The other night, I accidentally stumbled across a bunch of unread Facebook messages from twenty-two months ago. From when my son died. Most were well-wishes, prayers, a bunch of I-can’t-image-this-happening-to-my-family. One wrote, “You’re experiencing my worst nightmare right now.” Yeah, honey, mine too. Actually, that’s not even true, because I never, ever, ever thought something like this would happen to my family.
A few called for me to step up and be a champion for the anti-bullying brigade.
But I can’t be their champion. First and foremost, I’m not that person who feels a sense of closure or inner peace or whatever from talking about or even thinking about my son. I envy people like that, who can take their tragedy and turn it into a movement or a way to benefit others.
I can’t do it. It may happen someday; who knows. But that day certainly isn’t today, and it was most definitely not in the days immediately following his death. Hell, I was still waiting for him to walk through the door at that point. And for many months after, to be honest.
In addition, these people wanted me to be their champion because they assumed his suicide was a result of bullying. Fair assumption, given bullying is a huge issue in our schools.
But that wasn’t the case, at least, there wasn’t any evidence to suggest that was the cause. There was (post-suicide) evidence of mental illness, though. Although I’m not sure how I could champion the mental illness awareness movement either, since we were completely oblivious to his inner demons until it was far, far too late. Mental illness is most definitely a silent sickness, especially among children and teens, who don’t remotely understand what is going on in their heads and have a hard time talking to adults at all, let alone about these demons that aren’t supposed to be there. And if adults sometimes can’t fight those demons, how the hell does a thirteen year old?
About the only thing I think I might be able to champion—if I had to champion something—is the support network for survivors. The ones left behind when someone dies unexpectedly. But I’m not even sure I could do that very well. Even though I’ve been through it, all I know how to do is say “I’m sorry” and offer hugs and cry with other survivors.
All I can tell you is not to hope and wait for your life to go back to normal, because it won’t. That normal died with your loved one. And like the one you lost, it won’t come back. It can’t, because that normal, that life you had, existed because your loved one was in it. Your best bet is to actively work toward figuring out a new normal and embracing it.
In those first few months after my son’s death, we deliberately did things, chose activities, even dined at restaurants that were different from what we used to do when he was alive. Because every time we did something that was similar to our previous lives, it tore me up inside, reopened those wounds that hadn’t even truly begun to heal. Each moment of my day that followed in a footstep I’d made when my son was alive was a painful, stark reminder of what I’d lost. And when what we did was different, I was able to forget, or at least put it out of my mind. For a little while, anyway.
My other piece of advice: Try like hell not to feel guilty when you realize you’re actually smiling and enjoying life. Although rest assured, those smiles come with a price. At some point your lips will waver and something will trigger a memory or a reminder, and it will hit you that you’re having fun without that loved one and gee, it would be so much better if they were here, enjoying life with the rest of us. You might even let your mind wander down that terrible, terrible path; no, not “what if” but the other one … What Would Life Be Like If My Loved One Were Still Here.
Yeah, that one. It’s a terrible road to travel; I recommend trying like hell to avoid it, even though I know damn well you won’t be able to. It’s okay, just make sure you have tissues nearby. My advice in this situation is to seek out a distraction. Anything, but preferably something funny. Because no good comes of wishing for what cannot ever, ever be.
But here’s the thing: You’re still alive. You’re hurting, grieving, wishing for what you can’t ever get back (I know, despite my advice not to think about it, you will), but you’re still living too. And it’s inevitable that somewhere along the line, somehow, you’re gonna enjoy some aspect of that life. And then you’re going to enjoy a little bit more, and more, and more. And one day, you’re going to think, hey, I’ve gone X number of days without crying. And then you’ll cry, because you feel guilty, because damn it, why should you have fun when your loved one is gone, gone, gone?
You should have fun because you’re still alive, and life is supposed to be fun. It’s also short, as losing a loved one has taught us, so why not carve out whatever enjoyment you can?
Go ahead. You deserve it.