forgotten words

Today, I realized that I had forgotten something. That almost never happens to me; I have a memory that holds onto things like a steel trap. Me forgetting something is a rarity to begin with but what it was that I forgot made this even more unbelievable today.

I couldn’t remember what my son’s suicide note to me said.

It’s not like I think about that note often anymore or read it – I haven’t actually, in quite some time. They are words though that I could have sworn were burned into my mind forever but today, they were just gone when I tried to recall them. Not all of them, but most. I could still see, sharp and bright in my mind.one sentence in particular, but the rest of it was just – gone.

It was a short note, a half-dozen sentences on a piece of paper. It is so like him, straight forward, to the point, and simple. It’s a note that I must have read and re-read a thousand times in that first year alone. It was very simply a goodbye note. It wasn’t meant to be more; he had left journals that spoke loudly and vastly about his struggle with mental illness if I wanted to try to understand the “why”. His suicide note was just to say goodbye and tell me what he wished for me after he was gone..

So tonight I went looking for it. I didn’t have far to go, I know exactly where it is – that much is still there in my mind at least. I read it and re-read it and remembered it like it had never been forgotten.

It’s private and it’s going to stay that way for now. The words I will share though are the ones that were his last to me in that note “I love you forever”. Those were the ones I hadn’t forgotten and never will.

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There are times

When the span of the five years that it’s been feels like nothing. There are times when it hurts almost like it did during those first few weeks. Even now, there are days that I have to fight to be “fine” when inside it feels like I’m crumbling.

There are nights when the silence of my life now, alone, is painful in how loud it is to me. Evenings when the sheer vast void left by loss is so heavy that it weighs me down, It feels smothering, taking my breath and with it my will to move or even think.

There are moments when I crave the release that I know I could find in a bottle or some pills but I know that what I run from will still be there after. Sometimes I don’t care though. There are times that the numb that exists in that space is safety and I go there.

There are times like tonight that I hate myself for feeling this – still – again. Times that I hear the voice in my head screaming at how I need to just suck it up and stop allowing myself to even acknowledge the loss and the pain that lives with that loss. It’s been FIVE years the voice screams. You want it to not be reality? Well, it is – the voice sneers.

There are times that my anger at all of this is ravenous and demanding. Anger that feels like it is spinning, searching, looking for destruction to spend its rage through. There are times that I wrestle with my anger to find a path for it to flow through. Times that the deep, rich red of the path that it is given matches its intensity. And it is both sad and beautiful in its calmness as it quiets itself in that surrender of release.

There are times that I lose the fight to be “better”, the fight to be further along with grieving  – whatever the fuck that means. There are times when I can’t be “fine” and all I can do is let it out finally.

There are times when the hole that is left from the loss feels like a canyon and I am lost in its vastness.

There are times, like tonight, when it feels dark and cold and alone.

During these times, like tonight, I know that the voice is wrong. I know that the hurt IS bearable and that it IS NOT always going to be as dark as it feels right this moment.

There are times though, that the distance between knowing and being able to believe those truths is massive.

 

Top 10 If I Knew Then

A while after my son died, his father asked me if I thought that it would ever really get “better” like the parents in his grief support group said it would. At the time I said I thought so , but to be honest, I wasn’t sure. Actually, I didn’t believe that it would at all, but I thought that sounded too pessimistic so I said sure it would.

Five years down the road now myself and that conversation is on my mind again tonight.

I’m not someone who is willing to tell anyone what they want to hear if it’s not true so, in answer to “does it get better?”….

“Better” is a word that is clung to by those who are hurting and want to have hope that the pain they feel, in that moment, will go away. “Better” is an ethereal concept that, whether they admit it or not, insinuates that there is an end to grief and the pain of the loss they are feeling.

Sorry, spoiler alert here: “Better” doesn’t happen like that.

If I could share anything, it would be this – let go of looking to when you won’t hurt anymore. Forget about when you will have a day that you don’t cry, or rage, or hate. This is with you for good; in some form or another, this will be carried by you for the rest of your life. How that looks though is different than the “Better” that we think it should look like.

Just like the good things that happen in our lives help to shape us and stay with us, so do the not-so-great experiences. Like deaths of loved ones…and that’s just the way it is.

For myself, “Better” is seeing the things I have learned as the last five years have passed.

