This will be a description of how I felt at certain points in my grief journey after the loss of my child to suicide as a result of depression and addiction. The back and forth. The grief relapses, the surges forward and back again.
Day 1 – Worst day of my life. The pain was unbearable. I felt like I was not going to survive it. The only way I made it from one hour to the next was to tell myself it would never be as bad as it was when I got the news. The next day was hardly better. Numbness, shock, disbelief.
First week– The house is filled with food, friends, and family. I couldn’t do anything that required more than two steps. I used up everything I had to write the obituary and I needed help with just about everything other than getting dressed and even that took a lot out of me. I had multiple people help with the memorial service.
Everything was out of order. People asked me questions and made suggestions and it felt like it was not penetrating my brain. My brain hurt, my chest hurt, I had hot flashes, I had gaping circles under my eyes. I was confused, my ears filled with noise, my mouth was always dry, my face was always wet with tears.
I kept wanting to be somewhere else and realized I was trapped. I had to go through this. There was no avoiding it and it just surrounded me. My life was a nightmare but it felt good to get support after five years of so little of it.
First month– It felt relentless. The grief was still very intense but our group counselor had said to give myself permission to distract myself–take a break from grief. That it was OK to enjoy myself. We had to move because we sold the house four days before Charles died. I had to pack up his room, pack the house. It felt overwhelming. I am still thankful for my friends who helped. It took a lot of people.
Randy was so checked out of this packing process and didn’t engage until the last day. (However, I had my turn to check out emotionally once we moved into our new house. Near the end of the renovation, I just went catatonic and it was Randy’s turn to pick up the pieces and keep things going.)
Six months– I finally finished my article for the newspaper and turned it in. I failed to ask when they might publish it. I was sure no one would read it. It was time to stand up and be public on this subject and I didn’t give a rat’s ass what anyone thought. It felt safe and good to have this one finished. Nothing in my life after Charles’s death felt so satisfying.
My flawed little boy with a heart bigger than the universe sucked into an epidemic when he was the most vulnerable. I realized that writing was helping. The waves of grief still took me to my knees but I did have some “good” days where I was somewhat productive. First holidays were a blur and they were hard. I felt even more isolated because everyone was so busy and had no time. Day of and day after, I was fine. But the days leading up were brutal. I had lost about 1/3 of my hair and it was growing back.
Nine months– I was never one to write every day. But I did write every day and put it out on Facebook but I couldn’t look back at old posts so I decided to start my blog, emotionally naked. I realized that I really did need to write every day to work through all this. I just couldn’t cope well without it and so many things were swirling in my head. Writing helped settle those thoughts and allowed me to learn and let go. I made discoveries and couldn’t believe how much it still hurt.
I realized that I was going to think of him every day for the rest of my life, that grief was about learning to live without the one you love. I was becoming accustomed to having grief in my life. It will always be there. For some reason, I had thought I would reach a day when I didn’t think of him every day. Not true.
I was just possessed with the subject of mental illness, suicide, and addiction. Someone asked me to present my story. Was it too soon? I felt ready. I wanted to tell it. And when I did, I felt Charles with me on stage. I was addicted to that.
My article newspaper article published. I winced. When I first saw it, my breath left my body. My face went hot. I really put it all out there. I took a deep breath. That was just the start and I was not looking back. But I was still nervous and there was a big change coming on within myself.
I thought no one would ever read the article and then I was shocked at the viral nature of it. I couldn’t quite get a grip on why people were interested when they never wanted to hear about it before. It was an ugly ending of a beautiful person. People read their stories in mine and I was overwhelmed with messages from all over the world. People found my blog and all of a sudden I had an instant audience. I didn’t know how to feel about this at first.
I was and still am being emotionally naked. And I was uncomfortable publishing some of those posts.
As a teen, I was worried about someone finding my diary and reading my most personal thoughts. Back then that made me stop journaling. This time, I decided to make it public from the get-go so I didn’t have to worry about that. But that didn’t mean I didn’t second guess some of what I was publishing. And now I had subscribers and people holding me accountable. Not everyone was overjoyed about my starting it at first–family members afraid there may be a backlash of some sort. “You are not going to publish that are you?” Usually, just the words from my husband that would inspire me to hit the “publish” button.
10 months after– His birthday April 26. Pure hell. The whole month was a complete grief relapse I was an utter mess and could barely function. I kept writing. I kept running. I worried my posts were too dark it would bring everyone down. Everyone will run away and I will feel even more isolated. I stayed with it because I promised to be true to myself. Instead, I got an outpouring of support which I didn’t expect. I was thankful, grateful.
I did plan something for the birthday per support group advice. We took a long hike. Wore ourselves out. I forgot about Mother’s Day , though, which came soon after and hit me like a tornado on steroids and I was a mess again. Where were all those crazy mother’s day cards from Charles? I couldn’t find them and I was frantic. Good God how does anyone survive this? I hate Hallmark for coming up with so many f-ing holidays. They are just more occasions to be endured and survived. I rant, yell, and cuss at Hallmark. Then I direct my anger at heroin.
One year– Right before the one year mark, I had the expectation that I was going to turn a corner. My neighbor BB was frank with me. She had lost her husband ten years prior and she told me the worst part about year one anniversary is our expectations that something magic will happen and we are disappointed when it does not. After hearing that, I adjusted my expectations which helped because when the calendar turned, no magic followed but I had survived that first year.
My friend, Steve, had a pizza party and I saw all Charles’s old chums. The day leading up to it was hard but day-of I was so glad to see everyone. I didn’t know whether to feel relieved to get past the first year or sad. I waffled between wanting to be done with pain that brought me to my knees or worry that with each passing year I would feel farther from my son’s memory. One day those pictures would look dated and I dreaded that. I scolded myself for projecting. Like I didn’t have enough to feel sad about without making up scenarios that had not happened yet?
18 months later – My business partner and I merged with another company and I sold my partnership. I was just not into it anymore. Free at last. Not sure how I would make a living but I was full throttle in changing the lousy system called mental health. That was now my passion. The subjects no one wanted to talk about and I was rewriting what was an “appropriate” time to talk about them. All the time is my mantra. All the time. Because no one knows when it’s going to happen to them. Relentless determination took over.
Two years- I had no expectation but shortly after passing the second death anniversary, I did feel like I was on a path of emotional healing. I realized I would always live with grief and some sadness but that didn’t mean I couldn’t find joy and happiness along the way. I realized how different I was now compared to the person I was before. I had a clearer idea of where I was going.
My blog reached over a quarter million in the first 18 months.
Two and a half years – I start my book. I start to get more paid speaking engagements out of town.
I still have days I hurt but the people who come up to me and tell me ‘thank you’ give me strength. You all give me strength. And encouragement. Survival would have looked very different without your support. The gift is that I’m now leading a more authentic life. And it feels good to ditch things that are not important.