Just One Picture

Can a person who is hurting and living with grief still laugh and feel joyful? Absolutely. Can that person cry and feel like never getting out of bed again? Absolutely.

Why is it that it’s encouraged and supported to relive and carry with us “good” memories but we are quietly (or not so quietly) nudged to let go and move on from the “bad” ones.

Take pictures of that awesome vacation and the hikes and the milestones that everyone is smiling at. Remember those times in your life blah blah blah.

But grief…loss…death? Oh dear, it’s bad to hold onto that. Don’t dwell on it. Let it go and move on with your life. Don’t let that shape how you see life now. Put it behind you and live your life.

Well guess what? All of those amazing experiences and those happy times are inside of me and helped make me who I am today – and so are all of the not so happy times in my life. Joy and hurt can exist in the same body and mind. At the same time.

Why is it ok for me to talk about a great family vacation and laugh as I remember the ridiculous events and the fun, but when I talk about how it felt to leave my son behind in an emergency psych unit, I get told that bringing it up will just make the grief last longer? Life is made up of laughter AND tears. Trust me on this one, not feeling hurt doesn’t mean that all you feel is joy. If you have lost – or pushed away – the ability to feel hurt, than what’s left is not just joy. It’s apathy and emptiness. As bad as grief can be and as badly as it can hurt, I’ll keep letting myself feel it because it means that I can also feel the swing side of it. There was too long after Willie died that I was numb. I’ve learned over the last two years that starting to feel “good” things again – happiness, love, sensuality and silliness – meant letting in the “bad” that I had been hiding away. I can’t move forward without bringing it all  with me.

Like a picture that hangs on the wall, grief is just there in my life. It isn’t the only picture on my wall and it isn’t all that my life is, like it was at first, but I know now that it will always be there.

It’s always present but I don’t always look at it or even really see it sometimes. Some days I go by and barely notice it. Other days, it’s all I can see on that wall. Its presence doesn’t affect what goes on in the room though. There are days that I cry and rage and scream there. There are other days that I laugh and make love and giggle in that room. Some days the room is quiet and mellow while some days the noise can be deafening.

My life is like that room. So much more than just one picture among the many that adorn its walls. It’s a combination of everything that’s there and all the things that will be brought in still as I experience and live my life. There’s always room for more.

Adding on and growing and with every new addition, it changes and becomes…. and is Life.

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Held accountable

Accountability has been on my mind lately. I’m not sure what has stirred up the issue again but it’s there. Front and center in my mind when it comes to grieving – again.

This isn’t a new issue for me when it comes to Willie’s care and his death. It’s something that I’ve pondered before here and it’s something that is back to nag at me again.

So the question I’m bouncing around is, is it time to finally let it go or is this something that I need to and want to deal with. I fought for months to get the records of my son’s care and treatment from his family doctor, the hospitals he was an in-patient with, the counselling providers that he saw and the government agency that he had care through as well. Months of frustration and paperwork and phone calls and ultimately meetings. Months that did, eventually, bring about chart records and treatment notes. Such as they were. Some of it redacted – government “cover your ass” in full swing. Most of it sadly incomplete and vague. Notes and records that barely touched on his issues and made sweeping generalizations and care plans that were formulaic and non-committal. Records and notes that left me more upset and frustrated than when I had started the process. So I put them away. I had spent a few weeks going through them and, to be honest, it wasn’t healthy for me then. It tore at me and ate me up inside. It hurt, it more than hurt. So I put them away. I organized them all and tucked them away along with his journals and his notes and the few mementos of his that I kept. I needed to not have that swirling about inside my mind and my heart anymore.

So now why, after over a year, is it back? I still haven’t taken them out of their hiding place. All quietly stored away, but starting to draw me. The nagging and wondering still there. The anger is back. Anger at the failure and the complacency of shrugging off responsibility that happened. Anger that startles me at times with how fast it comes up and how fierce it is. I don’t care that the family doctor has reportedly retired, I want him to be held to task for his actions in all this. I want to stand in front of him and tell him he fucked up. Yell at him that he was wrong – that he was a shitty doctor when he said and did what he did. I want him to feel his wrongness, I want him to feel accountable – because he is, in my opinion.

I want the therapists and counsellors and psychiatrists to see the course of their actions – and to see their role in the outcome.

