Reflections at 1,095 Days: How to Keep on Keeping On in the Wake of Suicide

I am the mother of a suicide. And in 4 days, Dylan will have died by suicide 3 years ago. 1,095 days ago. A lifetime, and at the same time, no time at all.

I live suspended between what was and what will never be. Some days, like today, I get exhausted just being me. Emotionally exhausted, beyond any description voice could put to words. It is an ache, an edge, a cusp, a constant chronic weeping of my soul, even when I think I’m hiding my pain, even when I’m so busy running in circles to distract myself from the obvious, even when. . .

Grief still manifests itself in my face. Over the course of these 3 years, a little over 1,000 days, grieving the loss of my 20-year-old only child, my beautiful son, Dylan, has permanently changed the way I look.  As I’ve moved beyond the insular circle and holing up of acute grieving and mourning, I can see that I’m not alone. We have a look, we who have lost children, and for those of us who have lost a child to suicide, it is a haunting not easily forgotten.

How to keep on keeping on? Grieving a child lost to suicide completely tweaks and distorts time. In the course of one day, I can easily run the gamut of my life with Dylan over 20 years. Memories, feelings, longing all seem to play in slow motion, and as if that weren’t difficult enough, the visuals come with a full commentary intent on finding the one single answer to the ever-elusive “why” of a child’s suicide. In truth, there is no “why,” because in suicide, in the act of suicide, there is no reason, no logic, no grounding to life as we know it here, this rhythm of 24 hours, days and nights, months and years, coming of age, rites of passage.

I have only been on this journey of a lifetime for 3 years. Some, including professionals, might say I’ve had more than enough time to acclimate to this new way of life, the strange hollowness of being without Dylan beside me. Some, especially professionals, might call my grief “complicated grief,” for whatever that means. Of course it is easy to assign a condition to the status of another’s heart, a mother’s heart missing, longing, loving, trying to process, trying to learn to love again, trying to learn how to just keep on keeping on, even in the wake of great pain and some days, all-out effort just to pull through. No one can imagine living a life without their child.

My pain makes some people uncomfortable. That’s okay, it makes me uncomfortable too. Just for tonight, I’d like the whole world to just stop whirring, twirling, revolving, growing. Tonight, I crave silence and solitude. Tonight I am reclusive. And in the end, that’s okay. that’s enough. There is no scrip for losing a child to suicide, no written agenda or how-to manual. It’s not like I’m on page 241 in Chapter 8 and I’m supposed to be writing a term paper on closing the chapter to yet another impossible year of supposed living without Dylan.

Grieving a child lost to suicide is as individual as a snowflake. Dylan loved me deeply, I raised him much of his life as a single mom, we were close by necessity and circumstance, I adored and loved my son, I’d had a difficult pregnancy and so put my all into this one incredibly precious baby boy. I played mom/dad for many years, which of course, in the end, never quite works because who can be everything to everyone? Not me, certainly, though I tried for a number of years to do it all for Dylan.

3 years. I’ve gone in hard, full-on, braced and whipped and tumbled everywhere by the greatest storm of tragedy I’ll ever know in this life. And in the darkness, have found small ways to live yet one more hour, one more passage, dredge through yet more exhausting emotions, up, down, yanked every which way, uprooted, upended, opened up, raw, bleeding, cut and recut without ceasing, no peace, no rest, no perch for a landing amidst the storm. Exhaustion, just sheer exhaustion, and an invincible spirit within me that for years–years–has learned to fight against the ravages of depression. My own bipolar disorder. My own suicidal tendencies and suicidal ideation. My own falling apart in my own nightmares. My own mental illness.

I do not know if what I’ve learned and acquired along the way, these tools, quips, trials and tribulations will help you, but if they do, then know this is how it works–one of us reaching in to shine a beam of light in the middle of another bereaved parent’s darkest night, one of us sharing that while the passage is hard, the hardest, most difficult, most perilous, risky, dangerous, exhausting in every way possible, be it spiritual, physical, emotional, mental, and/or psychological, there is rest along the way. We pull one another along. We come alongside, walk with–at least for awhile and at intervals and stops along the way, one another. We learn to trust through one another because in the end, we know that we are the only ones who “get,” really get, our pain.

There is no name for us. Survivor of suicide is inept and without the precision and accurate description of all that a parent is to a child. For other deaths, we have names, but not for those of us who have lost children to suicide. It is beyond imagining, beyond reconciling to anyone not having to be forced to travel this journey. Ours is an impossible journey, nameless save for the deep, deep, chasm and echo of our child’s name–Dylan, Dylan, Dyl. . .an–

How I Keep on Keeping On:

   *Stop everything and just breathe
   *Stop everything and just say “no” to things I’ve previously said “yes” to
   *Call someone who gets my pain
   *Call someone who is oblivious to my pain but so absorbed in their own chattering that they
      distract me for awhile from my own heartbreak.
   *Talk to Dylan, all the time, everywhere
   *Scream in my car, then usually sob because to release pain in screaming releases the storehouses  
      of infinite ache in my soul
   *Get angry and write letters I’ll never send
   *Write everything–all my feelings, scatterings, things I’ll never publish, my inner world
   *Practice Mindfulness. Focus on my cup of tea, how my feet feel on the ground, the soft fur of my               cat, the sounds of the seasons–nature, music,
   *Wear the opposite color of how I feel. I think I lived in black my first year of grieving, gray my second year, and in this third year, have intentionally sought out color in my wardrobe. Orange is my happy color, and it was always Dylan’s favorite color growing up, long before the black t-shirts of his teenaged years. And green. Green is my healing color. I love blue, but blue makes me forlorn and wistful, pensive and sad.
   *Change what I’m doing and where I’m sitting. I have a grief chair, an old chair battered by years of having a big dog sleep in it and a cat with claws who used the wide arms as a scratching post. The chair used to be a gray/green color. Now it is covered with a blue chair cover. I love this chair, but when I am grieving, this chair does not love me. It absorbs me and sucks me up whole, line and sinker. I drown in this chair, despair in this chair, can’t rise from this chair, get completely without hope in this chair. When I’m down or grieving, I sit somewhere else, even in a different room. Silly as it seems, it helps.
   *Tai Chi
   *Distraction–reading, movies, window shopping, walking, nature, friends (it’s taken me 3 years to get here. In the beginning, I had no voice, couldn’t focus to read, then could only read about grieving a child lost to suicide. Now I read all the time, mostly non-fiction, and am able to get absorbed in other activities).
   *Listen to music (Again, in the beginning and for at least 6-12 months, I couldn’t listen to music at all, then only 2 songs, both by David Crowder. Now I listen to tons of different music.)
To be continued: My 2-year-old cat, Lily May, wants to play. I find joy, as much as is possible now, in the little things, like playing with her. And so it is, I’m off to seize joy.

By Beth Brown

Rememberer of dreams. Whisperer of gardens green.
At the whim of "Most Beloved" and a hot cup of tea.
I live life between, straddled here now and then,
My continuity through writing--
Pen dripping ink, mind swirling confused,
Love lingering still, and Most Beloved's purring soothes.

Blogger at "Gardens at Effingham" (where cats do the talking) and "My Forever Son" (where a mother's heart runs deep after losing her son to suicide)
Musician. Writer. Literary Connoisseur.
At the whim of a calico cat and a strong cup of tea.