This March there was a completed suicide at my place of work. A young man a few years younger than Malcolm, and I hadn’t saved him. This event, coupled with the timing around Malcolm’s anniversary, sent me spiraling into the grief vortex.
I have chosen a profession where death is a daily occurrence and this recent depression made me question my choice. But the fact is most of the time I feel I make a positive contribution to the care of patients and families. Nonetheless, I have to work consistently at maintaining emotional boundaries, and there are some situations where I find myself triggered: the death of a young adult man, or when a man is sobbing at the bedside of a dying family member. Men’s tears, the sobbing body-wracked kind, move me incredibly. I want to comfort them. As I write this I realize that the only time in my life when I have witnessed a man’s profound, physical grief was watching my husband and my youngest son grieve for Malcolm.
Regardless of your chosen profession, when you have experienced a profound loss triggers are everywhere and daily living can seem like an emotional mine-field. It’s not just the special days like birthdays, anniversaries, vacation time, and religious holidays. It’s the daily news feed, the video clips on social media, Facebook “memories” that appear unbidden, and TV shows about families – the comedies as well as the dramas. And then there are the commercials: loving families, parents hugging their children – happiness, joy. When I first came to live in America I would get homesick and cry at the AT&T commercials, especially at Christmas time – lonely mothers waiting by the phone.
We can’t avoid all of these triggers, but we can make conscious choices to avoid the avoidable ones. I am a victim of childhood sexual abuse, so I choose to avoid Law and Order Special Victims Unit. But sometimes the theme of childhood abuse enters unexpectedly in TV shows and movies, and suicide and losing a child are sadly common themes.
I am trying to create better self-care. For one thing, I have promised my therapist that I will request coverage by another chaplain if a suicide attempt case surfaces at work. And I have to monitor my daily mood and provide myself with breaks at work. I tend to work through lunch and that needs to change. Today I am taking a break to write this blog post. To me that is a refreshing break, especially when coupled with mint tea.
My challenge to you is to examine your daily life and your calendar and identify potential triggers, then be proactive in creating emotional boundaries and providing yourself with support, breaks, healthy distractions, and self-nurturing.
Posted in anniversaries, depression, grief, healing, hope, loss, pain, sadness, suffering
Tagged grief, healing, pain, sadness
It may seem counter-intuitive, but Gratitude can be very healing in the hardest moments of our lives.
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I recently discovered the work of a local artist who had an exhibition where I work. One painting struck me to the core: it was Malcolm! Or at least it could have been. Same build. And the cap. And he is fishing – and Malcolm loved to fish. I had to have a copy. So I contacted the artist and now I have a print hanging in the dining area.
The painting was a beautiful reminder of Malcolm. Another reminder at work recently was completely devastating. A young man jumped off the parking garage to his death. I was at work when it happened and it plunged me into a depression. I should have been able to save him. Why hadn’t he waited, maybe I could have talked him down? Magical thinking, of course. I didn’t even know him and had no way of knowing what he planned to do. But reason had nothing to do with my reaction.
A few weeks passed. The anniversary of Malcolm’s death loomed. And then the daughter of one of the patient’s on my floor committed suicide and they asked me to come and support her brother – he felt guilty. The mother was in a coma, and would probably never know. So he was actually losing both of them. I couldn’t do it. I had nothing to offer; I felt empty.
I walked out. I told my boss I needed a few days off. A few days turned into a few weeks and now I am heading back to work tomorrow. (Positive thoughts and prayers would be welcome.)
What have I learned from this? Life is full of reminders, positive and negative. I cannot ever be free from them. However much we might try to insulate ourselves emotionally from the effects of our loss, there will be days when we are stabbed in the heart once again. There are suicide attempts in the hundreds every year in my city and some of them will end up in the hospital where I work. It is inevitable. I have to find a way of keeping myself emotionally protected while being able to offer support and empathy. A difficult dance. But March 19 comes around every year, so I have no choice, I have to find a way – or give up my job as a hospital chaplain. And May 14 comes around every year, too – his birthday. I don’t want to miss the positive reminders so I will have to accept the painful ones, too. The painful and the beautiful memories – every year.
Posted in depression, grief, hope, losing a son, loss, pain, sadness, suffering, suicide
Tagged depression, family, grief, guilt, hope, love, sadness, suicide
Ten years. Ten thousand sighs. Ten million tears.
Inconceivable that it could be so long, that I have carried on.
Unbelievable became the truth;
Grief became the norm.
But slowly inconsolable became absorbed
And glimmers of hope emerged.
Would there be new life one day,
Would I be glad I stayed?
I’m glad today.
And that’s all I have.
Posted in depression, grief, hope, losing a son, loss, pain, Parenting, sadness, suffering, suicide
Tagged grief, hope, losing a son, Loss, moving on, sadness, surviving suicide
These past few weeks it feels as if the tsnumai is winning. Each day I feel as if it is pulling me down and I am struggling more and more for breath. I thought it would get easier after his anniversary passed, but then we moved towards his birthday and I realised it is on Mother’s Day this year: May 14th. I can’t seem to get past this. I want to write something for mothers who have lost children and who are facing mother’s day with that pain. Maybe that will help.
