“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak,
Whispers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.”
William Shakespeare, Macbeth, 4.3
Oakville, May 2, 2009
On the first Saturday after our son’s suicide, the four of us got into our truck and drove into downtown Oakville to see a grief counselor. We stopped when we reached the office door, wondering if we should flee. If we made a run for it maybe we could escape the avalanche of grief headed in our direction.
But we knew we needed help. So we opened the door and walked into a small waiting room. Each of us sat down and waited for the grief counselor to finish up with a client. Someone else was also dealing with grief. A kind-looking woman with short, red hair came out into the waiting room. She nodded to our family and walked a solemn middle-aged woman to the door.
“Take care. See you next week,” the counselor offered. She shut the waiting room door and introduced herself. “Hello, I’m Sharon. Please make yourself comfortable.” I moved immediately to the chaise longue in the corner of the room. Bruce, Aimee, and Emily sat in the wing chairs placed in a semi-circle in her office suite. Then she sat down, clasped her hands together, and began to explain the grief process.
“Your overwhelming sense of loss will eventually sub- side,” she said and paused. I was surprised to see her eyes tear up. I kept my eyes on her face, hoping that she would say something to end my agony. I had never felt so lonely before. “Sharon, I can’t go on. I’m not supposed to outlive my child!” “Lynn, this will take a tremendous effort on your part, but I can tell you that your grief work will determine how you are able to relate to the world again. Your sadness will diminish over time, but the pain will always be part of you.” “You were Daniel’s mother,” Sharon said. “I will always be his mother,” I said. “You’re absolutely right, Lynn. You will always be
Daniel’s mom.” Then Bruce spoke. “We are holding on to one another
right now; before we do anything regarding Daniel we discuss it first as a family. We are trying …”Bruce paused, his tone low and quiet. “It’s so hard.” Bruce, my heart goes out to your family,” Sharon said. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but I hope that I can support all of you.”
She continued. “Some people I know have found comfort in bringing their deceased children into their new lives. ”Sharon had referred to Daniel as deceased. How could that be? I was still in disbelief.
“I don’t understand what you’re saying,” I said. “Essentially, what I’m talking about is Daniel’s legacy. For example, find a quiet place in your home to display photographs of your son, a private place where you can reflect on his life and your lives as a family. I like to think of it as a retreat where you can be alone with your thoughts.”
“All I can think about is sleeping,” I said. “Because when I sleep I can forget that my son is never going to be coming home.” Then she took out a large piece of white paper and began drawing vertical lines, with spaces in-between the lines. The first lines indicated where we were that day. The lines were drawn very close together, which meant that we were completely absorbed in grief. Then she drew more lines; this time they were farther apart, indicating that the periods of intense grief would get shorter with time.
But that day, and for many more months each of us was in such deep distress that we were unable to help one another as we mourned. We tried to comfort each other, but the agonizing ache of grief is debilitating both physically and emotionally. Getting out of bed is a monumental task. It makes being present for someone else who is grieving almost impossible. I’ve come to think that grief is a primal and solitary experience; we need to mourn privately to protect what is left of ourselves. The thing with grief is that you have no control over it. A sense of desperation slips over you as if from nowhere. And the erratic nature of the emotions involved in grieving for your child make it difficult to sustain family life. The grief literature tells us to “take all the time we need before resuming activities.” But it is also written with a big caveat: You should not feel stuck in one place. How long can we be absorbed by our loss? Is it a year, maybe two at tops? I don’t want to stay stuck in this orbit of longing, but for many more months, even years, I have to trust my feelings. I knew early on that I would have to immerse myself in missing my son in order to move towards acceptance. And I continue to do the “grief work” because it is the only way for me to survive the loss of our son.
Our family has now passed the sixth anniversary of Daniel’s suicide. Six years of looking back instead of forward, yearning for our old life that can never be- taking comfort in our memories. Our son would want us to continue and in that way we are honoring his life.
Time heals. Grief remembers