I want the Ministry of Children and Family Development to see the disaster that is their organizational structure and how it executes the care that is needed – and not provided. I don’t want to hear anymore how they are fulfilling their mandate of care and treatment and how they ARE providing adequate services for everyone who needs it. I want the Ministry representative who sat with my son’s file in his hands – in the same room as me – and told me that he couldn’t let me see it to know that that isn’t right.

Is there legal recourse for any of this? Probably not. There’s no way to prove that a different course of action or treatment or diagnosis would have resulted in a different outcome. Mental illness is, in some ways, very different from physical illness. Yet in some ways, it’s so similar.

Would things have turned out differently if our family doctor had taken me seriously three years earlier when I first went to him? Maybe. Maybe not.

Would Willie still be alive had that family doctor not addressed his note to me – a note that plainly said he was scared and suicidal – with the comment that Willie was “bluffing and grandstanding – call him on it”. Maybe. Maybe not.

Would it have been different had the hospital psychiatrist looked at the journals I brought him instead of saying they were “private” (and keep in mind, at this point Willie was committed involuntarily under the Mental Health Act)? Maybe. Maybe not. I am certain it would not have been a generic diagnosis of depression and anxiety that was set on if they had seen the contents of those journals. Journals that clearly told of voices and fears of homicide and becoming a monster. Journals that openly referred to the only way out of his own head as being that of death. So maybe. Or maybe not.

We’ll never know, and that’s what’s tearing me apart. Again.

Thank You

Thank you to the lies. You have taught me to be more mindful with where I place my trust.

Thank you to the pain. You have allowed me to see what I can endure.

Thank you to deception. You have shown me to question and to not just accept.

Thank you to the struggles. You have proven to me my ability to overcome.

Thank you to emptiness. You have made me appreciate when my heart and my arms are full.

Thank you to sadness. You have shown me the joy in simple happiness.

Thank you to grief. You have shown me to appreciate and be thankful for my life.

Thank you to loneliness. You have shown me how to love being alone.

Thank you to hatred. You have helped me learn to let go.

Thank you to my darkness. You have shown me how to love the depth of it as a part of me.

Thank you to the days that felt like they would never end because of the hurt. You have taught me to savour the days that go by too fast.

Thank you to the ugliness of life. You have allowed me to see the beauty that is life as well.

How to “fix” the problem?

I came across this article recently. It relates to the concept that society can make an impact on suicide reduction by limiting the access to means to complete a suicide attempt. It even goes so far as a to state “ “You can reduce the rate of suicide in the United States substantially, without attending to underlying mental health problems, if fewer people had guns in their homes and fewer people who are at risk for suicide had access to guns in their home,” said Dr. Matthew Miller, a director of Harvard Injury Control Research Center and a professor of health sciences and epidemiology at Northeastern University.” Quite the idea that; just take guns away, no need to attend to the underlying mental health problems. That sentiment is scary in its ignorance.

The article has a point, I agree. Many suicide attempts are impulsive and a gun is much less variable in its surety to kill than pills or cutting. Where I disagree strongly with the argument made in this article is in its inference that most people who attempt suicide are doing so on a whim and if they can’t do it easily, with ready access to a lethal means, then the urge will just pass and they’ll be all fine. It’s not that simple or easy to deal with the matter of suicidality. If only it were.

Society gets stuck on the new flash in the pan that will be the easy cure-all for a tough and complex issue. We get caught up in the hype of something that is easy to “fix” – taking guns out of homes (as if that’s easy anyways) – and use that as a tool to stroke the proverbial ego of societal self; saying that we’re doing something to help… we’re doing something so that means we’re making it better… that’s good, isn’t it?

What about educating family practice doctors about mental health issues, warning signs, resources available in their communities and how and when to refer out when it’s over their heads to deal with? What about forcing the issue of funds and resources for the inadequate care facilities and trained practitioners to staff them? What about the putting actual counsellors in the schools, not just teachers with a few extra courses and a keen desire to help… and how about putting in enough of them so that you don’t have support staff with a workload of a few hundred students to “personally” counsel? What about funding for enough counselling services so that someone at risk who has finally asked for help isn’t told that it will be a few months before an appointment can be made? What about, what about, what about…

Getting care and help for mental health issues is such a diverse and multi-faceted issue that it’s not as simple as one or two things to “fix” it. Dialogue, discussion…yes, very needed and it helps but action is what is going to make a difference in the end. Much like actual suicide… someone may talk about it but it’s their action in the end that speaks the loudest. That’s what we need to change – that we, as a collective society and as a whole, listen – and act – before their action.

