The Holidays Descend (Aka: Suicide never ends)
And so it is I checked out last night, hoisted the white flag, decided the last thing I could really do is hole up and write, knowing I needed to walk but not having the wherewithal to walk here at home on my treadmill. So off I went to pick up a frame for my Winnie the Pooh print, then over to the store to grab just one item. Ugh and well—the best laid plans of Mice and Men.
I got the trigger of a lifetime last night, and I was completely unprepared and blindsided. How can it be the end of the first week of November and my not realize it’s the holidays? When I got my new issue of “Cooking Light,” I actually looked at the beautifully arranged and artfully displayed array of Thanksgiving foods on a plate that spanned much of the front cover rather longingly and even contentedly. I suppose maybe I thought that since I had virtually nil by way of a “reaction” to this Thanksgiving food picture, I would be unphased by the holidays this year. I learned last night that this is, sadly, not the case at all.
And so happily, well, not happily but seriously hoping to be distracted and learn something new by just exploring parts of the store I’d never been to, to this fabric store I went. I grabbed a shopping cart and slowly wove my way around the store. Sure, there were holiday fabrics (which is where I started), and then the carpet and upholstery fabrics which were mostly just dense weaves and beautiful in their own right.
I entertained random thoughts of “What if I learned to sew?” “What if I got a sewing machine and pursued this?” “Wish I may, wish I might know how to sew a quilt, and drapes, and you name it.” But then reality would set in and I’d come to and realize sewing is just not my thing in life. If I do anything, it’s get back to an art that I’ve called my heart and my home for most of my life, just fall deeply and completely into my music.
And so onwards through the store I drifted. Frames were next—great, my reason for being there, and for the first time, I was hit with messages that resonated deep within, messages engraved and imprinted and embossed on beautiful home décor about love and family and hearth, the rest too painful to name. I felt it for the first time, a sadness, a longing, the deep, deep etching on my all of me of losing Dylan to suicide.
I tried to tuck it away, this pain that I’ve been learning to carry these past three years and four months, tried to just breathe and hurry my cart past these simple displays of framed art that for me, triggered memories of a life that was brutally and violently upended when Dylan died June 25, 2012.
I no longer belonged to this cheery, albeit illusion, of hearth and family. My family died. My son, our big dog Bear–a 13-year-old Gordon Setter mix, our cat, Luci, a beautiful gray, green-eyed friend for 16 years. And then in June of this year, Dylan’s father. They all haunt. Everything haunts. So much of me lies there, with them, that I sometimes have trouble recognizing myself here. My life echoes, resonates, with all those years, family years, growing up years, years of deep, deep love expressed in so many ways. Sometimes, I just miss everything.
Still, I am so hard on myself. Still, I am expecting a point in time, an accumulation of days, months, years where I’m, I’m not sure—“okay?” “numb?” “healed?” Counselors, “professionals,” books all address a “new normal.” Maybe I am expecting my “new normal” to not include the utter heartsick despair I felt yesterday at, of all things, a simple fabric and crafts’ store. I couldn’t stop it, the descent into what for me, is the sheer blinding madness of all of my aching and crying out for my son, and in some bizarre way, I seemed to just be moving in slow motion, each step and push of my cart my own tortuous undoing of a masque I’ve practiced putting on and taking off so many times I had thought it’d become a part of me.
Still, though, I am not where I was three years ago—raw, fresh, open, bloodied, wounded, heart gaping, all of me only able to weep, groan, moan, call out to Dylan, to God, scream, kean. Then, I didn’t-and couldn’t eat, sleep, take care of myself, pull it together enough to even go out shopping on my own. Pain, so much pain in losing a child to suicide. I found a frame, and fretfully, doubting my choice, pulled out and then set back multiple frames, unable to choose, unable, really, to even think straight. I knew I had to get out of there.
Three years and four months of grieving have taught me to always have an exit strategy, a backup plan to escape quickly whatever the situation might be—a group of parents who would inevitably talk about their children (I’ve learned to be sort of okay for awhile in these circles and I’ve learned to share so many of my beautiful memories and growing up years of my son), but there is always a point of maximum impact, the sudden—and horrifying—awakening in all of me that my son is dead.
How could I have gone out yesterday without an exit strategy? How could I have not known it was the holidays? How could I have not realized it was late Friday afternoon and that moms and dads were out shopping with their children? How could I have been oblivious to what is one of the cruelest unveilings of an entire nation, an entire world, when you’ve lost a child? It’s the “holidays!” Dear God, it’s the holidays.
