Some days

There are days when I am hit sideways by grief. Days when I am going along and life is just life as it is and out of nowhere, it’s like someone has punched me in the stomach.

Something reels inside of me and my heart spins out of control. My mind suddenly asks itself “what?!” and it answers itself with “yes, really”.

The lump in my throat catches and tears sting. I can’t breath. All I can see in my minds eye is Willie. I am wrenched with wanting to stop him, to save him, to make him feel better, to be ok, to not hurt, to know that he could be ok, that it all could be ok, that it would be better.

And I know it’s too late. I know that he chose that day a choice that ended his life. And the hurts sits there in my chest. It’s heavy and it crushes me tonight.

Grief is a roller-coaster and tonight it’s rocketing along the tracks and I want off.

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We all deal differently

We all deal with things differently. Going through the death of my son has shown me that in so many ways.

I was at a conference recently where I saw and reconnected with people who I haven’t seen in a long time. Some of them were colleagues that I haven’t seen in a year or two; not since I moved away in summer 2012.

After the death of my son, I never really went back to my job. I did briefly but it was a disaster. People not sure what to say to me or how to act around me. On my part, I was trying to be “ok” and not at all pulling that off. After a couple of miserable attempts at getting back to “normal” I made the decision to not return. So the end result was that I basically fell off the grid to most of the people who I had known for the last 20 years or so.

Coming face to face with a few of them last year at another conference was hard. It was 2013 and it was my first time back since I had moved. I spent that conference ducking most people. The first hour I was on site I ran into a couple of people. With one, I burst into tears as soon as I saw him and had a hell of a time regrouping myself; the other turned and almost tripped over herself trying to take off in the other direction and pretend we hadn’t made eye contact.
Needless to say, I spent the rest of that weekend with my head down, going from session to session as isolated as I could and getting off site as fast as possible at the end. Not exactly a great experience.

This year, very different, and interestingly so. A lot of healing and change has happened in the past year in me. Also, I was open to just let it come as it would this year.

I spent the first couple of hours this year very similar to last. I saw a number of colleagues and past friends in the first hour or so…and avoided them. Quickly changing direction to move to a different hallway… shifting my glance and making like I hadn’t seen them when I saw them turn towards me. For the most part, it worked. They were all ok with not coming in contact with me as well. Then the unavoidable happened. I walked almost face into one of my previous staff. No avoiding this and we both stared and said hello. Awkward chatter ensued and he seemed relieved when I said I was going a different way and would see him later. But the seal had been cut. I had done it. I had spoken to someone and I was ok.

It got easier after that…and a funny thing happened. I found that I started seeing that everyone deals differently indeed. Some people who I had known very well, who I would consider very close, were surprisingly distant and vague with me. Lots of chit-chat and “how are you” but very superficial and almost cold. It was apparent that it was a “please don’t tell me how you really have been… I don’t want to/can’t handle hearing the real honest answer”. So they got the standard reply of “doing good” and that’s that. Some mindless talk about catching up with who’s still working where etc and we would hug and say how great it was to see each other again and move on. This went on again and again with lots of people throughout the weekend.
On encounter in particular thought made me notice how different people are though… and how you can’t tell how someone is going to be.

A colleague who I hadn’t worked with in years but who I had known for a long time before that saw me across the entry area. I thought this would be a quick hello and great to see you and I’d be on my way. Her and I had been friends and work companions for almost 10 years at one point but we were never really close. I was stunned when she hugged me and asked, very plainly, how I was doing… saying in the same breath “I’ve been worried about you, losing Willie must have been horrible. I don’t know how you got through it”. Bang, right out there. No tiptoeing about or sad faces while she did the “how are you?”. Just a straight forward acknowledgement that life had dealt a shitty blow and there’s no point putting it any other way. It took me by surprise but also was a breath of fresh air. And a funny thing occurred. I answered her, openly and honestly. I teared up and wiped them away and kept talking through it… and it was all ok. We wound up walking and talking for almost half an hour until the next session. She was someone I ended up spending a few breaks and a lunch with that weekend, with other people too, but also alone and catching up.

She gave me the gift of seeing that the grief and the pain and what happened is just simply there. Not to hide from other people or to pretend it never happened. It’s just there. And it’s ok if it’s uncomfortable or if it hurts. Life’s like that. She talked about her son’s struggle with depression and how he’s doing ok now. Just simple, open conversation. Refreshing. And needed.

I needed to see that some people will run, some will mask it and pretend everything is how it was, and some will face me head on and openly. It’s all ok, not one is good or bad, no right or wrong, just unique.

