It’s been almost eleven years since my 15 y/o son, Jonathan, suddenly stopped his own life. I have learned things and grown stronger yet grieve as heavily as I did on the day it occurred. The only difference is that I can now embrace the grief in a way that gives me comfort. One of the first things I learned, however, is that no one, whether a fellow survivor or not, should offer specific advice about how one should feel or act. I was truly fortunate to have understanding friends, family, and coworkers.
Instead, let me relate some of the specifics of the journey that my family and I have been on and if it strikes a chord, take what you will from it.
Within hours of his passing, my wife and I agreed to not dwell on “why”. We did not see it coming and we could only speculate. The only true answer can never be accessed which is as frustrating as it is sad. For us, it has kept us relatively free from feelings of “what if”, “what was he thinking”, and unfounded guilt.
My son had 3 brothers; one he was not getting along with; one he adored and protected (he is autistic), and one who was his best friend. We recognized early that they were all grieving differently but just as intensely as my wife and I. Difficult as it was to step away from our own grief, we had to allow our other children to have availability to us. Ultimately, helping them, and others, became it’s own best reward. Listening and sharing with other survivors was cathartic and strangely comforting. We joined a support group and after a time discovered that we no longer depended on each other because we had managed our grief together. I do remember our first group meeting. We all introduced ourselves and timidly offered tidbits about what had happened. No one, including myself, mentioned to the group the name of their lost loved one. By the second meeting most of us were able to say their name and, in fact, looked for opportunities to say it as often as possible. I found this kind of progress in my healing consistent over the next few months and I am forever grateful.
I had a pretty high-level supervisory position at my job and could be demanding and impatient at times. After Jonathan’s passing, I noticed significant changes in my demeanor at work. I became much more patient, understanding, and forgiving and subsequently happier. I felt a need to take people under my wing and truly mentor them, sharing both my work and personal experiences. Maybe that was the result of guilt over parental inadequacies but I am grateful for that as well. My son’s death changed me and the positive aspect of that continues to help plug the hole that will always be there.
Most of us probably thought that this would never happen to us. Like so many aspects of life, we pay little or no attention to things that don’t affect us. Now that we’ve had this experience we are much more sensitive to other tragedies and can spot quickly those who have no idea what we have gone through. We are patient and understanding with them; glad that they don’t have this experience to draw on.
Forgive my random thoughts but as you are no doubt discovering in yourselves, they come often and from the heart. Tragedy and grief are neither contests nor a race. We all make the journey through not around it. We survive, we smile again then laugh. We have additional joys and sorrows. I am sorry that you have to make the journey. Safe travels.