The beginnings of grief.

John’s dad died earlier this month.
I wrote this in a few minutes that I had to myself in the in between of knowing his death was imminent, but before he had passed away.

May 11, 2018  |  7:16pm

Grief is such a strange thing. 

With this loss, we had a chance to dance around it a little while, without really knowing it was coming. 

“Was he sick for very long?” people have asked.
Kind of? But not really.
(And what difference does that really make when you lose someone you love and the thought of seeing them again on this earth is gone?) 

I wish we’d been better about video calls.
I wish that I’d said how much his words at Christmas time meant to me. 

She called and said, “the doctors found something today that is fatal and expect this to be his last day, or perhaps tomorrow.” 

She said something else, giving me permission to talk to him for likely the last time, on speaker phone, and I didn’t know if he could truly hear me.

I said all the pleasant, positive things I’d been coached to say through the prior 10 days or so of interacting around his hospital stay, while he was sedated, and so on.

So, I said the positive things. And talked about how much we love him. Which is so true.
… about how he always makes us laugh, and how Justice says Papa’s laugh is one of his favorite things in the world. And how we keep talking about our Christmas visit and how precious that time together was. 

But I didn’t say:
“Papa, I have so many precious memories of you ingrained into my being. 
And I’m going to carry them with me forever. And I’m not ready for you to go.” I didn’t say that the challenges we faced with each other shaped me and caused me to grow. I didn’t say, “You are part of who I am today.” Or “You were hard for me in many ways, but such a treasure, too.” 

I didn’t say that I’ll never forget the moment you walked in to speak to me before my wedding ceremony and you gasped and said something wonderful, and how I started to burst into tears and had to turn away – because I didn’t want to mess up my makeup AGAIN, by crying, AGAIN. And the hundreds of times I have wished I’d immediately hugged you instead, and ruined my makeup. It would have been so worth it. But I’m so grateful for the moment we laughed together, then. And for the love that you came to have for me. That once I married your son – no matter how much you might not have wanted me before – you called me “daughter in love” ever since. You said it with pride and a smile that made me feel strange at first, because it didn’t fit. But then, it became this precious gift for me to treasure… that it became a sense of my belonging within your family. There are so many things about your life that I treasure, and I’ve only gotten to glimpse you these last ten years. 

The phone call ended pretty abruptly, as it needed to in the urgency of all the imminent things. I am incredibly grateful that my children were playing perfectly outside, and John was at work, and I could have my own space for a moment of sadness which could be all my own. That my sobs could come out unconcerned for making space for anyone else’s grief… the tears could flow, and I could sit and begin to process the weight of what was to come.
And I did.

And then I wrote this.
Because I needed to get out the things I wanted to say and couldn’t.
Because the sobs were coming so.
And because I hadn’t really expected this. Because you’d started breathing on your own, and your heart was beating on its own, and they said you lit up when you heard about your new grand baby. And I thought maybe you’d take us by surprise and  might actually come back to us, and we might have another Christmas, or another day by the lake, or a hug, or a hand squeeze, or a laugh. That you might get to snuggle our new baby when they come. Write me another letter, send me another text message. Read your grandkids another story.

And then I re-packed the car and we came as fast as we could.

But you were already gone.

And it was time for the process of grief to truly begin.

The selfishness of suicide.

There was this moment in recent conversation that I’ve replayed over and over again.
This is a thing I do sometimes.
Especially if I think I didn’t speak my truth.

This particular moment stands out a lot right now because I’ve been thinking a lot about grief. I’ve had friends lose babies, early on and full term. I’ve had friends lose parents and spouses. And I’ve wanted to know how in this culture that avoids grieving like the plague, can I really love and support my friends when they inevitably face grief. And then, I miscarried. I’d lost grandparents, when I was young. But this, having this miscarriage, was different. This was all the hope in the world for new life, crushed, while I was alone.

When I started bleeding in my current pregnancy, I had a moment on my bedroom floor where a sound came out of my being that I’d never heard before. My heart and mind were flooded with visuals and words – painful poetic words about grief as a spirit who’d come to embody me without my even realizing it. And here she was, her voice coming out of my mouth. I wondered if she’d ever leave, or if she’d make a home within my soul.

So, I’ve read about grief. And about death and dying. I watched a video about death doulas. I read the Confessions of a Funeral Director. And a book about supporting your loved ones when they lose a child.