No one can tell me how to grieve… and no one can tell anyone else how to react to someone grieving. We all deal, differently

By the seat of my pants

Out for a bike ride recently (bicycle, not vroom vroom… that’s next year 🙂 ). It occurred to me how many things that my early morning bike rides have taught me. Here are a few gems of wisdom discovered from the seat of Lucy, my gorgeous and smooth darling of a bike:

1. You don’t always need a destination. In fact, many times, the best rides I’ve had have been unplanned meanderings. Plans can be constricting sometimes, you don’t always need them.
2. Smile in the wind. Sure, bugs may get in your teeth but that’s a slight price to pay for the feeling you get when the wind is in your face and you embrace it.
3. Speaking of embracing… Stop and look and enjoy. True, you can still see the beauty around you as it whizzes by, but its good to every now and then stop and soak it in.
4. Coasting is still moving. You don’t always have to be pedalling so hard and working to get somewhere. If life hands you a downhill and some ease to roll along, be thankful and enjoy it. There will always be another hill to get up so rest when you get the chance
5. Take a path less travelled. Or even unknown. Sometimes those have the best surprises and You would have missed. them if you had stuck to the same old routine.Take risks, it just might result in something awesome.
6. Even if the weather looks great when you start out, you can be going along and just get dumped on all the same – seemingly out of nowhere sometimes. Keep going. You’ll either move through and out of it or you’ll get back to your safe place. Life is the same way. Just keep moving.
7. Sometimes it’s important to leave your hand off the brakes and just fly. When you’re at the top of a hill it can be scary to open up and let go but it’s worth it. Nothing beats the feeling of flying!
8. It’s ok to be proud of your accomplishments. Take the moment (or second even) to bask in making it to the top of the hill that usually kicks your ass… for going further than you ever have before… for getting out and just doing it when all you wanted was more couch time. You earned the right to be proud of yourself, enjoy it and know you deserve it. You rock 🙂
9. Acknowledge those who pass you by. They may not be going the same direction or even travelling the same mode of transportation but they’re moving along the same fundamental journey. Spare a breath and a second and a smile and say “hi” or “‘morning”. I don’t recall the 40 spandex clad cyclists that blaze past me in a pack but I always remember the one lone one who calls out “good morning” or warns me of a huge puddle coming up. Take the time to connect to others on this journey.
10. Don’t get caught up in the “why” and the “shoulds” of why you do it all. Sometimes the only reason you need is because it feels good and puts a smile on your face.

Uncertain

After a blog entry last week that was written about how it was three years ago that day that I had taken a note my son wrote about wanting to die to our doctor, I received a private message. This message was, I’m sure, well intentioned and meant to help me but it has, instead, caused quite a bit of conflicted thoughts.

The sentiment of the message is one that has been voiced to me before in the 2 and a half years since my son’s death. It’s a message that states that I need to let go; I need to stop dwelling on the loss and the hurt and that I need to move on and put this behind me. that, of course, it’s ok to grieve and to remember (and even to write about mental health issues) but that, by bringing up the past and reliving and “celebrating” and “honouring” the dates that are associated with painful memories I am simply self-inflicting torment on myself. That I, and my actions, are the cause of me continuing to be having a hard time with grief.

Good point, and one that gives me pause to wonder. I have seen parents lose children and turn that loss into an all-consuming life path to the exclusion of anything else in their life it seems. I was at a mental health symposium last year and met a couple of mothers who had given up careers and everything to make the crusade for their child’s death “mean something” a focal point in their lives. Conversations were only on their children and their deaths. There was nothing else in their lives seemingly.

I guess, if someone only read my blog here, they may assume that my life is like that. That all I ever write about or talk about is loss and missing Willie and how hard it is “after”. The truth is though that while that is in my life, my life is about so much more. My other blog, lolabits , is one of all-encompassing “life to the fullest”. Silliness and heavy topics abound in equal parts over there. Those who are friends with me on Facebook know that the vast majority of my posts are the here and now and that my life is very much with an awareness that joy is a part of that. So is the grief though and sometimes that is shared too. But not as much as the person who messaged me seems to think.

There is a balance that is walked in loss. A balance between being told not to bottle things up, that it’s healthy to express grief and to talk about it and to heal however you need to… and the flip side of being told to put it behind you and not “dwell” (oh how I love that suggestion).. to not make every day about missing him (when the reality is that every day it is simply there, that he is gone)… You need to let it out and feel it… you need to just not think about it… you need to remember… you need to forget…

I have lost friends who I just cannot have in my life anymore because I know that they don’t agree with how I grieve. I have had friends who have told me that “for my own good” I need to be told to stop the “pity party” and be made aware that this blog is just me indulging my grief and contributing to depression. These friends are no longer in my life like they were.

Which, after the message last week, makes me question if I should continue with this blog. I question what the purpose of it is. Is any good coming of it? Is it doing anything to promote understanding or acceptance and education about mental health issues? Probably not. IS it merely a vessel for me to indulge a pit party of grief? I don’t see that but then again, would I, if it was that?

