The last entry I made on this blog was one of hope and gladness as I had come back from an illness that left some side effects. I was looking forward to returning to working. But that didn’t happen and the blog went silent. Why?
In August of 2016 the man that I’ve been posting about in “Being In the Room” (Part 1) (Part 2) decided to leave the room. He completed suicide. I’ve taken a year off to sort out my feelings and begin the healing process.
My husband, Jon, and I had many long talks about his situation. We both cried and we both knew that this could happen: it finally did happen.
I will be doing a podcast on this subject so I won’t go into all of the details here. I may talk about the specifics in future postings. Today I want to talk about getting through it. I don’t mean getting over it I mean, THROUGH it.
Let yourself imagine a mountain. You have some options and they each have an outcome that can be managed. Some are better than others and so in making the choice of how to approach this landmark a considerable amount of thought is needed.
In the first hours and days of Jon ending his life I had to make some radical choices. I think I made some really good ones considering the fact that I was grieving, stunned, and without family physically present. However, I did have some friends who came and gave much needed support. They cooked, cleaned, advised and tried their best to show up in a nasty situation.
In the first days and weeks that mountain loomed large and I knew that I had to decide how to navigate it. I could go over it, around it or through it.
Each of these thoughts caused me to think of what would happen if I had made the journey in that manner. I’ve never liked the term “get over it” as it seemed condescending, judgmental and uninformed. I discarded OVER right from the start. In thinking about it further I didn’t want to track OVER the mountain. I didn’t want to miss things that I would miss by going over it. It didn’t seem like the thorough way of facing this situation. While hiking a mountain can be beautiful, this wasn’t that type of journey.
Going AROUND the mountain implied denial and that wasn’t an option. I thought about how this seemed to imply that I’d view the scenery but not touch anything and that wasn’t appealing to me. Going around the mountain would leave the mountain intact or untouched and that wasn’t what I wanted to do at all. As I mentioned, suicide is messy and requires some hard work to deal with the damage and ruin that it leaves in its wake. While I knew suicide could happen I had hoped it never would come into being.
I like tunnels. I like the technology that creates them and the stories of their builders. I like everything about driving through them if they are well-lit. I watched with great interest as the Goddard tunnel in Switzerland was dug from inside the deep of the earth. My first visit to London was not done on a plane but through the Chunnel. Yup, I like tunnels and no, I haven’t done the Goddard yet.
So, in thinking about what I needed to do, the choice for me to tunnel THROUGH this mountain and thinking of my journey in those terms was a natural one.
As I chose to go through the mountain, I chose to be intelligent, wise, weak, vulnerable, and fearless. I realized that I could not control this situation. I could no more control it than control the crazy Netherlands weather. I do, however, have options even in tunneling through the mountain.
The first option: Realism
For me this has involved planning and visualizing as well as allowing myself to feel the messiness of the entire situation. It also means that if I’m having a bad day I allow myself to feel the bad day in all of its glory and pain.
When I say that I’ve planned this journey it means that I allow myself to think through life scenarios and to imagine the outcomes. For example, the celebration of Christmas could have been really hard. Thanks to friends I was not alone, but rather, surrounded in a house of love. Rather than letting the day simply come, I opted to take hold of the day. It wasn’t easy: it was better than waking up to not knowing what would be involved with living through the day. Maintaining a certain amount of control is a good thing.
In visualizing and thinking ahead to the obstacles that come my way I create positive scenarios. I remember the first everything that I’ve celebrated without Jon as being mostly happy. Yes, of course I wish he were here at times but the reality of it is that he isn’t suffering and for that I’m so thankful.
I’ve cried, or should I say, sobbed. I’ve questioned and wondered if I did a good enough job of supporting him and then after the crying is over the answer is a resounding, yes!
I would not wish this on anyone. Going through hell is not fun and in the past year I have faced hell more than once. The thing I’ve learned about this in particular hell, (and there are many such places) is that there is respect to be had in that place of darkness.
The Second Option: Receiving and Acceptance
My great aunt was wonderful at giving, but she wasn’t so good at being able to graciously receive another person’s kindness. From a young age I became aware that not only did I need to be a great “giver”, but I also needed to learn to accept kindness with the same graciousness. This week I had this lesson driven home to me when a friend came by to see how I was because I’d failed to respond to some e-mails. During our conversation, she said, “oh, crap” in hopes that I wouldn’t hear it. (I’m not that deaf!) Then, when I responded to that remark, it clicked and she, in an imaginary shaking of Gail, said, “I want to help”! She was hurt and angry with good reason. I realized that I wasn’t receiving the service she was offering. I had been sick for two weeks with some kind of creepy crud that’s been going around and I’d checked out. We talked about it and I admitted that having her come by was a good thing. It raised my spirit. It also forced me to realize that I need to assert my needs and let others determine whether or not it is possible to help out. Asserting ones needs also means that you allow others to think about what they are able to do for you.
I realize that in talking about being a recipient of kindness that this isn’t always the case. People get confused and they don’t know what to say or do. They over-react or under-react. Sometimes the best they can do for you is to do what they think they’d want done in your situation. They are human. This isn’t easy to deal with and I will admit that one of the lessons I’m learning, as I travel through the mountain, is that I need to accept not only the kindness but also the fact that the kindness might not always be there when I need it. It hurts deeply but when I last checked, there were and are, no perfect human beings on this planet. We are all doing our best, or so we like to think. Sometimes our best isn’t good enough. When you are the recipient, accepting what can be done is an art that most of us need to learn to be better at. So there are fails in this process: the hard thing is letting the failures stand on their own merit.
The Third Option: It is going to take time. It isn’t going to happen speedily.
Nobody wants to remain in grief and pain forever, and yet in order to get through the grief, it is essential to remain there until you can move forward. Forward movement is done in steps. If you try to force this forward movement it actually sets you back. Facing the good days along with the bad, or not-so-bad but not-so-great days, is moving forward. This is not a science but rather a journey. Crossing the milestones, understanding that there will be many such milestones, and allowing them to come naturally is part of the process.
Being kind and gentle with yourself is also needful. Show yourself mercy. Come to understand that you are enough and that simply getting through the death of a loved one is enough. This has been my process. It would be accurate to say that this has been a roller-coaster ride and that I’ve been flipped, raised up, sent flying down and jerked around. I’ve taken a couple of “G’s” and I suspect that I’ll be hit again. Smoother riding will come. (Is life ever completely smooth?) So, be merciful to your soul and it will pay off.
There is so much to be said about dealing with someone’s suicide. I have time to say it in multiple posts. The last thing I will say is that I’m at peace with my Jon and his death. I spent 22 years of my life loving and supporting Jon. I got to know his pain and the fact that each day he struggled to find a shelter from the depression and pain that he lived with for 30+ years. There are times when loving someone means that you come to a realization that loving them entails letting go completely. Jon walked a pathway of life for years that held struggle and sorrow. Jon did not end his life impulsively but rather with thought and an understanding that he had done all he could to heal. In his notes, he grieved that this would cause me pain. But also expressed his love for me. I respect that and honor his death. In that I have peace.