Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift

You must have been in a
Place so dark
You couldn’t feel the light
Reachin’ for you through
That stormy cloud
Now here we are
Gathered in our little hometown
This can’t be the way
You meant to draw a crowd
Oh why, that’s what I keep asking
Was there anything I could’ve
Said or done
Oh, I had no clue you were masking
A troubled soul, God only knows
What went wrong and why
You would leave the stage
In the middle of a song
These are the lyrics from a song that has been playing over and over in my head for the last few days.
It has been 10 years since I found that my mom had killed herself in the car at our family home. It has been 10 days since I was told that my dad would be joining her. 
In the past week while I have been helping my dad come to terms with this cruel reality, we have had many evenings of reflection and "air clearing". As I have been going through his belongings, I have found many remnants of my mom, despite their relationship meeting its demise more than 30 years ago.
The past 10 years has been a journey of growth, discovery and realization. My mother was a gift.  I no longer want to focus on the darkness that surrounds her past. Rather, I want to share with you the beautiful gifts she helped me “unwrap.”
The poet, Mary Oliver, wrote in her Thirst collection, “someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”
Most people wouldn’t associate loss with being a gift. But because of my mom, I do.
The death of my mother, my box of darkness, was a gift. It just took a while to unwrap it completely. Here are some of the things that I’ve learned in the wake of my loss:

1. Education is Empowering

My mother's death was a beginning of a new and unwanted education for me.
Learning about suicide was never on my “bucket list,” but as my family and I were thrown into a world we did not see out, a world where one is forced try to fathom the unfathomable, education saved us.
For the past 10 years I have been trying to sort out what I knew about depression, suicide mental illness prevention and treatment. Between the books I have read, research I have done and the stories that have been shared with me since I made my journey public, the most valuable insight was this:
  • A person who dies by suicide is often so consumed by pain that he can no longer think of anything but ending that pain.
  • The pre-suicidal state of mind is one of extreme mental anguish where one’s judgment is distorted and one does not have the ability to “make choices” or see options. Our rational minds can’t fathom how our loved ones could have “chosen” to take their lives, but in their grief-stricken minds, there was no other choice.
  • This is why it is so critical to reach out to others whenever you have suicidal thoughts of your own; you may be in a tailspin that you cannot pull out of by yourself.
  • Individual therapy and group therapy in any form is essential for helping survivors to deal with this grief.
  • The group of people I know who are “survivors of suicide” is much larger than I would have ever guessed. Suicide is still so stigmatized by our society that most people choose not to speak about it publicly. It has amazed and saddened me to discover how many people I know that have had their lives affected by the loss of someone important to them through suicide, and that they only felt they could share this with me after I had become one of them.

2. ABC: Always Be Capturing

Noticing and noting have always been critical in my life and in my learning, but I have been more conscious and conscientious about keeping a record of important moments in my life, and more importantly, the people I get to share those moments with.
 Remembering you, mom, has been a gift: Smells, songs, Hello My Name is Joe, Australia, The Carpenters and Wilson Philips.
I wish I had ALWAYS BEEN CAPTURING – my memories of you would be even greater.

3. Live in Appreciation; Forgive

I seems cliche. We don’t appreciate what we have until it is gone. There is a reason things are cliche….they are often somewhat based in truth.
To say my mom and I had our ups-and-downs would be an understatement. Just weeks before her death, we had made a lot of progress in our relationship. We were in a state of change, whereby we were learning how 2 adults would function together.  It excited me to think that my future children might get to know the new Brenda.
We never got that chance. As I look back at how much I anticipated our evolving relationship, I regret not appreciating what we had much earlier.
Now, in death, rather than in life, I find myself appreciating her more for who she was, and forgiving whatever it was that drove us apart. I find myself wishing I had the opportunity to appreciate our differences as a window to learn about our similarities. I would so relish the opportunity to better know her, learn from her and love her more deeply.
Live in appreciation; forgive. Now.

4. Facing Death to Value Life

The meaning I have found in my mom's suicide and my dad's terminal cancer diagnosis, is to realize that life is tenuous for us all. Facing death with grace is the fulfillment of life, regardless of what you believe will follow.
Of all the gifts my mother bestowed upon me, this is the most significant of all.
We have the choice of making every minute count with the people we love from now on, and valuing them and our lives in a way we never did before. (another cliche?!)

5. Grace and Gratitude

The pain and loss of my mother's death will always remain, but my grief is beginning to be transformed into grace. Her memories remind me how ephemeral life is and how fortunate I am to be blessed with family, friends, and work that fill me up.
Her memories remind me to live every day to the fullest, to take nothing for granted and let those whom I love know how much they matter and I love them
Her memories remind me we live in a beautiful world that offers endless possibilities.
Thank you.. from the bottom of my heart.. to all that prayed for our family.. to all that shared so generously … to all who reached out to me and to my family in the weeks and months that followed and to those that are reaching out now. You will never know how much you are a part of my learning, my healing and my ability to support others in their grief.