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. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hello, 32

32 is a fairly nondescript age, not special and not exciting. It is, however, going to be a great year for me. I can specifically recall my 30th birthday, 2 years ago. It was my first birthday without Rick and it was peppered with both sadness and hope. I remember when I wrote this post 2 years ago today: Thirty.

Last year, Jeff took me up in a hot air balloon for my 31st, allowing me to cross a very special "wish" off my List. He often says he won't be able to top that, but I feel like every day with him is better than the last. I frequently consider how lucky I am.

I love my job. I help hospice patients and their families complete unfinished business, get plans and affairs in order, provide them with counseling and support, and walk with them through the process of grief and loss...all with the understanding that while people are dying, they are still living. I help with anticipatory grief, financial concerns, complicated family dynamics, and advocate for patients and families in all aspects of life.

I drive around home to home, going into skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, and hospitals too. I have the privilege of sitting with people in their own environment. I have the honor of being part of a sacred and private time. I drive around independently in beautiful areas of the Lehigh Valley with my music as a guide and mechanism to help me process each patient before moving on to the next. I am lucky to have the position I have and I am lucky to do what I do.

If I ever complain, please remind me that I am blessed. I drove around in the rain today, cornfields all around me, smiling and singing along with the music in my car. I talked to people, I learned from people, I felt useful. It was my birthday, but it could have been any other day. I'm this happy every day. I have the same daily routine no matter the date on the calendar.

Jeff fed me delicious food and gave me so much love. As we plan for a magical and awesome future, my heart is full and I feel good - no, great - about 32. I feel certain the coming months will bring positive experiences, fun, good news, more plans, and lots of gratitude.

I have a fantastic life. I'm so excited.