The familiar store where I’ve always shopped? Nothing more than a lost cause. I remembered out of the blue what it is I’ve been struggling to remember forever—that I needed two birthday cards and gift cards for family members. There was no avoiding anything now that I had lost my masque, my skin, now that my façade had been stripped away, my composure and assumed air of “normalcy” for the rest of the world abruptly ripped opened. Exposed, I could only see pain: greeting cards for sons, greeting cards for sons of different ages, meaningful messages intended to show love and support for sons, funny messages intended to elicit laughter and a knowing smile, the familiarity of the mother-son connection through life.
Gift cards were impossible. I needed a Google gift card and, of course, it was housed in the same display as were all the gift cards for young men. I reached for the Google gift card and felt the sharp pain of seeing the X-Box gaming cards right beside it. A pack of three $10 X-Box gaming cards for $30. I couldn’t help it. My fingers reached up to and wrapped around the three gaming cards, and in a second, 20 years of Dylan’s being flopped on the couch gaming on his X-Box with one of his many friends ripped through me, flooding my sense of the present and breaking open an already shattered heart all over again. I knew I had to bail.
I turned my cart. Children’s clothes, Christmas outfits. I turned the other way. Christmas cards for children. I raced to check out, walked frantically to my car, collapsed in the front seat and just sat paralyzed, unable to drive. I wanted to call someone, but whom? Just who exactly would get this searing pain, this forever and permanently damaged and broken heart, my completely and utterly falling apart just because I had gone out to a couple of stores to pick up a quick couple of items? I went through my circle of friends in my mind, then my family, and then I knew it was hopeless—no one, and I mean no one (save for other bereaved parents) would and could get this intense pain.
The sun was setting. I hadn’t realized it had gotten that late. I had forgotten we had fallen back an hour last weekend and that the skies were now darkening by 5:30 at night. By December, sigh, by December, the skies would be dark by 5:00 p.m. Winter solstice. Life in the Midwest. Long wintry days spent so much of the time in dark—and cold—and gray-tinged skies. Last night, and herein lies my immense effort to make sense of my life post-suicide, living now, as is, as now—I chose to drive my car into the sunset. I could have headed east, but instead drove west, into the bloodied sky, sun dissolving into pinks and oranges and vivid hues we are fortunate to have this time of year.
And I don’t know why, but I didn’t cry. In so many ways, I was just completely overwhelmed, all over again, different year, same overplayed, garish nightmare and my desperate attempt to make sense of what will never be made sense of. Oh, I suppose, when time comes, and in small increments, I’ll be able to fake at least a little frivolity, at least enough to sort of, kind of, be out and about in short doses, but I knew last night, I still can’t do holidays. Thanksgiving is coming. Family gatherings beckon. I haven’t told anyone, but I won’t, I can’t be there.
Sometimes, the best I can do to keep on keeping on, to maintain my sense of my life now without my son here, on this side of wherever heaven is, is to pull back and live a different, even separate existence. I’m not sure what I’ll do for Thanksgiving this year, but I know there is “healing” in doing things differently now. This year? These 2015 holidays? This year I will fiercely protect myself in much the same fierce way I protected my son. I will remember Dylan, and celebrate Dylan, and light candles and play music, and if I’m up to it, bake some of his favorite cookies. But this year? This year after having already borne three agonizing Christmases without Dylan? This year I refuse to conform to traditions that only make me bear more pain.
It is strange to have to carve this new identity now, to tackle finding out exactly who I am by trying on and taking off roles and identities I had thought well established and for which I had taken for granted for years. But this is exactly where I am. I’ve already done three times, three years, the same thing as I always did and in the end, it’s yielded the same results three times, which is to stare me down, strip me of everything, and fully and abruptly slam me into the knowing that nothing, and I mean nothing, will ever be the same without Dylan right here, right now, beside me.
And it’s only this year where I’ve reached the point that this is okay. I am a different me. I am evolving. I’ve spent time over these past three years—and especially the first two and one-half years, dissolving all that I was when Dylan was here. I am learning to live as is, as now, in the moment, and just for today, I choose to feel less pain.
I can’t stop my now life’s journey of carrying my sorrow, even when it’s laced with what feels happy and good—and I will always miss and love and ache deeply for my son. He is always there, all the time. But I can, one day at a time, make and create, when I can, a life here for myself that brings me less pain, more smiles, and even, in moments, happiness and freedom from this weight I now must always carry, the weight of losing a child to suicide.