My son’s death has shown me that I have a darker sense of humour than I ever thought I did and also that sometimes you do have to laugh or you’ll go crazy. (There’s a funny story about my son’s ashes, a hard corner and a seat belt that I’ll tell another time…well, I find it funny 😉 )

So, not sugar-coated and not all Pollyanna and happy, but here are my top 10 things that death and grief has shown me:

  1. That a heart can keep beating even after you are certain it has been destroyed.
  2. That you can survive what you never imagined that you could.
  3. That tears have no end.
  4. That time does not heal all wounds, but it will soften the edges of the pain.
  5. That grief is a tangible entity, and it is heavy.
  6. That even in the midst of the worst darkness, you can find something to laugh at…. sometimes,and that it’s ok when you can’t.
  7. That when you don’t know how you will keep going, you will. Hope doesn’t always look like we think it will, and that’s all right.
  8. I have learned that asking “Why?” may be pointless, but you will anyways, over and over again.
  9. I have learned that you will never forget.
  10. I have learned that life does go on, and it will never be like it was…but that doesn’t mean it won’t or can’t be good.

Bonus point 11.

I have come to understand how a person can hurt so much that they would rather just not wake up the next day. I have learned that you will be glad that you did make it through that night to see the next day. You will learn to live with the grief.

 

The day before

It was five years ago this evening; the last time that I saw Willie alive.

People tend to focus on the day that someone died when they look back on the passing of someone they have lost. I know I do. February 1st 2012. That was the day that Willie died. That day and the memory of it are something that I live with every day since.

What still catches me off guard though is how much the anniversary of the day before hurts. It was the last day that life didn’t include this pain of his death.

That was the day that everything seemed to be on the upswing, small as that arc was at the time. January 31st was the day that I got great news about getting Willie settled for school in a program that would allow him the flexibility needed to work with schooling and continuing to try to manage his mental health issues. I had a just finished unpacking from a move and was starting to feel like we could settle in there. It was a day that my schedule at work had run on track and I was feeling optimistic that life, as it had been, was starting to “normalize” finally. After a few months of chaos and more stress than I ever thought a person could live through, that day felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Willie had an appointment that day with a new therapist who was going to be working with him on some behavioural therapy methods and he was agreeable to the idea – that alone was a comfort. I had sat and watched him and his youngest brother play together in the waiting room while Willie waited for his appointment time. I remember whispering to his Dad, who came along that day, how neat it was to see him laughing and smiling again. I felt hopeful.

Hopeful, even though there had been glimpses of what still was inside of him – even that afternoon. As I picked him up and we drove to the appointment, I blithered on about the school and the options and how great it was that it was taking shape the way we needed it to. He nodded and mumbled “It doesn’t matter”. His face was turned away from me as he went on to explain that he was happy that I was excited but that it just didn’t matter – he wasn’t going to be around. “I know it’ll be hard at first but it’s for the best for everyone – and for me.” was what he said to me. As we pulled into the parking lot I finished my response of telling him he was wrong… that a day with him not around would never be a “better day”. I told him to stop talking like that – that we were seeing someone new and that it would get better… I told him to hold on and to have hope – to believe that it would get better. He shrugged and said “yeah” and I knew, even then, that I couldn’t promise him that it would all work out. I wanted to, but he wasn’t stupid – neither was I, so I just told him to promise me that he wouldn’t give up. I’ll never forget that he never answered me on that one. He just started out the window.

After the appointment, as we stood outside the building and said our goodbyes before he left with his Dad for a dinner out to one of his favourite place, he was different than he had been the last few months. He stooped down to say goodbye to his little brother. He hugged him and said |love you, little buddy” and messed up his hair a bit to annoy him as he laughed. I grinned and thought how great it was to see him being so affectionate and so happy again. I remember thinking to myself that it was all going to be okay, that he looked like himself again.

I moved towards him to hug him and he backed up, away from me. I didn’t push it and just said “love you, I’ll call you in the morning”. He looked away, said “yup” and turned to leave.

That was it.

The next time I would see my son, it would be in the morgue at Vancouver General.

I drive past that place when I go visit his brothers now. Most times, I take a back street and a different route, out of my way, to avoid having to pass by it. It hurts too much to glance and see the spot where he stood.

Today, 5 years later, as the hour approaches the time that I last said goodbye to him, I see the sun starting to dip and the light starting to fade and it all comes back to me and I remember him and I miss him.

