You so this is how it feels to lose someone to suicide in the first moment it’s just avoid it’s airless, lightless, senseless, hopeless all you can feel is a crushing weight that presses out all potential light air hope and sense that first moment is a millisecond that lasts forever.
Because it’s timeless in the second moment you breathe and you say oh my god I’m still here oh my god I’m alive this person I loved was dead but I’m still here and in that second moment you grasp all that’s been taken from you and you say what am I going to do.
How is this going to work if I’m still here, if I’m still living how is this going to work in that second moment can also be a split second and that also goes on forever I was 11 when my father attempted suicide he was 67 an older father he was very accomplished an author a music critic.
A man of great love and life but he was addicted to sleeping pills and he was depressed and he took enough sleeping pills my mother always said he took enough to kill a horse.
It didn’t kill him though it put him into a coma for nine days and when he came out he went into a psych hospital for six months pure talk therapy never made another attempt he had some dementia.
Some brain damage but he never made another attempt but when it happened what I remember is my mother’s face as she told me it’s not your fault I remember her looking squarely at me.
This fixed gaze she was determined that I should understand, this it’s not your fault it’s nothing you did and I don’t know at that age whether I believed her was even capable of believing her.
And in 1992 17 years later my older sister Lucy also a beautiful accomplished educated classically trained pianist she killed herself she OD on psych meds, she had been sick for years she had made one previous attempt.
She finally finally did it in 1992 she was 31, I was 28 and my mother and I knew enough to say to each other we said to each other it’s not your fault.
It’s nothing you did, we both knew that we had loved her as well as we could as much as we could that we couldn’t have stopped her from killing herself. We knew that we had tried and we knew that, we had to say it’s not your fault.
We also knew, we had to try to believe it. I don’t know that we did three years ago my husband Chris my beloved husband of 20 years leapt from the roof of a parking garage not far from here, he was also beautiful and accomplished.
He was an author a journalist a man of great life in love and still he jumped for six months, he had spiraled into insomnia, anxiety, depression and nothing worked.
And when he died, I told myself only because : I knew, I had to tell myself it’s not your faul, I knew I had to say it.
I also knew, I would never believe it. I would never believe it, I would always have to say it because, I knew the guilt would hit me, I knew the guilt would never leave but I knew that the rational part of me had to recognize that the guilt was irrational and so I told myself and I still tell myself more than three years later ‘it’s not your fault’.
The human irrational emotional part will always feel guilty the rational part says Oh God the guilt it’s not real in the second moment that second moment when you realize all that you’ve lost.
I remember this after my sister died and after my husband died there’s a paradox because you recognize all that you’ve lost and at the same time it’s the first moment of hope because you say I’m still here.
I’m still here, I’m going to keep moving forward through time and space. I’m going to keep living. I’m going into a future without my beloved sister, without my beloved husband, you’re supposed to go through life with your sister and your spouse you’re supposed to get old with them.
You have all these shared memories with them from the past but you’re also supposed to continue creating memories with them and I’d lost all of those future memories but in the midst of that horror that moment of horror was also the first moment of hope.
Because I saw that I had a future, it was a future without my sister and my husband but it was a future and it was terrifying, it’s a terrifying thing to realize, you’re still here. How is that future going to work, how am I going to march into this future that which has a scope I can’t comprehend.
I can’t see it all, I can do is go through the moments, the first moment.
The second moment they return they always come back at you.
Third moment : tears.
I’m not an authority on grief I’m only in a on what happened to me and I can tell you what I did. I got out of bed that’s actually a pretty big thing to do after a suicide you get out of bed, I swore a heck of a lot I cried more tears and more snot.
I laughed when I could I got my kids out the door to school, I went to work tried to go to work tried to do whatever I had to do to get through today, I talked, I talked a lot, I talked about the grief.
The irrational guilt I talked about all of that. I talked about anything that made sense to anyone who would listen. I talked about things that didn’t make sense because we have to talk about suicide.
I said aloud, I won’t kill myself, I said that to my kids : I won’t kill myself.
