Sons are Forever
by Janice Price
*Although this story was written a few years ago, it is still timely. Suicide is not a topic one would like to associate with any holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, but it is a reality that many grieving families face each year. Loneliness and depression can become overwhelming and too many potential suicides will become completed suicides again this year.
Many thanks to my friend Carol for the inspiration to write this story. Recently, I received a prayer request for a suicidal individual and emailed him a suggestion to read this story, in hopes he might realize the depth of the painful legacy he would leave his own family and friends. May Carol be blessed for her generosity in sharing her own pain in order to help others.
It is the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The weather is crisp and clear. My yard is buried in colorful leaves. It is a beautiful day to celebrate life.
It is also a day to grieve.
The e-mail message from Carol was fairly short. “It's 2 a.m. I've just been on the phone with Doris my best friend in PA. Her son Troy committed suicide today by shooting himself. I'm devastated, she's devastated, so we've been crying together. Her kids and my kids grew up together. I'm in shock. And of course sleep is the last thing I'm looking for so I thought I'd write and tell you. I can't say much more right now. I think my mind has turned off. I have a big day tomorrow and someone else is going to have to push me through it.”
I wanted to be there for Carol in person, but we live too far apart. We were close friends as teenagers. She married Bob and had four healthy, mischievous children. I moved away and we lost touch for many years. We regained contact four years ago through my brother Bill, but it has only been within the last few months that we have regained communication on a personal level. I know she meant what she said; she is truly devastated today.
Carol is a survivor of two suicides. Fourteen years ago Carol and Bob buried their son Robbie. Five years later, on his twenty-second birthday, they buried their youngest son Jay.
Until this summer I thought that the subject of suicide should be avoided, but I learned that it is not a verboten subject. Tiptoeing around the subject or avoiding it altogether does not help those left behind. Family members need to talk about the loss of their loved one. It is part of the healing process. Carol put it succinctly, “Yes, it’s painful, but it’s a lot more painful if I don’t talk about it or if everyone goes around it. Time does not heal, but it dims the bad things and brightens the good ones.”
She sent a photograph of her children. The last time I saw them they were toddlers. It was the first time I saw them as teenagers. It was hard to imagine the hole that was left in the family with the loss of two good-looking young adults. How does a parent cope when a child dies.….by violence …..by his own hand? Not well and not easily, by Carol’s own admission. Your world is out of kilter when you live to bury your own children. It must be especially hard when they are young.
There are no words equal to the task of consoling those left behind. How do you comfort someone who is haunted by nightmare images of the death scene, who battles self-recriminations and who must bear the unbearable?
Prayer is the most loving thing we can do. We can pray for their peace of mind, for proper rest for their minds and bodies to recuperate from the extreme stress they are undergoing, for their financial needs in the crisis so they can bury their loved ones and have opportunity to grieve - the list of needs is endless. Most importantly, we can pray for their faith to be strengthened and for them to lean on God and not turn away from Him or blame Him. He can attend to all their needs by sending some neighbors with food, some friends with financial donations, some church members with cleaning supplies, and even some strangers with a warm heart and a listening ear. He can give them strength to endure the funeral, to accept condolences, and to survive one moment at a time.
The family needs more than prayer. They need moral support. They need love, hugs and assurances that the deceased will not be forgotten. He died; he wasn’t erased. They need reminders of happy memories of the deceased. They need to know that not only are you here for them today, but that you will continue to be there for them tomorrow. As Carol said, the pain of a suicide never goes away. Occasionally, there is a need to talk to someone about the loved one because the anniversary of his death, or his birthday, or his favorite holiday is approaching. Will you or I still be willing to listen ten or even twenty years down the road?
Carol has been on a long journey. It hasn’t been an easy one. A support group of bereaved parents helped her for a time. Two years after Jay died she had a heart attack and moved from her home state. Since then she has had trials beyond measure. In one recent year she had eleven surgeries. She has had two knee replacements and is headed for shoulder replacement surgery. If you were to ask her, she would tell you that nothing she has been through could begin to touch the pain of losing her sons.
It would be easy to criticize or try to assign blame. That seems to be what we often do when we haven’t faced a particular trial ourselves. Someone who has never been through a depression couldn’t understand how a person could reach the point of ending it all. Someone who has never faced what could appear to be a failure on the part of the parents could not empathize. The truth is that suicides happen in broken families as well as “perfect” ones. It isn’t the fault of the parents.
Suicide is a baffling subject. Depression is a major motivation for wanting to self-destruct. Some think you can will yourself out of it, “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”, or freeze a grin and whatever is bothering you will just go away. Depression has also been described as anger turned inward. Some doctors say it is a chemical imbalance in the brain, while others say it is all in the emotions. Some ministers will tell you that it is totally a lack of faith in God, while others will say you are demon possessed or influenced.
None of us know what it would take to push us over the edge. But we do know what it does take to pull us out of the mire. We don’t come out by our own bootstraps. Perhaps if we try we can fool ourselves as well as others for a time, but eventually we have to face the truth. It is only when we become dependent on God that we are lifted out of depression, over and over again if necessary, but it is not in our own strength that we win this war.
I admire Carol. She has slogged through the pits wearing leaden shoes. Most days she manages to laugh and to be positive. Today her heart is breaking. She is carrying the weight of her friend’s loss along with her own. There is fresh pain mingled with the old.
I can not imagine the depth of her pain – or her friend Doris’. But I do know that Carol is uniquely qualified to understand how deeply Doris is wounded, to offer comfort, and to listen with her heart and not judge or condemn. She might not be able to make the long trip for the funeral, but Carol will definitely still be listening and lending moral support to Doris many years from now.
The age of a child when he dies is inconsequential to a grieving parent. A mother assumes that title for life, and as far as she is concerned, sons are forever.
© 2004 Janice Price