Let’s Talk – A Different, Not So Easy to Look At, View

Today is a certain company’s marketing day with the tagline of “let’s talk”. It’s regarding mental health and before I get going, let me just say that I do think that it’s a great initiative geared towards reducing and (fingers crossed) getting rid of the stigma associated with mental health issues. It is also about trying to make those who live with, and struggle with, mental illnesses not feel so alone. It’s about trying to bring awareness to mental health and the range of mental illnesses that afflict so many. All great reasons for the initiative, and ones that I can certainly get behind. So why am I sitting here this evening feeling so frustrated with it all? Simply put, because mental illness isn’t as “pretty” as it’s been marketed to look like and that is part of the reason why there still IS such a huge stigma attached to having and living with mental illness.

So, let’s talk. Or rather, I’ll write and you can read – or not. Let me open the pages of my son’s journals tonight to you and I’ll share one point of view of the reality of mental illness.

My son struggled with his mental health. He did for years before the day he finally told me was scared of his own mind and that he wanted to die – and that he wanted help to stop himself from doing that. Reading over his journals that he kept during the last year or so of his life, it’s clear that he was dealing with mental health issues that were hidden for a long time. He admits it so it’s not rocket science to notice it. It’s laid out, simply and plainly, that he needed help – help that he did want and he did, eventually, ask for. Maybe it was too late by then though. Like a person who ignores ever-worsening physical symptoms of an illness they suspect they have that they are afraid to have confirmed, maybe he waited too long for help to be effective. Or maybe, even if we had gotten him help two years earlier, at the first signs that he noticed – but that he never shared – it still would have ended the same way; with a steady progression through illness to his death by suicide. Who knows. To be honest, tonight, I don’t really care to even look deeply at that shadow in the closet. Moving on…

His journals speak volumes, literally, of mental health and its twists and turns and the torment that it caused inside of him.

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Sometimes it’s sadness that is in his words; he doesn’t want to die and he knows he’ll miss people that he loves. He knows how much we’ll miss him too. His words tell about his feelings of love for his family and how badly he doesn’t want to hurt them…us…. his brothers, his dad, his grandparents and myself. He wants to live and be happy but he doesn’t know how to and he can feel himself slipping away from the grip that he has on what hope he has left. He can feel his mind slipping out of his control or understanding. He speaks with such clarity at times in his writings.

Sometimes though, his words make almost no sense. They are rambling, disjointed tirades that careen from subject to subject. Some full of hatred so intense that his pen has literally ripped the pages where he has tried to convey what he wants to say. Vile, angry words and threats litter the journals seemingly without connection or sense to any reality or reason. The dichotomy of his entries are hard to read through.

His words are mostly full of fear though. Fear is what underlines it all. The fear that he has of his thoughts and his mind and his actions. He voices very real and vivid fears that he has about what he will become, what his life will be like. He talks about how he is afraid that he will hurt other people, people that he cares about even. It’s not pretty, it’s not poetic, it’s blunt and scary. He voices the terror that he has that he will kill, that he doesn’t know what he is capable of because he doesn’t know what his mind is doing and how it is changing. He is scared. Scared enough that he writes the phrase “suicide is better than homicide” more than once when talking about how he just doesn’t know what to do.

He talks about being hopeless.

His voice tells about his regret that he won’t be around to see his little brother grow up, but that he knows it’s for the best, no matter how hard it will be. He rages in his journals about how unfair it is – that he doesn’t know why he is the way that he is – and how much he hates himself. How he just doesn’t know how to get better – different. He is sorry, over and over again for who and what he says he is. Apologies are rampant throughout. He is sorry, but not enough to not kill himself. For that, he apologizes for as well.

His journals are scattered with drawings that he has done. They are violent, bloody, morbid depictions. Often without explanation or words to give meaning. I can’t make sense of them and I wonder if even he could have when he drew them. The lone image of a crudely drawn, yet pretty, daisy in one journal is a stark contrast to the death and horror of the others. Another example of the contradictions that exist throughout.

So there is his voice, in a roundabout way. Uncomfortable and scary and awkward. Words that hit too close to home I think for many of us. Words, and the images that they conjure up, that don’t feel good to hear or read.

While we all “talk” today to end the stigma, it’s time to really look and see that what is being fed to us by the the sleek, smoothed out version of mental health issues that greets us in most of the advertising spots today is just one slant of it all. It’s not only sad-looking women gazing out of softly curtained windows while their concerned looking family looks at them from afar (cue soft music in the background here). Mental illnesses look many ways – not all of them ways that we want to see – a lot of them make us want to look away actually. But we have to see, and talk about, all the manifestations if we are going to work to find ways to help them. So there’s my little addition to the “let’s talk” day.