This conversation I keep replaying was kind of about grief.
And kind of about empathy – or a lack thereof.

I’ve been just one or two degrees removed – but so painfully close – to suicide several times in my life. That statement doesn’t seem as clear as I want it to…. on three separate occasions, in three very different seasons of my life, I’ve had very close friends who lost their fathers to suicide.

I remember vividly the first time I heard the concept I’m about to address, because it was a HUGE perspective shift for me. It didn’t sit with my understanding of pain, and it clearly still bothers me now.

For the second time this year, someone I don’t know well, (but people I love do know well,) has committed suicide. And I had this conversation where the circumstances of the most recent suicide were described, and then very factually, “It’s just so selfish.”
And I agreed. 
I verbally affirmed this statement out loud.

But it’s been eating away at me since then. Because, to put it simply, that perspective is wholly incomplete.
My agreement was inadequate.
But I was at a loss for words.
I didn’t know what words could possibly be adequate anyway.

I am not saying suicide is NOT selfish.

But can you imagine a pain so big – so deep and all encompassing that it would prevent you from the slightest glimmer of hope? A feeling of worthlessness that swallows you so whole that you can’t get past it to look at the future of seeing your children grow up? Have you ever experienced a feeling of isolation that made you weep cries you didn’t know you were capable of? What if that feeling were deeper? What if you weren’t capable of seeing around the mountain of despair blocking your view? What if you didn’t have the resources to find a new perspective because all the things stacked up at exactly the wrong time and you were just drowning?

I can imagine that.
And the last thing I’d describe it as is selfish.
It’s disorienting.
It’s blinding.
It’s mind numbing.
It’s all consuming.
It’s exhausting
and confusing
and overwhelming.

I remember, I was in middle school, sitting in the lobby of the private Christian school I attended. At the time, the campus of this school I attended utilized a building which had previously been a funeral home. I remember accidentally microwaving my leftover chicken sandwich in its wrapper and starting a small fire in the microwave, near the kitchen where they supposedly embalmed bodies. I remember somehow, suicide was being talked about. And I remember that someone I liked said something about ‘the thing of suicide – and self harm – being the ultimate selfishness.’

That was so foreign to me.
Because it removed any attempt at understanding just how or why someone’s pain is so deep, but also because it is just never that simple.

I’ve been angry at these fathers who ended their lives. On behalf of their daughters, and  their sons. For the legacy lost, for the struggle that will never leave these children whose stories are forever changed. For the resolution they can never have in this life. For their abandonment and the shadow they left of hopelessness. For what we perceive as a lack of strength. I’ve been angry because it’s easy to say, “it’s just so selfish,” and dismiss the reality of the pain and brokenness that led to the worst point in someone’s existence. I have been filled with sorrow again and again as I’ve watched friends try to pick up the pieces while they carry grief. They’ll always carry grief – like this unwanted house guest that follows them everywhere. Their moments of joy will be richer for it, their song sweeter, and their sorrows always, always deeper.

It skips over so much love to oversimplify and call it selfishness.
The people I know who committed suicide weren’t people who would typically be categorized as being selfish people. They were some of the most caring people I’ve ever known. Some of the most empathetic and broken people – who truly carried other people’s burdens with them. To get to a place where you feel like you can no longer offer any good to the world but only cause pain and prevent goodness isn’t selfish. It’s misguided. It’s lost. It’s wrong. It’s undeniably broken. But it’s not just selfish. 

The most recent suicide that impacted my greater community wasn’t someone I can even remember ever having a conversation with. But I saw their light from afar many times. I saw glimpses of the unique ways that the glory of God was reflected in their person. And their life gone all too soon is still impacting me now. I think about them and their family every single day. I’m not carrying the grief of a loved one and even I couldn’t find my way through the foggy grief brain to find a better thing to say than ‘yeah, it is selfish.’ I can only imagine how earth shattering that statement would be to hear for the grieving widow, or their child, or their parents.

To simply sum up the person they loved – more than anything – in one phrase like that, validates the deepest fear of many people’s grief… that after this tragedy, the person they loved will fade and completely disappear and be forgotten altogether.

We can do better.
Attempt empathy.
Enter into the discomfort and be willing to look for a different perspective that allows for love to enter in.