Grief Is Physical.

This post deals with suicide grief and contains triggers.  I know my last post was also about grief, and I try to avoid doing multiple posts in a row because it’s such a heavy topic – but it’s hitting me hard this year and permeating all the corners of my mind.

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As many of you know, December 1st was the anniversary of my mother’s suicide.  It’s hard to get a description of what grief feels like, because you are trying to describe the indescribable.  The words we have are inadequate, but we try anyway.  Following is a quote about being a survivor of suicide, and what that feels like.  The last couple paragraphs speak to me.  When I came across it at the time, it was a relief to know that others have felt this way.  So I’m sharing it here.  I have often described grief as a hot coal sitting heavily in the center of my chest, burning me alive from the inside out.  Hurting so bad it’s hard to breathe.

“You know, you don’t really ever contemplate the meaning of gone before something like suicide.

Loss is not always just loss. Pain is not always just pain. Anger is not always just anger.

For me, these are things I don’t actually feel anymore. They are just a part of me. They just exist.

I don’t feel the brick on my chest or the lump in my throat. I don’t feel the sad and the hurt. I suppose I feel certain things, but not these. I think the most accurate way to describe it is that something was there and it no longer is.  It’s like I’m one of those anatomy models in your high school science classroom. Someone, the one, has come and taken away all the vital parts. It looks familiar, you can sort of recognize it but it just isn’t right.

My best friend once told me about love. She said ‘The hot, fire-y, bodice-ripping love is intense. It comes on strong but you can’t stoke a fire like that. It burns too hot, uses up all the fuel and goes out. Lasting love is more like this ember. It’s reached the core and is steady and strong. Yes, you have to maintain it but it will sustain you.’ A steady warmth at your core.

When you left, that ember morphed and took on a life of its own. Now I’m burnt, from somewhere near the bottom of my chin down my throat and over my chest; it spread out across my shoulders and stopped right above my belly button. All I feel I can do is stand there with my arms out and display this massive charred raw wound I’m left with. Naked, vulnerable and wounded. I breathe heavy. I stand there not showing anything, no pain or hurt is detectable on my face. Wanting more than anything for you to be standing there, in front of me to witness. Selfish…maybe…probably. It’s how I feel. I hate being the girl you left behind.

But…you…are…gone.”

I had a link in here, but this draft has been in my folder for a long time and the original source can no longer be found, it was taken down by the hosting site.

It takes time, but we do heal in our way.  You don’t get over it, you get through it.  These kind of emotional scars, you do carry them with you for a lifetime.  You will always feel this loss, but instead of letting it go you sort of expand to make room for it.  You adjust to it’s weight.  And someday, it won’t hurt quite so bad. I’m still waiting for that someday.

And that’s okay.

Here are some affirmations from Toronto illustrator Hana Shafi that are making me feel better. To see more of her work check out her Tumblr and Instagram.

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To Love

***Trigger warning: Suicide***

It’s the time of year when I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother’s death. The hardest thing about living with the loss of a loved one to suicide is the seemingly never-ending guilt and anger.

I replay the moments that torture me on a loop – thinking if only I could have done more. Gave more, done more, been more. I’m angry at myself for not being something that I could never be – that no one could ever be. I’m angry that sometimes I lashed out. That I wasn’t always perfect. That I wasn’t a never-ending well of giving.

That I couldn’t give all of me, all that I am, to save her.

It’s supposed to be easy to love someone.

I think sometimes, loving someone is the hardest thing you’ll ever do.

Mental illness is a civil war.

Next week they are doing an inquiry into my mother’s suicide, because she died in the hospital.  This post talks about suicide and mental illness and may contain triggers.  Feel free to skip it and come back when I’m funny again.  This is for all of you out there that might be missing someone you lost to mental illness. Or grieving at all.

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This is a quote someone shared with me that represents the battle that so many face with mental illness.  I unfortunately don’t have a source.
“Our friend [your mother] died on her own battlefield. She was killed in action fighting a civil war. She fought against adversaries that were as real to her as her casket is real to us. They were powerful adversaries. They took toll of her energies and endurance. They exhausted the last vestiges of her courage and strength. At last these adversaries overwhelmed her. And it appeared that she lost the war. But did she? I see a host of victories that she has won!
For one thing — she has won our admiration — because even if she lost the war, we give her credit for her bravery on the battlefield. And we give her credit for the courage and pride and hope that she used as her weapons as long as she could.  Only God knows what this child of His suffered in the silent skirmishes. We shall remember not her death, but her daily victories gained through her kindnesses and thoughtfulness, through her love for family and friends, for animals and books and music, for all things beautiful, lovely and honorable. We shall remember the many days that she was victorious over overwhelming odds. We shall remember not the years we thought she had left, but the intensity with which she lived the years she had!”

I couldn’t have said it better.

The Unopened Christmas Present

Today is the second anniversary of my mother’s death. The Christmas season will always be tinged with sadness for me – everybody else is gearing up for the holidays while I look back to what I lost.

The worst part about this grief it that it holds the loss of hope – that’s what I lost. Hope. My relationship with my mother was complex, and mostly difficult. I lost the hope that I would get a chance to create a relationship that was less painful – that we could find a way to be happier, to create more good memories to balance out the bad ones. I lost the opportunity to make it right, somehow.

