I was already in the waiting room when Barbara walked into the office. Although we’d yet to meet, somehow just watching her enter the space let me know she was my assigned peer support person for the survivors of suicide group I’d joined. She had the look of someone who was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. Even when she tried to smile at the receptionist, sadness wouldn’t let her.
Our greeting was almost apologetic. Like we were embarrassed by our common thread, we made awkward introductions.
“How long have you been bereaved?” I’d learned the lingo; you don’t just come out and ask when their loved one had taken their life.
”It’s been about three years.”
I was stunned. Three years? She looked like it had just happened three weeks ago. She was, well…so pained. I silently declared that I would not look like that in three years; hopefully not in three months.
Barbara recounted stories of learning to push away the people who didn’t help but only added to her pain, how she ceased to make her son David’s favorite foods and telling people that she had two children—not acknowledging that one no longer made earth his home.
“Monica,” Barbara sighed. “Losing David was like losing my leg. I can get a prosthetic leg, or use crutches, but I will never walk on my leg again. It’s like that.”
In my mind, I just couldn’t fathom the hopelessness with which she spoke. It sounded to me like she didn’t think she had a choice.
“I feel like I need to stay connected with things that used to bring me joy,” I processed aloud.
“That’s good,” she encouraged, then landed the sucker punch, “But don’t have the expectation that you will have joy. Highly unlikely.”
“Are you a woman of faith?” I asked.
“No,” she responds shaking her head. “David used to talk about his favorite Catholic church. I don’t know if he ever actually attended it, but every now and then, I order a mass and attend. I only do it because he liked it.”
I suppose this is where I get stuck. While I am grateful that this woman who has also suffered this unimaginable loss would take the time to enter my pain, I can’t help but feel that we are walking a totally different path. I’m not suggesting that a relationship with God is the only source of hope and peace, but as I listened to her words, the over-arching theme was one of a loss of hope and a lack of desire to find it. Much of her ‘advice’ centred around white lies, denial and pushing away. I honour her vulnerability and willingness to share, but I simply can’t go there.
I recently watched the based-on-a-true-story movie, Breakthrough, where a mother is desperate for her son to recover from what should have been a fatal accident. She overhears people talking about the futility of her prayers and medical intervention, and is devastated by their comments. She announces that her son’s hospital room and the adjacent waiting rooms were to be filled with words of life and hope, and if people couldn’t find something positive to say, they needed to leave. I hear you, sister.
I choose to believe in God’s goodness. I choose to believe that while there may be pain in the night, joy will come in the morning. I have to choose this daily. I don’t know when that morning will be, but I’m trying to embrace the hope that comes with it. I’m not deflecting, lest anyone should think otherwise. My one-way yelling matches with God and Hilary–for that matter– would prove otherwise.
These past few days when the sun has deigned to shine on me and my situation, I have attempted to embrace it–even find joy in it. I used to find joy in running (ok, more like a slow jog), but just putting one foot in front of the other has been an effort, but I want to, so I try. I signed up for another session of musical theatre; it’s ok–not spectacular– but I show up. Same with my writing classes.
I. Show. Up.
I recognize that for some, experiences with God–or how He’s been portrayed by others– has left you with more doubts and questions than hope and answers. But for me, He is my Source of strength. Most days I have no clue what He’s doing in my life. I don’t understand much these days, but I choose to trust. I choose to believe that God will work with whatever daily decisions I make, just as He worked with Hilary’s decision. I know that she is in heaven because of the decisions she made in her life before she chose to end it. If I allow myself to believe that it’s all down-hill from here and my life will cease to have any meaning, relevance or joy, it’s like choosing to lie down and pull the earth up over me. In the words of Hilary, “That’s a hard no!”
The dark days will come, I know. I might be triggered by a song, a smell, or even a phrase, but I’m not going to go looking for them in expectation. I know they are there; no one needs to tell me, but thanks for reminding me. What I am going to do is to choose to move forward in my grief, with the hope of a day that’s maybe better than yesterday. Because hope deferred, definitely makes the heart sick and I’m ready to feel something else in my ticker.
Yes and amen.