Friday, October 28, 2016

No More Why

A long time ago, on my original blog The Cat Widow, I talked openly about death questions and my experience.  I'm not sure you could find a person who is more open than I am when it comes to my personal life and my experiences, and I don't mind being a voice amid confusion on certain topics. That said, I think it's important for me to explain that I don't ask why this happened to me or why Rick took his own life. And I need to write an open letter on the subject.

Early in my grieving process, I found myself asking "Why?" It's a question typical of grief, but even more typical of suicide grief.

I have stopped asking why.


Let me say it again. I have stopped asking why. 

I will never know why. I will never fully understand why. I may be able to tick off on my fingers the reasons Rick may have felt. I may be able to guess. I may be able to assume. I will always miss him. I will always wonder. I will never completely know.


So... I have stopped asking why.

I hope, if you're reading this, that you will stop asking me "why?" too. For the most part, the folks who talk to me or read what I write make statements of comfort or offer consolation, friendship, and love. They do not ask questions. And I'm not saying that questions are bad. Most questions are 100% fine with me. I'm okay with it. But I can tell you that even now, 2 and a half years since the death of my husband, people still ask me why.

"But I don't understand. Why did he do it?"

I do NOT know any more than you do. 

I can reply that he was in excruciating physical and emotional pain. I can reply that he was depressed. I can reply that he felt he was out of options. I can reply that he felt he was doing me a favor. I can say all those things or nothing at all, but I don't really know WHY. Please, please, stop asking me. I have asked myself over and over again. I do not have the answers.

I know it is shocking, even heartbreaking, to hear of my husband's death. I realize that people who know me, or who have followed me on the web for a period of years, who have heard me speak or read my writing feel surprise and sadness when they learn of Rick's death. I understand that they feel for me. That they just can't imagine how Rick could leave me.

I have no malice, no meanness, no scolding to offer. I get it. I can barely wrap my head around it myself. It's almost unbelievable to hear that my husband took his own life and left me alone. I get it.

But it hurts me to hear those kinds of questions. It catches me off guard (and I'm a pretty collected individual). It makes me tell the story. It makes me go back. It puts the responsibility on me.

I had so many questions floating around in my head. So many pressing upon my heart. And finally, stopped asking why. There is no benefit to asking and re-asking such a question. Not for me. Not for you. I have not come up with a comforting answer in all the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years I have asked myself why. I have stopped asking why. If I'm sad rediscovering a memory or upset in the dark of night, I prefer to tell Rick I'm sorry he's no longer in the world rather than asking why. I prefer to tell a funny story rather than asking why. I prefer to explain what's on my heart rather than asking why.

There is no more why. There is only now.

Grief is grief. It hurts. We all feel pain deeply no matter the cause. We all feel that pain differently. We all cope differently. I will never compare my grief to another's and I will never say my loss is greater. What I can say is that I sometimes feel the stark contrast of my widowhood compared to other forms of widowhood. It doesn't make me worse off than another widow or in more pain than another widow. But it has made me feel more alone at times. Generally speaking, there are a lot of things that make grieving a suicide death different from other kinds of death. Not sadder...not necessarily more difficult...but different.


When losing a loved one to suicide, the grieving process is often longer than with other kinds of death. I have read countless items, both in my previous studies and in my personal quest for enlightenment post-Rick, that say this. There were times I felt very impatient to move forward more quickly, but my physiological reactions and grief bursts did not allow it. 

When losing a loved one to suicide, the survivor is roped into/tied into the "story" in a way that does not happen when someone dies another way. For example, if your husband dies of a terminal illness, strangers, acquaintances, and friends do not say, "Wow. What happened? What went wrong?" as they do with suicide. It isn't necessarily that people want to know the details (though sometimes they do), it's that they can't fathom a suicide loss the same way they can fathom other loss. We know that different kinds of cancer can kill. We even understand that being a soldier or a police officer, for instance, is a dangerous occupation and puts people in harm's way even though the loss can be tragic. We know that saying "It was a heart attack," leaves little to the imagination.

With suicide, people say, "But why would he do that?" They say, "Did you notice anything?" or the even worse version of that question: "Didn't you notice anything?" They say, "Was he depressed?" or "Did something happen that day?" And the person left behind is right there in the death again, up to her elbows in trauma, pain, and questions. You can choose not to answer the questions, of course. But it doesn't mean they aren't asked. The person left behind is constantly roped into being part of the tale. Like they had something to do with it, because they were the bystander in the life, the other occupant of the house, the one who found the note. Like they had some knowledge of the reasoning. Like their job is to make some small sense of the horror for the person asking.



When losing a loved one to suicide, happy memories are constantly questioned in a way that does not happen with other kinds of death. Things aren't taken at face value. Reminiscing about good memories or looking at photos is just not the same when suicide is the cause of death. When looking at a photo, the person left behind might smile and think of the good memory displayed in the picture, but she is also wondering, "Was he happy here? Had he already decided to end it? Was he remembering this moment as 'the last time' we would ever do that? Did he know?" For people dealing with other loss, happy memories are happy memories, times they miss or wish they could relive or always want to remember. No over-thinking. No philosophical ponderings that re-break the heart.

I've pushed through the grief, the conversations, the questions. I know the drill. But the more I grieved, the more I learned...and I am always learning...and the more I learn, the more I want to share.


I do not ask why. Instead I say thank you for everything I have been given along this journey. 

6 comments:

  1. I tip my proverbial hat to you Arielle.

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  2. You're amazing Arielle. You are so strong and brave , I know it still must be difficult everyday but I am so happy for you that you have been able to find happiness and joy in life again and that Jeff has helped unveil a different kind of happiness and world to you. Keep being you! You are a role model!!! XO Sarah Costa

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  3. That's an amazing attitude, good for you. Those questions must be infuriating.

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  4. Arielle, thank you for your heartfelt educating. I'm so sorry for your loss of Rick, I haven't been able to read any of your cat widow blog as I have been managing my own grief and couldn't add to it.

    This is such important information for people to know, to stop asking "why" and to be there for you instead.

    Thank you, Becky

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  5. Am I terrible because I lie when people ask how my husband died? I cannot bear the question of why -- or, worse, why didn't I notice?

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    1. You're not terrible at all. It is a very personal question to be asked, and what's more - it's difficult. There is no cut and dried answer. It is not black and white. And it is not fair for anyone to give you the responsibility of it. It happened to you. You endured it. You didn't cause it, ignore it, know how to stop it, anticipate it, or understand it. It's not up to you to answer their questions. How you answer their questions is essentially up to you. Early on, just a month or so after my husband died, I pretended that he was still alive when the hairdresser asked me if I was married. I said yes. She asked what he did for a living. "He's an accountant." I answered all the questions with what the answers would have been earlier that year. It was my choice. I played the game to make a conversation in a hair cutter's chair more bearable.

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Thoughts?