Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sometimes It's a Flood

There are days now when I only get tears in my eyes once and don't really cry, days when for hours at a time life seems normal and even happy. And then there are days when something unexpected sends me into real tears, sobbing, and repeating what I remember saying when I found Leif's body, "No, no, no, Leif, no!" over and over, and "I want you back."

Tonight was one of those times when I cried my heart out. I don't even really know what caused it. Maybe the dam was just ready to burst. Maybe it was precipitated by taking my mother swimming and shopping tonight, and thinking that if I get old and need help, Leif will not be there. Maybe it was just seeing a bright star in the sky and saying, as I always do, my "star light, star bright" wish for him to be alive and well, knowing that it can never be.

I have read about the stages of grief, but some don't seem to apply to me. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross lists five stages; someone else lists seven, but I don't feel the first ones and I haven't reached the later ones. It's not a matter of the order of the stages, or the length of them, or anything else. They just don't seem to apply.

Where is "denial," unless my keeping this blog to keep Leif's memory alive could be defined as denial of his death. That doesn't ring true to me. Some lists call it "shock and denial." The shock part certainly happened when I found his body but it has long since gone.

Where is "anger?" With whom am I going to be angry? With Leif? How could I be angry with him? I am so sad for the misery of his life. With those who disappointed him in love? They are just people who didn't intend to hurt him. With those who cut off his GI Bill funding? When Leif didn't do his part either to insure that he was taking the right classes or pursue an exception? With the army? Perhaps, but what good would it do to be angry with something I can do nothing about? Some list this stage as "anger and bargaining." With what and with whom could I bargain? There is nothing to bargain for. I cannot bring him back though I tell him every day, "I want you back." I offer no bargains, just a wish I know will never come true.

The stage I do identify with is "pain and guilt." There has been plenty of pain, and there will be plenty more. Guilt is another matter. I do not blame myself for Leif's death or for the problems he had. I tried my best to help him throughout his life. I do question whether I did the right things. I did the best I could, but how can I know whether what I did was right for him. I don't fault myself, because I could only do the best I knew how. So guilt isn't the right word. Perhaps it is more like regret that I couldn't help him in the way he needed help, that perhaps I said things that hurt him without meaning to.

For instance, perhaps a month before he died I was on the phone with him and telling him, among other things, that I had found out there is an organization in our community that volunteers to help older people who aren't able to pay their bills and keep their finances in order to do those things. Leif said, "You mean you wouldn't let me do that for you?" I laughed and said, "Are you kidding, with your financial history?" I meant it, but jokingly, yet for him, a man looking for a purpose in life, perhaps having his mother say that would have felt hurtful, that I didn't trust him to do that for me. Yet it was true. I didn't.

Or maybe when I sent him email trying to encourage him to budget and save he felt demeaned that his mother was telling him that yet again. Perhaps I shouldn't have said it. But I don't think that would push him to suicide. It might have just hurt his feelings.

Guilt, perhaps, that I didn't realize how miserable he really was, even though I could tell he wasn't happy. But I still don't think guilt is the right work. Regret, sadness, yes. So much regret and sadness that I wasn't able to help him find a purpose to live, to help him find happiness.

Next, though the stages do not have to come in order, is "depression, reflection and loneliness." Peter and I have dealt with the depression. I don't think we are completely past it, but I do think the worst of it has subsided, and for that I am thankful. Depression and sadness are not the same, though sadness certainly can go with depression. I don't feel the same lack of interest in things I used to enjoy now, and that's a good sign, but reflection is definitely still upon us. We talk about Leif an why it happened, about his life, about our loss, every day. I think about him and his life and reflect upon it in this blog nearly every day. We will never have the answers we seek, but even if we did, I believe they would bring more questions. Why him? Why was his life so unfair?

Loneliness is a part of grief. We try to hide it. People expect you to "get over it," but from everything I've read, that is a very long process. People think it's been a long time . . . but how is sixteen months a long time to get over the loss of a life lived for 33 years? I've read what's been written by others who have lost a loved one, a child, and from other suicide survivors and they all say it takes far, far longer, many years, and that others want them to be "over it" long before that is possible.

So, because grief makes others uncomfortable and embarrasses us, we hide it, and that makes us lonely. I don't talk about it with anyone, except Peter, but even with him I try to put on a good face most of the time. I don't want to drag him down and depress him. And, I am not unhappy all the time. Many hours of the day, even most of them, are good now. But the times of tears are lonely times and I try to turn a good face to the world.

Somewhere there is supposed to be an "upward turn" where we start functioning again and I think that's been a part of us all along, and I think it's getting stronger, but it's a simultaneous thing, not a separate stage. We just keep living life and doing what we need to do each day, and it gets a little easier.

"Reconstruction and working through" must be ahead of us, although if what it means is to learn to live without Leif, we have done that already. If it means working through what happened to him, I fear that is a circular path with no end, no solution.

And finally, "acceptance and hope." I think we have accepted Leif's death, though I have not been ready to let him go or let his memory fade. They say no one who goes through this ever goes back to being the person they were before. I believe that completely. How can you? Life has been changed forever. You cannot experience that without changing yourself.

It's not that I am weak or in some way pathological. This is normal, this grieving process, but it is not easy.

I cried for him tonight. Sometimes when I cry, it's a few tears in my eyes. Sometimes, like tonight, it's a flood of sobs and bitter tears.

I miss him so!

The photo was taken November 27, 2003 at my mother's house in Manhattan, Kansas, where we were all gathered for Thanksgiving Dinner. He was so happy then, with J. and her daughter there with him.

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