At 3AM I still couldn’t sleep… I could feel the panic coming over me in waves, which I staved off with various coping mechanisms I had learned – slowed breathing, relaxing my body, etc. I had to get up in three hours to go to work; my first day back at work since my mother took her life…but I felt too unwell to sleep let alone prepare my mind for my entrance back into normalcy.
I have occasionally suffered with bouts of insomnia which left me woozy for a day at work…. though I don’t believe it ever reached the depths it did for my mom. Insomnia was her Achilles heel, the most feared physical manifestation of her anxiety. For me it has always been IBS and related digestion issues. Nonetheless as I laid there at 3AM unable to sleep one scintilla in the past 4.5 hours I couldn’t relax myself. I felt like I was betraying my mother by going back to work – resuming my life after she ended hers. I also felt like I was betraying my mom by trying to sleep before this re-entry into work. She agonised over being unable to sleep…and couldn’t work for nearly a month because of her anxious sleeplessness. She prayed vehemently for God to cure her and give her the peaceful anxiety-free rest she desired. I felt guilty claiming that sleep for myself.
Albert Hsu in Grieving a Suicide shares the story about his own father’s suicide and the process of grief which he endured. In an early chapter, he exposits the devastating life-altering effects of surviving a suicide:
“Suicide bisects your life with a starkly clear line. Everything is divided into ‘before’ and ‘after’…Instantly everything changed.”
As I try to move on with my life everything I do is caveated with her presence; I re-calibrate my mind to erase her from my mind’s eye and convince myself that she is no longer there…no longer part of this puzzle of my life. I wonder if I am grieving correctly. Should I have stayed with my family longer? Was I wise to return to work so quickly? I wonder if I am moving on too quickly, as I reintegrate myself back into work; as I begin preparing for upcoming conferences related to my PhD work.
On the other hand, I often feel I am not grieving quickly enough. People are always asking me ‘how are you doing?’ and ‘are you okay?’… and I feel tired of giving the same answers: ‘not really’ or ‘about the same’. Do they think I should be over it? Maybe it would make them more comfortable if I was… So I look up what is normative in these circumstances – how long do people usually take to grieve their loved ones? And the answers are legion…
Some people think that Christian grief should be less life-altering because of the hope we have. Because death, after-all, is a good thing…right?…since dying is being with God. Except those people forget one very significant truth – death is a horrendous effect of the fall, not part of being human. `Death was the verdict passed on to mankind due to sin. Death is not the ideal, not ‘natural’ nor good. And thus, death should be grieved. Though my mom’s death has brought her to be with Christ, it was not a beautiful transition.
In this time of grief I am learning the very lesson I desperately wish my mother had learned…being open to pain. Pain is a significant and horrendous part of life on this side of heaven – one which should not be homed in on to the effect that all other parts of your life are forgotten…nor should it be treated as non-existent in light of the future hope.
So as I return to ‘normal life’ I recognise the beginning of a new normal…a normal in which my mother is absent. And in this transitioning period, I acknowledge that I will have growing pains… as I adjust to this new reality. From stories of other suicide survivors I gather that these growing pains never fade completely; years after the tragic event they expectantly rear their head like joint pain in a thunderstorm. I recognise that my way of grieving need not match others’ way of grieving – we all do so in different ways. As long as grief is not debilitating (from over-focus) or unhealthy (from ignoring) – it’s important to allow myself to feel it and get through it.
Grief is a life-altering way to live. And in order to resume this new way of life, it’s important not to ignore the obvious loss which has been effected. C.S. Lewis paints this picture aptly with the following illustration:
To say the patient is getting over it after an operation for appendicitis is one thing; after he’s had his leg off is quite another. After that operation either the wounded stump heals or the man dies. If it heals, the fierce, continuous pain will stop. Presently he’ll get back his strength and be able to stump about on his wooden leg. He has ‘got over it.’ But he will probably have recurrent pains in the stump all his life, and perhaps pretty bad ones; and he will always be a one-legged man. There will be hardly any moment when he forgets it. Bathing, dressing, sitting down and getting up again, even lying in bed, will all be different. His whole way of life will be changed. All sorts of pleasures and activities that he once took for granted will have to be simply written off. Duties too. At present I am learning to get about on crutches.A Grief observed