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“When Someone is Too Bruised to Be Touched”-On Suicide, Despair, and Addiction

That darkness might not permeate

My heart now and yours then,

That all of love could sweep time back

To bring back you again.

©Beth Brown, My Forever Son

That All of Love Could Sweep Time Back

That All of Love Could Sweep Time Back  

Should've, Would've, Could've, 
If I'd only Come to See, 
That might I future forward live
To see all eternity.

That I might know when and where somehow, 
And here and now then see,
To erase the dark and stay the day
To bring back you to me.

If only and What If now child
and why couldn't I just see
To hold you close forever
and stay the light just you and me.

That darkness might not permeate
my heart now and yours then,
that all of love could sweep time back
and bring back you again. 

©Beth Brown 
Red Rose Bud in June, My Forever Son

“There are simply storms we cannot weather.

Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

On Suicide and Despair

A Split Second without a Second Chance

A tick on a clock, a split second without a second chance, a momentary collapse into the utter despair and hopelessness, a fleeting glimpse of a life once-lived not enough to sustain. A single click on a school’s classroom clock, half a heart beat, enough for blood to travel away from, but not back to whence it came, not long enough to get a pulse, a breath exhaled—yours—but mine now in the shadow of your love.

There is no hell and there is no pain like the one suicide inflicts. Nobody who is healthy wants to die and nobody who is healthy wants to burden his or her loved ones with this kind of pain.

Fr. Ron Rolheiser

“When Someone is Too Bruised to be Touched,” although intended in the article below to refer to those who take their lives by suicide, might well be said of those who suicide loss leaves behind.

Suicide both begins and ends in pain: Pain in the beginning too great to be lessened for the ones who take their lives by suicide, and in the end, ongoing pain for those who have lost their loved one to suicide. When those we love die by suicide, we grieve and struggle to make sense of what seems a senseless death. “Why?” we ask. “Where did I go wrong?” “What did or didn’t I do that could have stopped them?”

The article included below, “When Someone is Too Bruised to be Touched,” addresses the “soul-wrenching” feelings of losing a loved one to suicide. In the midst of horrific shock, we also must move through confusion, guilt, and second-guessing (What if? and If only).

“Where did we fail this person?

What might we still have done?

What should we have noticed?”

Fr Ron Rolheiser

When Someone is Too Bruised to be Touched

“When Someone is Too Bruised to be Touched”
 
Fr. Ron Rolheiser
 
“A few days ago, I was asked to visit a family who had, just that day, lost their 19 year-old son to suicide.
 
There isn’t much one can offer by way of consolation, even faith consolation, at a moment like this, when everyone is in shock and the pain is so raw. Few things can so devastate us as the suicide of a loved one, especially of one’s own child.
 
There is the horrific shock of losing a loved one so suddenly which, just of itself, can bring us to our knees; but, with suicide, there are other soul-wrenching feelings too, confusion, guilt, second-guessing, religious anxiety.
 
Where did we fail this person?
What might we still have done?
What should we have noticed?
What is this person’s state with God?
 
What needs to be said about all of this:
 
First of all, that suicide is a disease and the most misunderstood of all sicknesses. It takes a person out of life against his or her will, the emotional equivalent of cancer, a stroke, or a heart attack.Second, we, those left behind, need not spend undue energy second-guessing as to how we might have failed that person, what we should have noticed, and what we might still have done to prevent the suicide.
 
Suicide is an illness and, as with any sickness, we can love someone and still not be able to save that person from death. God loved this person too and, like us, could not, this side of eternity, do anything either.
 
Finally, we shouldn’t worry too much about how God meets this person on the other side. God’s love, unlike ours, can go through locked doors and touch what will not allow itself to be touched by us.
 
Is this making light of suicide? Hardly. Anyone who has ever dealt with either the victim of a suicide before his or her death or with those grieving that death afterwards knows that it is impossible to make light of it.
 