So how do we “fix” it? I wish I knew. I wish I didn’t feel that it’s futile and that no matter how much we talk, it won’t make a difference. So, I talk and I write, even when I think there’s no point and nothing will come of it.

Letting him leave

A funny thing happened lately. Not funny ha ha, but funny odd. I let someone I love, leave.

That’s odd because I didn’t even know I was holding onto what it was that I let go of.

These past two and a half years have brought me to the place where I found myself a couple of weeks ago. Seeing that a corner was there to turn. I thought, and felt, that the guilt, the sadness and the “what-if’s” were needing to be released. As I stood and screamed and pulled against the hurt inside of my heart what I found was a drawing in instead. A drawing close, to hold, then let go.

My son, Willie made his choice on that morning two and a half years ago. He stood strong in his convictions of what he felt was the right choice for him. I have struggled with not feeling anger at him, not even able to understand how I could be angry at him for that… he was mentally ill, it wasn’t him, it was his illness, it was out of his control. Even though I know from his writings that he knew what he planned, he knew the finality of it, he knew, and he wanted it.

Then feeling that anger, eventually. I felt it consume me and overwhelm me and fill me with guilt. Guilt added to the already heavy load built on how I failed to keep him safe, to help him see it could be ok, to make him “better”. Then I let it go. I forgave him and I understood. My own path through grief and pain finding me in that same place and finally seeing and feeling how badly it hurts to not hurt at all, to not care, to just be so tired as to want it all to be gone away. That path giving me the gift to be able to let go of that anger towards him.
Replaced, again, with the heaviness, the sadness, the pain of him being gone.

All of that stays with me, and will always be with me. Just as he is always with me, and always will be.

That is the clarity. It’s him that needs to be released, not the memories, not my love for him. Not to let him go, because I never can, but to let him leave. To honour his wish and to say goodbye to him. He wrote his goodbye to me, but I never got to say goodbye to him. Never got to say that I understand and accept his choice. That was impossible at his memorial – too raw and filled with shock. It was surreal.

I sat on that hill then, a couple of weeks ago, and said my goodbye.. Him held in my heart for a moment, feeling him as I needed to, one last time. Feeling him in my arms as I have always needed to one more time. I held him close, memories of how he felt and smelled and looked filling my mind. Seeing his smile and remembering his moments of joy. He was with me as I said goodbye, told him it was ok, that I understood…then I let him leave.

Drawn in, held close.. and released.

Suicide “Survivor”

After Willie died, I went to a few counselling sessions and was introduced, personally, to the term “suicide survivor”. I disliked the term at once. I didn’t like the way it sounded and I didn’t really understand why those of us who have lost a loved one to death by suicide are called “survivors”.

I can say that now, almost 2 years later, I understand that term and how aptly it conveys the truth.

For those who have had someone they love die by suicide it is truly survival…for me it is at least…for right now. There is a big difference between living, really living, and just surviving day in and day out.

Since February 1st 2012, it has been survival. The first few months are a blur, I barely remember anything from that time and have no recall of specific days or even weeks during that time. I don’t know how I got my youngest son to school every day or made lunches or dinners, how I shopped for groceries and did laundry… I know I did it, but I don’t know how. I know I learned to let a lot of my standards slide during that time and to be ok with just getting by. That’s what happens when you’re surviving. You learn to live with less than. Less organization, less structure, less planning and less things that you always considered “must-haves”.

Then eventually for me something else happened. I learned to live with less of the more important things that had already slid during that time of shock. In those first few months I was incapable of feeling, it seemed, anything other than pain and loss. Even that was dampened and felt numb in a way. After a year or so, I realized that the pain was getting worse and have learned that as the shock wears off, you really actually “feel” the loss. Surviving kicked in for me..again. I tried to shut down all those feelings and muster them into a way that I could handle and process. It didn’t work and I am now on the other side of understanding how toxic that is to myself.