I have been told that I need to accept that my life will go on with grief and hurt as a part of it. Plain and simple. That it won’t go away. That I will learn to live with it and not have it be the biggest part. I already know that. The grief and the hurt are there but, and this is a big one for me, but my life has joy and promise even so.

I’m not sure about the future of this blog right now. If the purpose it is serving is to help me process then it’s becoming apparent that more than a few in my life may be feeling like the person who wrote the message and telling me it’s time to shut it down and just do it privately because everyone is tired of hearing it.

Three Years Ago Today

Three years ago today that I took the note Willie wrote me to our family doctor. I sat in his office and showed him the note and asked for help. I cried and said I was scared and had no idea what to do. The note Willie had written me explained in simple words how he felt; his fears, his worry that he was sick, mentally. His desire to die. More than anything else though, his note asked for help. Not in a “it was a cry for help” sort of way but in actual words. He literally asked for help because he didn’t know what to do and he was scared of his own thoughts and what was in his mind.

Today, three years ago, I took that note to our family doctor. The doctor who had known Willie since he was 4 years old. Three years ago today Willie was too embarrassed and scared to go himself but asked me to go and see what we could do to get him help.

Three years ago today I sat in that office and was lectured for 20 minutes on my parenting and how divorce affects children. That note that must have been so hard for Willie t write – that note was tossed on the desk by his doctor with the remarks that he was “bluffing” and “grand=standing” and that I should “call him on it”. That if he really was serious about wanting help then he would call the suicide help line himself.

Three years ago today I left that office with a promise to have his name put on the waitlist for a psychiatrist, 12-18 months wait list. I also left with more anger and fear and sheer rage than I have ever felt in my life.

Three years ago today I walked back into my home and I was met by Willie asking me how he was going to be made better..what help he could get. The eagerness in his eyes tore me up inside as I fought to control my frustration at what I had just encountered. And I had no answer but to say that I would get him help…and I never told him what his doctor said and how he was dismissed by the “system” that should have helped him that day. Why? Because at that point, he had hope and even then, I knew that he needed that more than anything else.

Hope that slowly dwindled as the weeks and months went by and he was let down time and again. As he saw that, time and again, it was waiting lists and assurances that were never realized.

It all started with that one appointment three years ago today. And it ended the way he, more than anyone else, never wanted it to.

Easy and selfish?

A short status update on social media by a friend of a friend had an impact on me that surprised me by the ferocity of it.

His update was about some news that he had just received about a close friend from high school. He is just over 10 years out of high school and this news came as a shock to him presumably. His friend has killed himself. Horrible news and I can understand his shock and how raw his feelings must have been. What he said however struck me. His words were to the effect that he is more angry than sad and that suicide is “the easy way out” and leaves everyone else in pain. What followed were other comments by his friends offering comfort and support. One other remark in particular that “suicide is the most selfish act” got me riled to the point that I jumped in and made a comment. Not enough to get it off my chest there though…

Sadly, I understand all too well that anger and that hurt that comes with losing someone from suicide. What sent me into an almost blind rage today was the publicly accepted sentiments that suicide is “easy” and “selfish”. In my mind, nothing is further from the truth.

Having watched my son go through hell struggling over wanting to die and not wanting to all in the same moment…after reading his journals and seeing what went on inside of him while he dealt with mental illness…It wasn’t the easy way out. There is nothing easy about getting to the point of ending your own life. Nothing easy about taking that final step that you know will end it all, forever. We, as people, are simply made to go the route of least resistance, the easiest way. That’s why so many of us live our lives in complacency and routine and unhappy. Because staying the course is easier than change. Suicide is the most profound change you can make. On top of that, we, as human animals, are hard-wired with a sense of self-preservation. That’s a basic instinct that is there. To overcome that and end your life when every part of a rational brain and body screams to fight, to live… that’s not easy.

Is it selfish? You could argue for and against on this one. People end their lives for so many reasons. Is it selfish to succumb to cancer? Is it selfish to die of a heart attack? No one would ever suggest that. Yet someone who lives with a psychosis and has a break and tragically ends their life is treated very differently. A major psychosis is an illness that destroys a person just as savagely as a terminal physical illness like cancer. “Simple” depression can become clinical and alter a person to the point that they are not capable of what we would consider logical or rational behaviour. What about the person who has a terminal physical ailment and chooses to end their life on their terms and on their timeline rather than become incapacitated? What about those that make the choice, in part, to spare their loved ones the pain of a long and emotional death of weeks or months? Selfish or selfless, or neither? It’s too complex to sum up with generalizations.

These two blunt comments made me so angry because they are so typical of how we, as a society and culture, still firmly place a box around suicide and try to make it fit neatly within the confines that make us feel safe and better. If we can label it and categorize it and point at it and say it’s not going to happen to me because of A, B and C, then it doesn’t scare us as much.

The truth is suicide is scary because it can’t be neatly explained and contained. Talking about it and being open about it is the only way we are going to make a dent in the impact it has.