on how they should be raised.  And angry because she left during a very
difficult time in my life as I slogged through an ugly divorce.
My father followed her down that
road nearly 10 years later, on September 11, 2003, exactly two years after the
fateful World Trade Center
disaster, and one day before his granddaughters’ 16th birthday.  As near as we can tell, he pondered the lung
cancer diagnosis he’d recently received, wrote a note, smoked one last
cigarette and put a gun I wasn’t even aware he owned to his head.  He did remember, before he left us, to send
the girls birthday cards and checks, which arrived a couple of days after he
was gone.   Through most of the ten years
following my mother’s death, my dad dated a woman who was freakishly like my
mom, in a shorter, more earthy kind of way. 
The note he left was directed to her and gave her his apologies.  To me he left the job of cleaning up after
him, and clearing out what remained of both his life and my mother’s, while my
sister wondered why I couldn’t get the job done faster.  I never saw her cry.
My mother taught me how to read and
how to bake Snickerdoodles, irritated me with her obsessive –compulsive neatness,
loved my daughters to distraction while making me crazy with her “suggestions”
on raising them.  And one day, quite
suddenly, she was gone.
It came with a voice mail message
from my father, who sounded like a man in shock, unable to believe where his
life had led.  The details, though, came
more slowly.  Wading through caramel
slowly, in fact.   A question from the coroner had Dad searching
Mom’s office for a how-to book on suicide. 
He found it hidden behind some other books on her bookshelf.  Clearly, she’d had time to think before she
acted.
From my dad’s family I learned how
to cope.  And by coping, I mean keeping
things in, not letting those around you see that you weren’t really keeping it
together as much as it appeared.  That
the strong, solid exterior you showed the world was merely a front for how
broken, how shattered you were inside, the part which must never be
shared.  From them I also learned to
depend only on myself.  It wasn’t
appropriate to expect anyone to take care of you or even for you to need
anyone. 
That ingrained aversion to being
dependent is, I believe, what drove my Dad to take his life.  He could not conceive of having me, my sister
and our children watch his deterioration the way he had watched his mother’s,
nor could he conceive of us having to care for him until nature took it’s
course.  He was a very proud man, and,
from his perspective, did the only honorable and loving thing he could for us.
Families of suicide victims face
challenges in the grieving process which are quite different from those who lose
someone to cancer or a car accident or even murder.  We feel shame, and with that shame, comes
guilt.  It took me a long time to get
past the shame, and to really understand why it’s even there.  I came to the conclusion that because Society
has been as judgmental and uninformed about suicide as they are about
homosexuality, it has become a subject that is only discussed in whispers,
looking around to make sure nobody overhears. 
One of the most common of those misconceptions is that family members
should have seen it coming and gotten help before the unmentionable act
occurred.   
This may be more apparent in the
case of a youthful suicide as there are many studies and reports about teenage
suicide, behaviour changes and obvious drug abuse.  But in truth, the percent of adults who
attempt suicide and succeed far exceeds that of teenagers.  In part, this is because, as adults, we learn
to protect ourselves by revealing only a small portion of who we really are.  When things are painful or difficult, adults
often withdraw, but in the meantime, they continue to be responsible adults,
going to work, raising kids, even volunteering. 
They don’t share their struggles over finances or parents who are aging
and need extra care, or marriages that are slowly imploding.   They can go through their life, their normal
routine, being functionally depressed until one day it just overwhelms
them.  Because they’re upholding their
responsibilities, we tend to overlook or work around their moodiness, their
overreactions to simple things, and assume they’re just having a bad day.  In cases where the crankiness goes on for a
long period of time, people just write it off to the person’s nature and
interact with them as little as possible, which, in reality, probably fuels the
depression.
This societal insensitivity is no
less damaging to the victim’s family as well meaning people ask why they didn’t
notice or find help for the victim.  I
remember watching people badger my Dad right after Mom died and wanting to look
at them in disbelief, saying “He’s not a psychiatrist!  Living with Mom over the years, I’m sure he
learned to overlook certain behaviour to avoid arguments, if nothing
else!”  And in my Mom’s case, I had heard
from some of those same relatives that the mere mention that she had a problem
and should see a doctor would cause her to go ballistic.  I know for a fact that my dad never really
learned to cope with her anger, except to withdraw into himself until it
passed.  It’s like saying, “I know the
stove is hot and I’ve felt the pain of a burn before, but I’m going to put my
hand on that hot burner anyway.”  How
many of us are stupid enough to intentionally repeat an action we know is
painful, or at least highly uncomfortable? 
 Isn’t that the true definition of
insanity?  Knowing what the result of an
action will be, but doing it over and over, hoping for a different outcome.
And suppose we do notice and try to
intervene?  Would our efforts be met as
well intentioned, or simply as meddling, and quite possibly, make matters
worse?  Mental health issues aren’t
exactly table talk either.  It’s only in
recent years that seeing a psychiatrist or a counselor hasn’t caused
speculation about nervous breakdowns or schizophrenia and thoughts of that
crazy cousin nobody every sees, or dear Aunt Agnes who’s “delicate” and who the
children have learned to tiptoe around on the rare occasions she comes to
visit.

