I have learned that as a survivor, I can be whole again.
On December 2, 2010, the man I loved to distraction sent a text message to three people saying that life was too difficult. He turned off his phone, went out on the front porch, and shot himself. In the two years that have followed, I have learned a great deal about surviving suicide.
In the early months following his death, I was in excruciating pain … all of the time. I felt like a fish hooked deeply and painfully. No amount of writhing or maneuvering could free me from that pain. I wanted to sleep, but I couldn’t. I tried drinking, but drinking just made me sadder. Nothing brought relief. When I tried to think of what my future was going to be, I was overwhelmed by sadness and fear, and revulsion for a life I didn’t want. Someone (actually, Ronnie Walker) told me not to think about the future – it was excellent advice. She told me to just try to get by minute by minute until I could handle hour by hour. Two years later, I am able to think weeks or even months out, but trying to plan years out just depresses me. I have learned that’s ok, I only have to do what I can.
Several months after his death, the terrible pain started to ease. I thought I was returning to normal. When you’ve been so far down, each little improvement feels like a huge move up. Other people also saw the improvement, and some felt like I was back to my old self. But I was not normal. I have learned that normal if it returns, takes a long, long time. And that however long it takes, you have to accept that and work within your new limitations to get through.
I have seen that tiny disappointments can now result in emotional meltdowns and days and days of depression. My resiliency is not what it was. I had always been cheerful and optimistic, but eventually after the loss, to protect myself against disappointment, I began to imagine the worst and plan for it. I wasn’t obsessing about the worst; I was just preparing for it. If the worst didn’t happen, it was a relief instead of a crushing disappointment. Viewing the world that way works against my natural personality, but it allows me to function. Some people find it disturbing, especially if they knew me before, but I’ve learned to do what works for me.
I have learned that those who have not survived cannot be expected to understand what survivors are going through. People may be cruel, or they may be kind. In the early days, I reacted much too strongly to well-intentioned but ignorant people. Perhaps my reactions taught them something, but probably not. Now I’ve learned not to listen to the opinions of those who don’t know, and I’ve learned to tell them firmly (but I hope not rudely) that I hope they never have to know what they are talking about.
On this grief journey, I have changed. I was an outgoing, bubbly, optimistic person who loved life and truly believed that no matter how bad things looked, they would work out somehow. Now I know that terrible things can happen, and you may not be able to stop them. I used to believe my strength would allow me to absorb blows and move forward without being crippled by them. Now I know I can be brought to my knees in pain, but still rise up and live each day. And I have learned that even if you don’t really love all of life, there are still moments of great joy to be found that make it worthwhile.
I have learned that grief is selfish. When you are grieving, you cannot be the good friend and thoughtful daughter or sister or parent that you once were. I found the expectations and needs of others, however much they loved me, to be a burden. And for a while, that’s ok. But you do have to work back to thinking of others at some point. And I have learned that getting in touch with gratitude helps with that. Counting whatever blessings you can find helps heal you. This may feel like hard work, but trust me, without gratitude you won’t survive as a whole person.
And I have learned that as a survivor, I can be whole again. Perhaps I’m not the bubbly, outgoing, optimistic, and resilient me that I was, but still a whole person. I may never have the life I wanted, but I am learning to accept the life I have and truly appreciate the good parts of it.
I am still on this journey. I can make the adjustments I need to make to compensate for the scars that I bear. I can contribute to the world around me. I can return the love that others give me. And I have learned that I can have wonderful moments that would not have seemed possible two years ago, and the only way to have them is to keep surviving.