I am still in a great deal of emotional pain. There are many people in pain, just like me. Worse, there are those without hope, which makes their pain seem so much less bearable. I have chosen to do something. I did not know what that looked like five months ago. Now, I am taking the next step and moving into a new phase of my life. One free of any tyranny of shame that I created. A life filled with a loving family, caring friends, and the quiet strong voice of God to guide my steps.
In Jaws, Peter Benchley wrote the opening line “The great fish moved silently through the night water”. For me, the night water is the calmer pool of grief that I now swim in. I swim in it every moment of every day and I will never be able to leave. I can, instantly, be tossed into the deep and dangerous ocean of shock when I realize that my child is dead all over again. If you have lost someone to suicide, you know the waters I speak of. If you have lost someone for any reason, you still swim in the night water of grief that we all can identify with.
If you are new here, I am sorry for your loss. This is a statement of sympathy that will be offered to you. In these rooms, we learn to empathize before we offer any sympathy. I have learned to say ‘I see you and I love you’. It is a way in which we recognize each other’s pain, while respecting the journey each of us is on now. When I speak to groups now, one of the things I talk about is how sympathy is limited in it’s scope, while empathy embraces the entirety of the human experience.
I wrote for several months, as others in this group can attest to. I started sharing it on my public timeline and with my family. I then continued to expand as I moved farther and farther away from the shock of my son’s suicide and into the realm of grief. Grief was actually like a calm pool of warm water compared to the raging oceans of shock that I had been riding on. Each day, I asked for help quietly and each night I said thank you. I didn’t start quoting books or attending a church or converting anyone. I did become open to the discussion about God, which I suppose is only fair since I was asking people to be open about the discussion about suicide.
In order to share this journey with you, I will be sharing something that triggered me and how I coped with it. I honestly do not want to tell you this any more than other people want to read this. I am moving through this in slow-motion, but to keep this to myself seems the wrong choice as well. If you leave this post now without reading further, please know that I see you and I love you. I pray that you find something in someone else’s writings today that touches you and engenders you to return.
The shock of my son’s death overwhelmed me. Thirty years ago at the age of 35, I turned to things like drugs and crime to fill the void that was left in me. I hurt many people that I can never atone for. Their only crime was loving me and believing in me. The source of my shame was being raped at the age of 13 by a male music teacher who literally held my future in his hands. That future was perverted and instead of continuing a career as a performer I became a soldier. When my son was 35 he could not grasp that there was love in the world, because I taught him it was a dark and cold place. He ended his life, just as pragmatically as I began mine 7 months ago.
I entered into a rigorous process determined to find the truth about why my son killed himself. What I discovered was the only question I could answer was what my role was in the death of my son. I chose to answer it. It was a binary moment of do it, or walk away. Once I chose that path, there were only two binary results at the end of this. I was either responsible or I was not. I am always grateful for others who find they have no responsibility though they grieve no less once they move past being in shock about the death of their child.
As you gather today in your homes and around your trees, sharing meals with people you love, opening presents and seeing the light in the eyes of an 8-year-old as I will do with my daughter today, I ask you to remember those who are struggling today. I don’t just mean people like me who have lost a child to suicide. I mean, really, take a moment and think about the suffering of the world today. While Christmas has become a national holiday, celebrated by those who believe in it’s religious significance, it is celebrated by those of all faiths because it is an American tradition. It was born in the suffering of a single man who was crucified because he believed, and told the world, that he was the son of God.