There is no hell and there is no pain like the one suicide inflicts. Nobody who is healthy wants to die and nobody who is healthy wants to burden his or her loved ones with this kind of pain. And that’s the point: This is only done when someone isn’t healthy. The fact that medication can often prevent suicide should tell us something. Suicide is an illness not a sin.
  
Nobody just calmly decides to [die by] suicide and burden his or her loved ones with that death any more than anyone calmly decides to die of cancer and cause pain. The victim of suicide (in all but rare cases) is a trapped person, caught up in a fiery, private chaos that has its roots both in his or her emotions and in his or her bio-chemistry.
 
Suicide is a desperate attempt to end unendurable pain, akin to one throwing oneself through a window because one’s clothing is on fire.
Many of us have known victims of suicide and we know too that in almost every case that person was not full of ego, pride, haughtiness, and the desire to hurt someone. Generally it’s the opposite. The victim has cancerous problems precisely because he or she is wounded, raw, and too-bruised to have the necessary resiliency needed to deal with life.
 
Those of us who have lost loved ones to suicide know that the problem is not one of strength but of weakness, the person is too-bruised to be touched. I remember a comment I over-heard at a funeral for a suicide victim.The priest had preached badly, hinting that this suicide was somehow the man’s own fault and that suicide was always the ultimate act of despair.
 
At the reception afterwards a neighbor of the victim expressed his displeasure at the priest’s homily: “There are a lot of people in this world who should kill themselves,” he lamented bitterly, “but those kind never do! This man is the last person who should have killed himself because he was one of the most sensitive people I’ve ever met!”A book could be written on that statement. Too often it is precisely the meek who seem to lose the battle, at least in this world.
 
Finally, I submit that we shouldn’t worry too much about how God meets our loved ones who have fallen victim to suicide. God, as Jesus assures us, has a special affection for those of us who are too-bruised and wounded to be touched. Jesus assures us too that God’s love can go through locked doors and into broken places and free up what’s paralyzed and help that which can no longer help itself. God is not blocked when we are. God can reach through.
 
And so our loved ones who have fallen victim to suicide are now inside of God’s embrace, enjoying a freedom they could never quite enjoy here and being healed through a touch that they could never quite accept from us.”

Fr Ron Rolheiser, When Someone is Too Bruised to Be Touched

In the Stillness, My Forever Son

Find Out More About My Forever Son

On Suicide and Despair

I’ve included excerpts from Ron Rolheiser’s “On Suicide and Despair” below. Perhaps his most profound thought comes from his referencing Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables: “There are storms we cannot weather.”

“There are simply storms we cannot weather.

Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

“There are simply storms we cannot weather” My Forever Son

On Suicide and Despair

Fr. Ron Rolheiser

Suicide is not despair. Dictionaries define despair as the complete lack or absence of hope. But that’s not what happens in most suicides. What does happen?

The person who is taking his or her own life is not intending that act as an insult or affront to God or to life (for that would be an act of strength and suicide is generally the antithesis of that). What happens in most suicides is the polar opposite. The suicide is the result of a mammoth defeat.

There’s a powerful scene in the musical adaption of Victor Hugo’s, Les Miserables. A young woman,Fantine, lies dying. She tells of once being youthful and full of hopeful dreams; but now worn-down by a lifetime of poverty, crushed by a broken heart, and overcome by physical illness, she is defeated and has to submit to the tearful fact that “there are storms we cannot weather”.

She’s right, and anyone who does not accept that truth will one day come to a painful and bitter understanding of it. There are things in this life that will crush us, and surrender isn’t an act of despair and indeed isn’t a free act at all. It’s a humbling, sad defeat.

And that’s the case with most people who die from suicide.

For reasons ranging from mental illness to an infinite variety of overpowering storms that can break a person, there’s sometimes a point in people’s lives where they are overpowered, defeated, and unable to continue to will their own living – parallel to one who dies as a victim of a drought, hurricane, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or Alzheimer’s. There’s no sin in being overpowered by a deadly storm.  We can be overpowered, and some people are, but that’s not despair (which can only be willful and an act of strength).

