Grief and Suicide

Originally published July 3, 2012

Emile Durkheim, one of the seminal founders of sociology as a discipline, studied suicide at the end of the 19th century. His findings underscored many ideas that modern society still recognizes. One of his findings, in particular, has stuck with me, 15 years after my sociology coursework. The finding? That suicide in modern society is inevitable, it will happen. There are other things we have learned about suicide through systematic study – men are more likely to use violent means than women to commit suicide. Having known several people in my life who have committed suicide, the one commonality that I have observed, is those who have suicidal thoughts, once they make up their minds, will likely be successful. The suicidal people I have known have talked a great deal about suicide to numerous people. They voice their ideas and people talk them out of it, perhaps reminding them that there will be a hole left in the world where they once existed. Eventually, those who are really serious, get really quiet. It is in those quiet moments that loved ones need to worry. This is my observation.

It has been 12 years since a person who was important to me, took his own life. That one singular life had a huge impact on my life. He gave me my first born child, my perfect son. He was one of the funniest people I ever met. And he had one of the kindest hearts. Of course, others might remember him differently than I, and trust me, we had a hard time communicating on more than one occasion. The fact of the matter, he was my son’s dad, and my son loved his dad.

Twelve years have gone by now and I still struggle with my own emotions about his death. I am still very sad. I am sad that someone so kind and gentle, so pure of heart, chose to end his own life. I don’t want to idealize him, as with any other human being, he was full of contradiction. When I say kind, gentle and pure of heart, I mean, this man would give the shirt off his back to a stranger (and probably did) while expecting nothing in return. People who knew him, loved him (most of the time). He told stories of pissing off the wrong friend, getting his ass kicked, and then he and the friend would have a beer, all was forgiven. He was an unusual kind of person for this sometimes hostile world. So, as a friend, I miss him terribly and I wish he would have talked to me at the end, maybe I could have said something that could have changed the outcome. I am sad that he never got to know his son, that he didn’t see him grow up, that he didn’t get so see how much alike they are and what a beautiful, amazing, brilliant, artistic, kind hearted soul his son has.

Twelve years, and I am still so angry and resentful. I am angry that he took his life and left behind a son that would forever wonder, why? I am resentful that he dumped 150% of the parental load on me, left me to raise a man on my own. There are so many times I wish I could have called and asked that he speak to our son, to help set him straight. There are so many times I wish I could have called and asked him how we should celebrate our son’s accomplishments. And there are times, my son needed his dad, to talk to, to vent to, to cry to, to hang out with, to learn from, to lean on, and he was not there. I have cried so many tears through the years because of all the pivotal moments that my son will not have his dad there with him. I feel that I have to be extra super careful because I am the one parent remaining and nothing can happen to me so that my son will have one of us.

Twelve years and the guilt is still as palpable as it was on the day I learned of his death. As a young woman, I was very self-centered, selfish, and obnoxious. I was single minded and idealistic and so very naive. I did not know how to love or be loved. I did not know how to be a friend (I could give several examples of my failures, but at some point I also have to forgive myself). Basically, there was very little that I did know, but because of my own arrogance, I thought I knew it all and was invincible. And while these may be fairly common traits in youth, my life circumstances necessitated that I reflect on my behaviors at some point and the effects my behaviors had on others. So my guilt stems from not being a very good friend, maybe being an overly protective parent, and not really listening. I have had to forgive myself for mean things I said or did, for my absence in his life, for his son’s absence in his life, because nothing is one dimensional. I was there in other ways and found ways to make sure he and our son had a relationship. Regardless, the guilt remains on some level.

Twelve years have passed and the emotions are just as raw as the day I learned of his death. The death of my son’s dad, ushered in an “new normal”, a new way of being and understanding the world, for the both of us. My son and I have a different kind of parent/child relationship than most parents have with their children. It did bring us closer together in some ways and farther apart in others. He and I can talk about almost anything, and often times do, no matter how uncomfortable either of us are. My son has been, was then, and always will be my heart. He and I are connected psychicly – I feel his pain, and I think, if he listens, he feels mine. And after all of these years, I still don’t know how to deal with this pain in my heart, this hole in my world, or the lifelong damage it has done to my son.

My son’s father committed suicide on July 2, two days before July 4, my birthday. Maybe he did that to send a message or so that we never forgot him or maybe the pain was just too much for him to bear any longer. We will never know and it doesn’t really matter, because it is what it is and I have no control over that.

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