Part of the surviving though is that I also learned to live with “less than” in terms of emotional and physical. I learned to live with almost no physical contact or emotional connections. Joy and enjoyment of things became fleeting and I didn’t seek it out. I started to merely exist and survive in my life on an emotional level. Life is all about balances and for me to live with joy and happiness again means that I also have to open myself up to experience all the hurt and the pain. As I work to process and face the painful emotions I need to constantly remind myself that without the balance of joy, my life isn’t living… it’s surviving. And I don’t want to just survive, I want to live. Losing Willie brought to the forefront what I already lived… that life is precious and uncertain. Just getting by every day is not how I wanted to live my life and it still isn’t.

Being a suicide survivor is not what I want to be and I’m not; because to call myself that implies, for me, that I’m not really living, I’m just existing…and that’s no way to live a life.

As I make plans for the upcoming year of things I want to do and places I want to travel to (finally!) I see that a corner is turning and joy is starting to be a consideration for me in my life. The balancing will always be a struggle – I don’t believe the pain will ever diminish to the point that it’s not there every day – but I do believe that I have to be the one to make a conscious choice to keep that balance in check. A work in progress, but at least in the right direction.

One step forward, 2 steps back ?

I feel so confused and drawn in different direction. I feel there is that strength in me again…small and not well steeped, but it’s there. I can feel it again. A baby step towards reclaiming my Self that has been lost since Willie’s death. Yet, like a flame, it flickers and sometimes blows out completely – leaving me crushed and sobbing and feeling like I’ve made no progress at all towards healing. Every time it goes out, I wonder if it was really there at all…whether it will light again… and whether this is my path for the rest of my life. To live with the confusion, the hurt, the yearning and the faltering missteps of a life lived mired in grief.

I see my longer-known friends slowly distancing. As words of encouragement are spoken the contact becomes less and less. Instead of almost daily texts or emails it now is down to simply when I reach out to touch base. I have had a couple of friends honest enough to explain that they simply feel helpless – that there’s nothing they feel they can do to help so they will just “be here waiting” for me when I “return”. The others who have just merely quietly slipped out of my life in any significant way have left hints of the same sentiment. Instead of the usual cajoling to get me to come out if I said I was feeling down I now get “you do what you need to , take care” then no contact for days until I text or email. Essentially telling me that pretty much everyone is done with me being out and about but not being able to be “normal”. A very nicely worded and phrased version of “stay away until you’re better because we can’t help you so you make us uncomfortable…. but soooo looking forward to seeing you when you can be fun and talkative like you used to be”.

I have helpful friends who try to point out that I push people away, that friends get frustrated when I won’t take their advice and help myself to try to get better. Yes, I do push at times…grief and depression may be hard to be around but take my word on this – it’s fucking hell to live with it inside of you. It makes me behave in ways that aren’t “me”. It makes me push people away because I hate myself so much like this I can’t stand the idea of someone I care for seeing me at my lowest. The truth is that I am trying, very hard… and to the best of my abilities. It may appear like I’m not or like I’m just content to stay where I am emotionally but I am trying harder than anyone can imagine to pull my life together and be able to move forward. The scars on my arms from cutting are a testament to that fact. Signs that I chose a non-permanent outlet for the pain when it gets too much rather than what my grief filled mind tells me is the only way to end the pain. I’m not proud of those scars but I am damn proud that I’m still here to hate them.

What doesn’t help is when I have a down day and reach out… to be given the tough love “somebody needs to tell you to put on your big girl panties” speech. Trust me… I’ve recited it enough to myself to know it by heart. I can’t choose to let go of the PTSD flashbacks and emotions that accompany them anymore than I can decide I’m going to have brown eyes tomorrow instead of my blue ones I was born with.

There have also been wonderful surprise connections lately with newer friends who have met me as I am now, and still want to forge ahead with building a friendship. I am very grateful for these friends and for the hope for myself that I see in my beginning friendships.

I am not my grief, yet it is inside of me and it shapes me in a new direction that I can’t quite see yet. I have learned and accepted that it will never go away… I will always have days that I am knocked on my ass and am consumed by the loss of Willie. Those days are part of “me” and whoever is in my life has to accept that as well.

I’ve also accepted that life is still there for me to live and enjoy and experience; something I intend to do fully…something I am trying to do – some days more successfully than others right now. Celebrating the small victories and the little windows of joy that are there. Not beating myself up for a day when I can’t get out of bed and also remembering to acknowledge the days and give myself a pat on the back for when I do what I had to.