I not sure that would have been possible – but I irrevocably lost the chance to even try.

Our relationship will forever remain, unfinished. Perhaps all relationships do. But all those conversations we never had, the memories we never made, the laughs we never got to share – they haunt me.

Perhaps that’s why I have a Christmas present from my mother that I’ve never opened.  Before she died she went Christmas shopping – it’s the last present I’ll ever get from her. It’s been said that I can’t get closure until I open it, that I’m not letting go. The people that say these things might be right.

That way I see it though, as long as I still have that present to open our relationship isn’t completely over. There’s still something left to be exchanged between us.

That present represents a small piece of possibility. It represents a future.

Maybe what’s inside will provide a small measure of comfort, and I’m missing out on that. Maybe it’s terrible (my mother was actually a notoriously bad gift-giver). I won’t say I’m not curious, it’s just that right now what the present represents is more important to me than what’s inside.

I’m not ready for it to be over between us. Perhaps one day I will be. Perhaps that will be the day I find peace.


What do you think? Weigh in – to open, or not to open?

On a good day, this is how I view my grief. But some days – like today – it’s ok to not be ok. I’m embracing that.

And if you’d like to do something for me – remember this Christmas that not everyone has big, joyful families to spend the holidays with. Take a look around you – and if you see someone who might need a little more joy in their Christmas – do something for them. It doesn’t have to be big, sometimes the littlest things make the biggest difference.  If you can make the world around you a better place, even in the smallest of ways – I can see no better embodiment of the holiday spirit than that.  I’ve been very lucky that I have amazing people in my life that make sure fun, and laughter, and joy, and love are a part of my holidays. I’ve always been very grateful for that.

The upside of rage

WARNING: This post may contain triggers for some.  Feel free to skip it and come back when I’m feeling funny again.

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It was the day of my mother’s funeral.  I felt everything.  I felt nothing.

I was preoccupied with the endlessly demanding, tiny, minute tasks.  I couldn’t process all that I was feeling, I still can’t.  I’ve always been able to articulate myself, but to this day on the topic of my mother’s death I’m left with a profound sense that I have nothing to say.

All I have are fragments of thoughts, the stunted beginnings of sentences, complex emotions aching to express themselves but facing the brutality of an inadequate language.

So bear with me as I attempt to share a story with you.  A fragment of one of the worst days of my life.  One without a clear moral, or direction.  A story for story’s sake.

Two hours until funeral time, rather than being present in my grief and pain I was desperately focusing on slideshows, printing pictures, setting up a display, calculating the time it would take to drive across town to accomplish these things and knowing that it would come down to minutes to spare even if everything went smoothly.  Underneath these frantic thoughts, I was simply suppressing a multitude of emotions that churned below the surface.

Then I received a phone call.  This particular phone call came from a social worker that worked with my grandmother, and she told me that my grandfather was refusing to drive my grandmother to the funeral because she had been disrespectful to his new wife the day prior and now my grandmother was distraught because she might not have a way to her daughter’s funeral.

Suddenly, my temper snapped.  I am usually an incredibly calm person.  Due to the amount of tragedy and loss I have faced in life, my cage is hard to rattle.  That’s the upside to hard times, they make us stronger.

Not this day.

Rage bubbled up to the surface, blissfully eclipsing all other emotion.  I had done everything for the funeral, these two adults simply had to show up and they couldn’t seem to accomplish this simple task without complications.  The anger I felt was instant.

And here’s the thing; it felt good.

Suddenly, I didn’t feel broken.  I didn’t feel grief.  I didn’t feel pain.  I didn’t feel sadness.  I had fire running through my veins.  My eyes flashed cold and hard with ice.  No longer listless, I had energy fueled by unadulterated, exquisite rage.  I seethed.  I drew myself up to my full height, pacing my kitchen, cursing and ranting, barely restraining myself from screaming, about the immaturity of those more than twice my age.  I no longer felt overwhelmed. I was focused on one this one, pure emotion.  I suddenly felt powerful.  I was a force to be reckoned with.

I remember the stunned face of a close friend, who in more than a decade of friendship, had never seen me truly angry.  No one in the room spoke.  It seems as if the whole world was holding it’s breath, teetering on the edge of precipice.

Finally, my stepfather caught my eye.  He said quietly, “I know.  I understand.  I’m sorry, but you don’t have time for this.  You have more important things you need to focus on.”

His words were like a siren call to my logic.  I knew that swirling in that cauldron of emotion I carried had been anger at my mother’s suicide, anger at her and anger at the world.  Anger at a broken system that had fostered this tragedy.  I knew I was funneling all that anger through this incident because it gave it somewhere concrete to land.

I had a choice to make.

Taking a deep shuddering breath, I pushed the rage back down with visible effort and it slowly ebbed away leaving me once again anxious and afraid of the hours to come, the terrible day I still had yet to face.  Leaving me exhausted and drained from a week of too little sleep and too much crying.  Leaving me once again, feeling only heartbroken.

The allure of my rage was undeniable, but I had things to do.