I was talking to my oldest friend from high school last week. Just having a friend from high school is a small miracle to me. To be able to maintain and nurture connection over half a lifetime is a beautiful and remarkable journey. Ramona is that friend, the one that I may not speak to or see for months or longer, and whenever I reach out she is fully and wholeheartedly present. Ramona knows loss. Her beloved dad died of brain cancer, her brother died of suicide and she has lost other friends and family members in similarly tragic ways. She knows how to meet me in my place of sorrow. And even more Ramona-esque, she knows how to make me laugh. So when she said, “Welcome to the club no one wants to belong to,” I had to chuckle. We don’t get to choose, do we? Free admission.
It’s been a month since I lost my dad to suicide. When an 85-year-old ends his own life suddenly and violently, it can be confusing. There are two parts to the story. There’s the part that is obvious: his age. And then there’s the second part: the way he died. Initially, I couldn’t think about one without the other. If my dad had died quietly in his sleep or been ill, I would still be experiencing profound grief, but my grief is complicated. The final act of suicide abruptly ends any chance for me to talk to him, and there were so many things left unsaid. His suicide also highlights his absolute despair in the last few weeks of his life and that is a heavy burden. I have been filled with regret, wishing I’d done more, said more, found a way to mollify his hopelessness.
I am finally able to talk about and think about him without the clutch of anguish squeezing the breath out of me. And I can start to acknowledge the many blessings that have arrived in my life too.
Perhaps the most remarkable experience in the past month has been the abundance of support and love that has literally overwhelmed me. I have had to open myself up to learn how to receive deeply. My husband did not question or flinch when, unprovoked, I would dissolve into sobs. My friends have showered me with check-ins, cards, gifts, plants, love. And because I made my loss public, my clients have been loving and concerned. As difficult as vulnerability is for me, sharing my loss has taught me a most valuable lesson. Opening myself up to receive the gift of compassion has been a new practice for me and I am seeing all of my relationships with new eyes.
New opportunities have emerged, like daffodils in spring. My brother and I, both of us busy working and raising families, talk and text almost daily. My mother has become more important than ever, and I have increased my effort to check in with her and shower her with love and support. Grieving is a light shining on my humanity. I embrace it, along with every other messy emotion that makes me fully alive to this adventure called life.