I was talking to a fellow survivor of suicide loss the other day about the intense anger we both felt after our loved ones died (her husband killed himself many years ago), and I was reminded of how raw my rage was -- at my father, at his doctors, at the hospital staff where he died, sometimes at everyone and everything. My anger was connected to feelings of being betrayed, neglected, and abandoned; and it stayed alive in me for months and even for years, chipping away at my psyche and at my identity. Ultimately, it contributed to personal and interpersonal damage in my life that I couldn't seem to put a stop to (let alone repair) for a dozen years or more after he died. Beyond the conversation I was having about anger with my friend, I didn't give much thought to how it was for me way back then, for as one might imagine -- since my father's suicide was in 1978 -- I had let go of that anger and turmoil long ago.
But as I was taking a long walk yesterday evening, on Father's Day, I exchanged texts with another fellow survivor (whose husband died by suicide almost a decade ago), and her kindness for some reason reminded me of the feeling, not of anger but of being "a fatherless child ... a long way from home" (as I texted her, altering the wording of the traditional song). And that prompted me to think not of the anger but of the occasions I remember experiences of letting go of it (which was, of course, an incremental process, as all healing is).
The second occasion was in 1999, upon reading Kay Redfield Jamison's wonderful book Night Falls Fast. I wish I could point to a passage that would illustrate what her book did for me, but I cannot, for it was the content taken as a whole that conjured something very moving and meaningful not only in my mind but also in my heart. Perhaps it can be explained by the book's subtitle, Understanding Suicide, which indeed, is what resulted for me from reading it: I understood suicide as I had never understood it before (and this, 21 years after my father had died from it). Perhaps one sentence will hint at what I found (although this represents only the "tip of the iceberg" regarding what I learned from Night Falls Fast): "The horror of profound depression, and the hopelessness that usually accompanies it, are hard to imagine for those who have not experienced them." How, one might ask, can a person be angry at someone who died from "the horror of ... depression and the hopelessness that ... accompanies it"?
The third occasion was in 2008 or 2009. I had been serving as a volunteer for several years on a LOSS Team. ("LOSS" stands for "Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide"; and team members are first responders working with law enforcement to aid the bereaved at the scene of a suicide.) I had been on several calls in a short span of time, and although I was quite OK, something got stirred up in that deep place in me where I had been traumatized by my father's death. So I sought consultation with the police department psychologist (who was available to team members for that purpose). He kindly agreed to see me on whatever schedule we could mutually arrange, and I visited with him monthly for the better part of a year. In one session near the end of our work together, we had intentionally gone down into that deep place, and we were "debriefing" when he asked me something like -- "Can you give your father permission to have killed himself?" -- which totally unnerved me. But it didn't take too much digging for me to realize this: My father suffered from intractable mental-emotional pain, and he had no reason to suppose that he might find relief from it (in fact, he was getting the maximal care available when he died, as an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital). But as important as that realization was, it wasn't the most important discovery for me: The vital discovery was that I had been angry at him for not bearing more pain than he believed he could possibly bear -- pain for which the likelihood of relief was entirely uncertain (not uncertain only in his depressed mind but objectively uncertain). That realization truly closed the door on my anger at him.
Do I wish the reality had been different? Yes, absolutely. Do I know of instances in which suicidal people find relief from their pain and go on to live fruitful and happy lives. Indeed, I personally know of scores of examples (and mental health care in 2013 is a different story than it was in 1978). And I still want to believe that, had my father been prevented from attempting suicide during the intense episode of depression he was experiencing, he would have found his way back to sanity and health -- but that is conjecture. My idea that things were "supposed to" turn out some other way is only my idea about things. And while I am hard-pressed to say that I give him "permission to have killed himself," I embrace the tremendous healing I have experienced in my anger toward him.© 2013 Unified Community Solutions. All Rights Reserved.