I wake up each day hoping it will be the day that the pain subsides. I find myself praying I will make it through an entire day without breaking down in tears or staring off into space for minutes, sometimes hours on end. Unable to move and lost in endless thoughts of what could have been while having difficulty taking in a full breath of air without feeling the weight of a hundred regrets. But, today was not the day.
If guilt were a button mine would be stuck on pause, or repeat, or both, simultaneously. I feel guilt over many things; the signs I wish I had given more credit to, and time not spent being present with loved ones still here – loved ones who need me right now. Tasks, too numerous to count, that have been left half-done or not done at all. I could list an entire page of things that I feel guilty about, but it usually circles back to one primary source. I wish I could have saved him. I wish I could have taken his pain away. I wish my Pops were still alive.
Deep grief has a way of bringing feelings to the surface, making us vulnerable to every possible jagged shard of pain and if you aren’t careful, it can drown you in its depths. I’ve spent almost every day since August 13, 2016, holding on for dear life. I thought I had begun heading toward the shore after Thanksgiving only to realize that Christmas was just around the corner. Holiday’s have always been a magical and special time for me but this year I wish I could skip them – all of them.
Following Pops death by suicide in August came my daughter’s birthday in September, which we didn’t celebrate until October. Then came Halloween; one of Pops’ favorite holidays and one he always made great fun for the kids. Then came my birthday in early November, then Thanksgiving, and Christmas. If you are active on social media, specifically Facebook, you are familiar with the “Memories” feature. I have developed a love-hate relationship with this feature. I have always been an enthusiastic picture taker, and Facebook reminded me of holidays past regularly throughout the holiday season. Among the repeated memory reminders were pictures of my Pops; pictures of him smiling and enjoying the holidays with my children, his grandchildren. Pictures of him with us, here on earth, seemingly happy. While gazing at every one of those pictures my heart broke a little bit more. Although they were sweet memories I was looking at, captured in the still images I’d snapped in years past, it was also a neon-sign reminder that he wouldn’t be here this year. He wouldn’t be passing out candy, pretending he didn’t recognize his granddaughter while she shrieked with delight over the fact that her costume fooled her Grandpa. He wouldn’t be singing Happy Birthday to me or sitting at the Thanksgiving table with us enjoying yummy food. He wouldn’t be coming over half-awake at the crack of dawn to partake in the magical Santa moments that my little one still wholeheartedly believes. Nor picking out his favorite coffee cup from my vast mug collection while choosing my least favorite for me, and pouring us both a strong cup to get through the parade of present opening – all before six in the morning.
What was once the normal way we celebrated each holiday has become a new routine that I haven’t figured out yet. The only thing new that I can put my finger on is that each holiday this year was lonely and the most prominent feeling in the air was one of loss.
I would love to say that I kept things moving forward and made things as ‘normal’ as possible for the kids and I but that would be a lie. I spent my birthday and Thanksgiving alone. My husband was still in the hospital, my daughter was with her other dad, and the college kids didn’t make it home. My husband, daughter and I were together on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, and we did the things we do every year; cookies were baked and decorated, Santa came, and presents were opened at the crack of dawn while I drank strong coffee from my least favorite mug. However, I felt like an imposter – a shell of my once whole self – the me who was once full of excitement and ready to share in the magical moments that only Christmas morning can bring. I know I wore a smile and went through the motions but inside was secretly counting down the minutes until my daughter would leave to go to her other dad’s house, and it ended – the moment I could crawl into bed and ignore the fact that it was December twenty-fifth. I did just that, and what followed was more guilt.
The lesson in this roller coaster of grief and what I am starting to understand is that society’s expectation of getting over grief, of bouncing back, is unrealistic. The expectation we have of ourselves is unrealistic. Things will never be normal again, and I am not the same person I was before my Pops died by suicide. The pieces of my heart will not fall back into place the way they once fit together. The pain will always be present and no amount of time will ease it completely. After this type of loss, life is different, and it will always be different. The longing for grief to end is a fool’s hope, and it’s okay not to be okay. To continue to feel guilt over everything I’m not doing or not doing the way I used to must be replaced. It must be replaced with acceptance. Acceptance that I am allowed to grieve this way – for as long as I need to grieve this way. The way I grieve, and the degree and intensity is what will change, over time, but only if I allow myself to do so – at my pace. I believe that is the only way to arrive at a place of peace. It’s not easy. Losing someone you love to suicide is hard, and overwhelming, and heart-wrenching.
Firsts are almost unbearable. First Easter’s, birthday’s, Thanksgiving’s, Christmas’s, and anniversaries. I’m told the second and third year of all of these, are hard too. There is no time limit on grief. Death is final and grieving the loss of a loved one doesn’t have to end because others think it’s time for us to move on and get over it. The healthiest thing we can do for those of us dealing with complicated grief is to allow ourselves all of the time we need. Caring for yourself after this type of loss is incredibly important, and part of caring for yourself is not to allow others to dictate how you are supposed to feel. Find a support group – find others who can relate to you – others who have experienced the same type of loss.
Suicide will continue to take lives, and the most proactive thing we can do is to open up a dialogue about mental illness. We must start to treat mental illness just as we would any other disease. We need to be advocates for those who have a mental illness. We need to work toward better and more available mental health services. We need to raise awareness, and we need to be accepting of people who have mental illnesses. Reach out to your friends and family. Ask questions and listen carefully. If you suspect that someone you love is contemplating suicide, talk about it, openly. Don’t be afraid to suggest reaching out for help. If you are contemplating suicide, please reach out for help. Someone is always listening.
#stopsuicide #reachout #youmatter #survivorsofsuicdeloss #suicide #mentalhealthawareness #transferofpain #grief #firstchristmaswithoutyou #guilt
© R.J. Belle and Transfer Of Pain, 2017, 2016