 
                                      *   *   *   *   *  *   *   *   *  


Due to the nature of today’s post, and it’s digression from what has become a “normal” post these days, I’m leaving the gratitudes for later, except to say that I appreciate anyone who read through to this point.

Love and light.

 

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Comments on: "April 27, 2013 Something different, aka, where it all began" (9)

  1. Long and important post: we live in a culture that sees needs and needing help as bad, and so too often we learn how to bottle ourselves up. Thank you for writing of your experience with suicide and its hard aftermath for loved ones, and the importance of coming out of all our neediness closets. I am so sorry and offer my sincere condolences to you that your parents could not, through no fault of their own, find help. And I applaud your bravery!

    Like

  2. Well Sheri,
    I certainly go to the end!
    I have no personal experience of suicide, but could relate to a lot of the family traits you mention, and also know about stigma that society can place, having suffered wtih depression.
    I also know the power of connecting with others, and it's very clear from this post that your book will help a lot of people.
    18,000 words of garbage? I don't think so!
    Cheers,
    Gordon

    Like

  3. Hi Sheri, wow, what a lovely transparent and personal piece of writing. I really do hope you seek publication, even if its self publishing. Im sure you could get it up on Amazon.
    I totally understand what you mean about shame. Its often harder to heal because of the shame, because it sits like a lid on alot of the feelings. I had an abortion and the pain was just the same as any other loss, but because of the shame and stigma from society, it makes it harder to heal. Many blessings on your writing journey.

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  4. Claudia, thank you so much. It was all a long time ago, and at this point, what I want to do is help others who've been through this, but from a non-clinical viewpoint. In truth, the writing was cathartic for me as it took me further along the road to healing, understanding and forgiving.

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  5. Hi Sheri,
    That was an important story you told, and I admire you for sharing it. One of the biggest problems with adult suicide is: even if you KNOW someone is telling you they want to commit suicide, there is nothing you can do to force them into a mental hospital. I know this for a fact, having a very close relative who is constantly telling me he wants to end his life. But he does it with drink, instead of a gun…

    Having two parents who died the same way is a HUGE trauma, and I sincerely hope that you've been able to get help to mitigate the hurt. Thankfully there are wonderful short term therapies such as EMDR & EFT that work miraculously well.

    I wish you the most happiness in your life.

    Like

  6. Kate, how amazingly brave of you to put that out here! Society in it's typical, judgemental, expectations of perfection fashion is especially hard on women who have abortions, without giving any thought at all to what a painful and difficult decision it can be to make! I hope that when I do finish the book, I can be as brave and open as you just were!

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  7. Gordon, thank you for your kind words. I hope that, in your own way, you've managed to kick Society's butt! I'm sure that depression was certainly a factor in the choice my mother made. She was certainly driven by appearances! And you've given me some food for thought as well.

    Like

  8. Thank you, Lianda. Stay tuned for Chapter 2. I've had a lot of time to work through this and part of the process will be sharing it in hopes that it will resonate with someone and help them in some way so they won't spend the years floundering as I did before getting back on solid ground and moving on.

    Like

  9. Thank you for sharing such a poignant story…having experienced multiple suicides in both my family and circle of friends, I can truly relate. And by sharing, hopefully those who have been fortunate enough that they haven't experienced it can get a slight glimpse into the extraordinary challenges faced by those left behind when the tragedy and devastating loss due to suicide occurs. Bless You!

    Like

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