To begin with, we don’t understand mental illness, which can be just as a real and just as death-producing as any physical illness. We don’t blame someone for dying from cancer, a stroke, or a physical accident, but we invariably cast moral shadows on someone who dies as a result of various mental illnesses which play a deadly role in many suicides….

Beyond mental illness we can be defeated in life by many other things. Tragedy, heartbreaking loss, unrequited obsession, and crippling shame can at times break a heart, crush a will, kill a spirit, and bring death to a body.

Ron Rolheiser, On Suicide and Despair


Pink Hydrangea, My Forever Son

“What ifs”: A Special Focus on Depression, Suicide and Addiction

“Drug overdose deaths in the United States rose 29.4% in 2020 to an estimated 93,331, including 69,710 involving opioids. . .”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Red Geraniums in July, My Forever Son

“Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor’s mind toward some final resolution, some clear meaning, which it perhaps never finds.”

Robert Woodruff Anderson, I Never Sang for My Father

A compelling story by a father who lost his son to an overdose appears below. His story focuses on grappling with guilt and grief.

“What ifs”: An Underappreciated Side Effect of Addiction

Shortly after our son, William, died of an accidental heroin overdose at age 24, I stumbled upon this unflinching reflection of addiction as a family disease: “Addiction isn’t a spectator sport. Eventually the entire family gets to play.” It is a disease that can yield many symptoms, many different forms of expression, not just the physical symptoms and silent longings suffered by the person whose system is under the thrall of the substances they’ve come to crave. It is not a disease family members get to choose. We may try to deny its existence, but even that “choice” is a symptom of the disease.”

For family members another symptom of the disease can linger, sometimes tucked away until it suddenly manifests itself again, sometimes staring us down daily. I call it the “what ifs”: a repetitive and exhausting review of all the intersections where some action, imagined or real on a survivor’s part, might — I stress might — have led to a different outcome.

Since William’s death, my wife Margot and I have been introduced to many brave people who have lost family members to addiction. People whose lives, like ours, are scarred with the collateral consequences of addiction. People who, like us, ask themselves over and over, “What if?” In our case, what if William had not been released from inpatient rehab “against clinical advice” after a mere 10 days, because his insurers would not approve any further treatment?

What if any one of four different hospital emergency rooms had recognized that William’s repeated overdoses made him a danger to himself and entertained the notion, indeed assumed the responsibility, of assessing him for a dual diagnosis?

What if, when he arrived at a hospital of his own volition, with his bag packed (including two books, George Carlin’s When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? and John Medina’s Brain Rules), his request for inpatient detoxification was considered medically necessary, rather than a denial of treatment four days before he fatally overdosed?

What if, despondent, he hadn’t overdosed in a Starbucks bathroom within hours of being denied, then been treated and released from a hospital, all in less than a day’s time and without our knowledge? What if we’d happened to look into our living room where he was “watching TV” just a few minutes sooner, before I discovered him slumped over, a needle on the floor, in or about to be in cardiac arrest?

Artists and scientists use “What if?” to search for the truth in their work. For them too, the question that prompts the quest can be agonizing, as they struggle to employ their imagination in order prove a hypothesis or illuminate a story in the name of truth. Yet once their work is proven, or created, they are free to move on. Those of us afflicted with the “what ifs” of addiction find ourselves trapped in a repetitive cycle. The protective membrane in our imagination between health and disease, between discovery and repetition, is semi-permeable at best. Addiction drags imagination to the disease side of the membrane and locks us in.

I find myself inspired by the writer and lecturer Andrew Solomon when he says in his book Far from the Tree, “…we all have our darkness and the trick is making something exalted of it.” When the “what ifs” emerge from our dark places, as they invariably do, perhaps the most important thing we can do is to share them with others; to recall and then share the stories that prompted them, so that we can properly scrutinize the disease of addiction. Addiction thrives on the stigma composed in part of secrecy, shame, judgment, and darkness. Telling our stories brings healing light. What if we begin telling our stories more openly and more often? What if we use our stories to effect change? What if we strive toward the healing and the exalted?