Posted in anniversaries, depression, grief, losing a son, loss, Mother's Day, sadness
Tagged depression, family, grief, Mothers, pain, sadness
“While medications may help to allay some symptoms of anxiety and depression, we hear over and over from those taking tranquilizers and antidepressants that their symptoms persist or, in some cases, are worse. As noted bereavement therapist, Peter Lynch, MSW, said at an annual Holiday Service of Remembrance, referring to the many feelings associated with grief, “The only way through it is through it.” Medication doesn’t make the pain of grief go away. Clients need to understand this important point.”
The only way through it is through it. And for some of us the second year is worse. How can that possibly be? Can I really hurt more than I hurt now? Maybe you are really feeling it, really overwhelmed by the pain of it. But for some people those first few months, that entire year of firsts, is survived in a state of withdrawal from feeling, as if you are observing yourself going through the motions. And after some months it is possible that the defenses start coming down and the reality of the pain begins to be felt. For me it was just a week before I felt it. The day after the funeral. That was when my numbness receded. I was overwhelmed and had to be hospitalized. But for some a whole year can be spent in emotional separation, distanced observation, numbness. As your psyche hopes to build up strength for when the pain becomes more real and the fantasy of “it can’t be true” finally breaks down.
I imagine it must be much harder to resist that fantasy if you don’t get to see your loved one before burial. For example if they die overseas in a military conflict and there are no remains to view. I do believe in the value of that last viewing, of the emotional closure it allows. But me, I couldn’t watch as they closed the casket; I couldn’t watch as they lowered him into the ground. That much reality was too much for me. I was still in the distanced observation stage.
So be kind to yourself. Don’t set expectations on your grief. And don’t allow others to give you a time limit. We each have our own path to take. Just don’t take it alone.
Posted in depression, grief, loss, sadness, suffering, suicide
Tagged death, depression, grief, healing, letting go, losing a son, Loss, moving on, pain, sorrow, surviving suicide
How do I process my grief?
Does suffering have any meaning?
Do we live in a random chaotic universe?
Is it time to re-evaluate my understanding of “God”?
This book is for anyone who has suffered a loss – of safety, of one’s home, of health, of a loved one or a relationship, or of one’s faith … and found themselves asking, “Why?” And then wondering, “Who am I asking?” and hoping they were not alone.
Posted in anger, anniversaries, depression, doubt, faith, God, Grace, grief, hope, letting go, losing a son, loss, meaning of life, Moving on, pain
Tagged anger, Anniversaries, cycles, death, depression, doubt, faith, God, Grace, Gratitude, grief, healing, hope, letting go, losing a son, Loss, meaning, mourning, moving on, pain, sorrow, suffering, suicide, surviving suicide
Over the past few years I have used the opportunity offered by this blog to reflect on my journey of healing from the loss of my son. I thank all those who have reached out to me or shared their stories on this blog.
I have a new book coming out that tells the story of my healing journey and my journey through grief and loss if you are interested in my full story.
Posted in depression, faith, God, Grace, grief, hope, letting go, loss, meaning of life, suffering
Tagged anger, doubt, faith, God, Grace, grief, healing, hope, Loss, religion
Once upon a time there was a little boy called Malcolm who had a mummy and a daddy who loved him very much. And he had a baby brother called James that he wasn’t so sure about at first, but who he grew to love and love.
Little Malcolm really liked to laugh and make jokes. He loved camping and fishing and making a secret language with his cousin T.J.. Little Malcolm had a giggle like his mother. But some days Malcolm was sad, and some days he was very, very sad. And the Sad inside him grew like a big rock.
When Malcolm was all grown and finished college he came back home top live and study some more. His baby brother was all grown up too and just starting college.
Time passed at home and Malcolm had some lovely days and lots of good friends. He went to Austria and took beautiful pictures. The sad inside him was still growing but there was room for the Happy, the Silly, the Serious, and the Helpful as well. Malcolm was helpful to lots of people, and even to his own mummy when her Sad became too big.
One day Malcolm began to feel that his Sad had grown too big; there was no room for Happy and Silly. But Helpful continued to smile a big smile so no one noticed. Then Malcolm began finding it hard to breathe because Sad was so big it filled up his whole chest.
Malcolm was so good at helping others but he hadn’t learnt to help himself. His smile was so big it could shrink other people’s Sad, but it didn’t help his own. If only he had believed he deserved help; if only he had believed he deserved people’s time and love. But he didn’t believe it. he never had.
Then one day the sad was too big altogether. It was bigger than Malcolm. And Malcolm did a very bad, very sad thing. He took a gun and shot himself in the heart. It was the only way he could think of to get rid of his giant Sad. But he didn’t get rid of it, he passed it on to his mummy and daddy and his brother and all his family and friends. And when he shot himself he killed his whole Self – the Happy, the Helpful, the Silly, and the Serious as well. Now there was nothing left of his beautiful smile.
And now Malcolm’s mummy and daddy and his brother James have a giant enormous Sad that is Malcolm-shaped and is sitting on their hearts and making it hard for them to breathe.
Posted in depression, family, grief, losing a son, loss, sadness, suicide
Tagged depression, grief, losing a son, Loss, love, sadness, suicide, surviving suicide
Malcolm visits me at night,
a character in my dream-stories.
One night he cried,
because he was dead,
too scared to live.
Can I do it over, mom? He wept.
No, my sweet, it’s done.
Posted in death, depression, grief, hope, losing a son, loss, Moving on, sadness, suicide
Tagged death, family, grief, love, Mothers, pain, sadness