That was something I could do, so it was something that I did do and they had to hear it because we all have to say that to each other after a suicide because we all feel guilty.
I made a list it’s going to sound corny but it was my list so other people can make lists the sound corny to other people but it made sense to me, it was a way of dealing with the lack of sense in my life and lack of order live it’s obvious right.
I’m still here what choice do I have give got me out of my head got me to think and do something other than fixate on my own guilt.
Love that seems obvious right, I’m going to love my kids, I’m going to love my family, I’m going to love my friends but after a suicide it’s a terrifying thing to still love because you could lose again.
So I had to actively tell myself to love and to open myself to love maybe even make new friends, new loving relationships and that was scary.
Grow because if I am still here I can’t be static, I have to look at myself, I have to keep changing if that’s possible assess my own failures flaws foibles try to move on learn it’s related to grow again anything that not so much got me out of my own head but put other things inside my head besides my own guilt the things I couldn’t control what could I control.
Well I could expand my world, I could acquire new skills one of the things I did after my husband died was I started taking jazz violin lessons because I’d always thought about it and I finally said I’m going to learn jazz violin and I still quite haven’t but I’m working at.
I can’t control the horrors that have happened, what I can do is look at my beautiful children, my health, my life, my friends, my family be grateful be present it’s all I have.
I can’t go into the past, I can’t see into this terrifying future make music again. I love playing the violin it’s healing. I like to sing gets me doing and thinking about something other than that knowing guilt have faith and stand up straight because I’m a terrible slumper and I need to remind myself constantly stand up straight.
At the bottom I wrote exercise, because it’s a major mood elevator and I also had to keep myself healthy for my kids.
They kept hitting me and I couldn’t control those moments we have this idea or rather hope that grief will be orderly we all have internalized the Elisabeth kubler-ross stages of grief denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
And those are all components of grief but in my experience at least there’s no order to them grief is a monster it hits you whenever it wants to.
It hits you hits you out of order sometimes they hit you with everything all at once you think you’re avoiding everything then it all comes back and hits you you think you’re done with one component like I’m done with the anger and then six months later you’re throwing dictionaries around the room so in the midst of all that you think well what can I control, I can’t control.
That and after a suicide, you control even less because you’ve got that awful guilt that just slams you and it happens and everyone who loses someone to suicide in the aftermath.
What did I do, well I got the sense of life as a process of self reinvention. I realized that I had to reinvent myself whether this was conscious – unconscious a little of both.
I don’t know but I had to figure out a new way of being because I had so little control over what happened to me, what happens to any of us, I had to focus on the things over which I did have control it’s like someone who loses a leg and first moves through space in a wheelchair and then on crutches and then finally with a new leg a prosthetic.
They learn how to move forward and it’s the same after any trauma you just have to refigure yourself out, your light has gone off, I found myself trying to decide I doing sort of triage like can I do this, should I do that.
What’s the most important thing should I start trying to instigate adventures myself, how will I be in the aftermath.
We all have to reconfigure one thing, I think the creative process of sorting through grief is one of creating a narrative and I found it enormously helpful.
Nothing is all we can do because there’s so much out of our control in life. I can’t go back in time and stop my husband from jumping, I can’t do that, I can’t go back in time and stop my sister from swallowing those pills and curling up on her bed.
I can’t go back and give her the phone number of where is going to be that weekend so she could call me, I can’t go back and give my husband a longer hug before he went off to work that morning.
I can’t ever get rid of my own guilt, I know that, I know what’s going to hit me, I know it’s irrational but, I know it’s going to hit me, I can’t ever answer the questions why that happened had to happen to him.
What on earth that could have been done it’s a mystery, all that I can do is keep plotting forward taking the moments as they come living each moment choosing to live each moment to the fullest and so I make dinner at night.
I go over to the fridge and I see it, I can live, I can give, I can love, I can laugh, I can grow, I can learn, I can pray, I can be grateful, I can be present, I can make music, I can have faith and if I remember to which I usually don’t it’s not very often I can stand up straight.