By: Bill Williams, Guest Contributor

Harvard Health Blog, “What Ifs: An Underappreciated Side Effect of Addiction


“Addiction isn’t a spectator sport. Eventually the entire family gets to play.” It is a disease that can yield many symptoms, many different forms of expression, not just the physical symptoms and silent longings suffered by the person whose system is under the thrall of the substances they’ve come to crave. It is not a disease family members get to choose. We may try to deny its existence, but even that “choice” is a symptom of the disease.

Bill Williams, Guest Contributor, Harvard Health Blog, “What Ifs: An Underappreciated Side Effect of Addiction

Shame, Stigma, and Seasons of Grief

German Chamomile, My Forever Son

A story by a father about struggling with his son’s addiction and death by overdose. He brings awareness to the stigma and shame surrounding overdose deaths and substance abuse disorders.

While speaking as a panelist on substance use disorder (SUD), I felt it necessary to remind the audience that addiction is a family disease. While family members may not themselves be tethered to use of a substance, we all share in the anger, guilt, despair, and all too often grief that ripple back and forth in a family’s encounter with SUD. I learned early on, “Addiction isn’t a spectator sport, eventually the whole family gets to play.”

What may be harder for some to understand is that the “sport” gets played for a lifetime, even by generations to come. I am reminded of a line near the end of Robert Woodruff Anderson’s play I Never Sang for My Father, “Death ends a life, but it does not end a relationship, which struggles on in the survivor’s mind toward some final resolution, some clear meaning, which it perhaps never finds.”

The struggle to find some resolution to loss due to SUD may take the form of rotating graveside arrangements, memorial gardens or park benches, sponsored public talks, races, and fundraising benefits. These are but a few of the ways families devise to remember a loved one and contribute to the common good in their name.

Unfortunately, the struggle toward resolution can also result in blame, alienation, family disruption, and divorce. The disease has a way of finding its way into the weak spots of a family fabric and causing rot, unless and until the aftereffects are tended to and we find some way to make meaning from a loved one’s overdose death.

One disruption that is almost certain to appear is the alteration of a family’s calendar. While always a constant, grief finds a way to manifest itself in anniversaries new and old — certainly on birthdays, or with an empty chair at holiday tables (a practice some families observe not only in name but in deed), but also the memory of the day someone overdosed, or the last memory of sobriety. The scar of a horrifying discovery or a dreaded telephone call now mars Christmas Day, a wedding anniversary, or what would ordinarily be a celebratory family event.

For me the fall was always a happy time, ever since my early adolescence when I began to play soccer. I’ve played, coached, or been a referee every fall for 50 years. Exactly six years ago, even the same day of the week as I write this, I refereed a game on a bright October Saturday morning. That evening I discovered our son, William, overdosed in our living room. His last words to me as he shut the door were, “I’m going to watch some TV.” There was no mention of injecting heroin. Six weeks of comatose hospitalization followed before he died in our arms.

Every year since, the fall darkens not just with the loss of daylight, but also with the loss of a beautiful light in our lives. William’s November birthday, Thanksgiving, the day he died, the date of his memorial service — all combine to create a season of grief for our family. Nieces who will know him only through photographs and stories will sing him “Happy Birthday” on a day that is anything but happy for those who knew and loved William. Soccer, a sport I love, now competes with a deep seasonal gloom.

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer famously said, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” Despite all the loss and suffering, all the beautiful memorials, and all the work of many grieving families and advocacy groups to enlighten us, I fear our society lingers too near stage one, ridicule. Ridicule prolongs shame and stigma, and serves to perpetuate our seasons of grief.




My Forever Son

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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,
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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.

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