I’m Joni Greever – yes, that’s my real name – and I survived the suicide of my older son, Preston, in June of 2007. He had turned 31 the previous month and had suffered clinical depression for many years.
Nothing can prepare a parent for being awakened in the middle of the night and opening the door to an officer – an old school friend in my case – who, with no preliminary chit-chat, announced, “I’m afraid I have bad news and I can’t make this any easier. Preston shot himself in the head.” The words hit me with such force I doubled over and stumbled backward, like I’d been kicked in the stomach. I couldn’t breathe. I clawed at my head, desperately trying to get what I’d heard out of my brain, so it couldn’t comprehend it. That was, bar none, the worst moment of my grief experience – of my life.
I had tried to help my son but didn’t understand depression; didn’t know what he was experiencing. I found out so much more after it was too late, and that guilt gnawed at me for a long time.
The emotions of losing someone you love so much are very powerful and intense. I’m not one to cry in front of others, but instinctively knew I had to get the feelings out, so I’d go for drives – usually at night – and scream and bawl and curse and scream some more. I had to have that release or I don’t know if I could have survived.
I don’t doubt that ‘death’ is a transformation of energy, so I felt his soul lived on, but he wasn’t here, and I missed him. I still do and will every minute of my life.
I wanted to get beyond just surviving, though. I wanted to keep Preston’s memory alive and honor him in some way. I felt he wanted me to be happy and decided that the best way would be to live my life the way he couldn’t. I believe our loved ones don’t want us to stay in grief and I knew other parents who couldn’t let go of their children who had passed many years before. I couldn’t live that way. My new goal was to remember him with joy and no negative emotions, which is easier said than done.
Then, I found the Alliance of Hope forum for suicide loss survivors – accidentally – more than three years after Preston left. I began replying to posts, got positive responses and was hooked. I could talk about my son and listen while others talked about theirs. There were many tears at first and I still have my moments, but I feel at home here.
I feel Preston a lot when I’m at the forum, nudging me at times with what to say to help someone in pain to understand what their loved ones were going through. I believe this was meant to be. Being able to look at the big picture – believing that this lifetime is a tiny part of our eternity and that we’ll meet again – has helped tremendously in my healing.
I want everyone who has lost a child especially, to know that they can heal. It’s hard to comprehend in the early days. The unimaginable has happened and you don’t think you’ll be able to survive, let alone heal and find joy again. One of the biggest hurdles is overcoming the guilt most of us feel.
Don’t feel guilty about re-joining life. Don’t feel guilty about being able to laugh again. We think we are being disloyal when we do. Silly and irrational to those who don’t understand, but real just the same. Those fears dissipated as I realized the changes his passing made in me. I shed things that weren’t important. I know I need to take care of myself, my needs and desires. This isn’t selfishness. It’s that the more balanced I am, the more I can give to others who love and need me.
I appreciate and try to make the most of each day. I reach out to others more – to help or be helped. I’m more tolerant. I know there is greatness in every one of us and try to make people see it in themselves. As strange as it sounds, and as much as I would like him back, when I lost my son, I found my Self.
Originally published on the Alliance of Hope Blog on March 3, 2014.