 

Don’t Put the Past on a Pedestal

I was telling a story today at work to one of my colleagues. We had been talking about families and kids the sometimes odd things that they do and how crazy they can drive us. I was sharing a story about two of my boys from many years ago. Two things occurred to me, even as I was blithering on telling her the story.

One: that I was talking and sharing a memory that involved Willie, by name, without hesitation. This may seem like not a big deal, but for me, it is. I routinely talk about my three living sons (by name and very openly) at work but I skirt around ever bringing up anything that involves mentioning Willie. Why? For the reasons that it invites questions from those who might have never heard his name yet and wonder why I never mention that one (yes that has happened)…. and then the awkward “well, because he’s dead” which is a pretty big downer for a work conversation. So , I tend to only share funny things that don’t include him. Except today, it was with one of my staff, alone, who knows he’s dead and what his name is and she has the amazing knack for not ever looking at me with that look that some people get when I mention him. I’ve never told her how he died or details or much at all. She just knows that I have a son who died shortly before I moved here and started working here. It struck me today how good it felt to be able to talk about him and laugh and share and to be able to share him with someone in a positive way – not in a sad way. It felt good.

Two: The other thing that came to mind as I was laughing and telling this story to her was that when we talk about someone who has died, we so often only reminisce about the good. We remember them with biased, rose-coloured glasses way more than we should. “Don’t speak ill of the dead is a common phrase that I’m sure we’ve all heard. They were human and they were fallible though and it’s ok to remember THAT part of who they were too. My son was a great kid, bright and curious with an awesome sense of humour and dry wit that I was so proud of as his Mom. He was also short tempered, annoying and snarky and he could be a real little asshole at times. In short, he was a normal person. A very normal teenager. True, much of his behaviour in his final few months was fueled by mental illness but before that, he was not always a smiling, blooming roses, sunshine and rainbows type of kid. And it’s ok to say that.

So tonight, as I scroll through old pictures of the last trip I took with my boys when we were all together, I share one that captures that sentiment perfectly.

This picture shows a moment caught in time with two of my boys; the young man in the picture, who is the main subject, is my oldest son – he’s now 25 and all grown up and someone I am super proud of (like I am of all of them – have to point that out!). He has his usual face of “I’m letting you take the picture but hurry up” that I know and love so well!

The middle finger in front of him, thrust into the frame at the last second, is Willie’s. A perfect capture of him being a little annoying dork. That too, is something I am super proud to say that I remember, and celebrate, of him.

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A voice

What is a voice? It’s what we use to speak; to convey so much – thoughts, feelings, emotions, wants, needs, fears, joys, sorrows. All given life by our voice.

Sometimes our voice is so quiet that we can’t even hear it ourselves, never mind have it audible to others, especially those that we want to hear it. Sometimes it’s so loud that it’s all we can hear and we crave the silence that comes when it is squashed down and muffled by the distractions that we all become so adept at using.

Voices rise and fall and change. They shift and they are fluid like the waves in the air that carry them. Voices can be silent too though. So much spoken without a single sound. Still a voice, still carrying a message.

As I read little pieces of my sons journals I hear his voice. Not his spoken voice anymore but his message carried in his writings. I hear his confusion and his frustration, his yearning for it to all not be how it was for him – for us. I hear the glimmers of hope that he still had, and I hear how that hope faded as the weeks slipped into months and he saw no change for the better in his mind. I hear the sadness that he felt as he heard his own voice, with awareness of his mental illness that grew inside of him, that he felt WAS him. I hear his pleas for help, and I hear when he decided that he knew the answer to his plea. I hear, in his words, the pain that he felt when he surrendered to that decision.

I have kept his voice from his journals so private and in doing so, his voice is silent in a way. I wonder sometimes if that’s the right decision. The first time I heard what he had to say I was shocked and, honestly, I recoiled from it. The raw, violence of his voice, the pain that seared on the pages in his voice scared me – and still does. The desperation and fear that he gave voice to on those pages tore at me and ripped me apart inside. I sit back now, 5 years later, and wonder if maybe that voice, and what it evokes, should be louder. Not so private and not silenced. He died but his voice didn’t.