Friday, August 19, 2011

The Narratives of Our Lives

Life changes fast,
Life changes in an instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
~First words written by Joan Didion after the death of her husband.  The year of Magical Thinking

Jim's Retirement Dinner
Keicha, Jon, Julie, Mom, Amy, Ryan

According to Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross there are five stages of grief.  

In the beginning of my grief journey, I thought I would neatly cycle through these stages.  I thought all I had to do was find out what the stages were, read about how to deal with each stage, and then I would just work through the process.

If only grief work were like this.  Not long into my journey, I attended a remembrance service at my church.  This service, held every November just before the holiday season begins, gave me great solace and put to rest my initial beliefs about the stages of grief.  I learned that what I was already experiencing, a cycling through all the stages randomly according to the day was perfectly normal.  I learned for many the stages of grief are not accomplished in a linear fashion.

Our culture has a problem with narratives that do not follow a linear format.  We expect a story to unfold neatly according to the plot structure that even I once taught in my English classes.  We don't like stories that follow a structure we don't understand.  I especially like a story that ends neatly at the end with no loose ends dangling, with no questions left unanswered.  I don't like surprise endings.  

Thus, when I look at the story of my life, and the story of my immediate family, and the story I wish to pass on to my grandchildren about life, and my life in particular, I find that I must deal with a story line I do not like.  I wonder how many chapters will be taken up with a narrative I never expected to write, a narrative that I did not want to write,  a narrative I wish never to recount because it is so painful.  

As I work through the stages of grief, those stages that cycle faster and more dizzyingly through my days than I ever could have imagined, I find I must also observe my children, and my grandchildren, as they rotate through their own cycles and stages of grief.  This is doubly painful

As a family, we must continually deal with the loss of a beloved, so very beloved, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, friend, and we must deal with the knowledge that this loss is result of this dearly treasured person taking her own life.  

The second stage of grief is anger.  One resource said the following about this stage:  "The grieving person may then be furious at the person who inflicted the hurt (even if she's dead), or at the world, for letting it happen. He may be angry with himself for letting the event take place, even if, realistically, nothing could have stopped it."*

As I stood by Julie's body the first time I saw her after her death, I said, "I forgive you."  I have since learned that this forgiveness has been an ongoing process.  I have raged at her at times.  "I gave you life. You had no right to take it."  I have asked her, "Do you have any idea what you have done to those who loved you?"  Forgiveness does not come easily.  

One must work through anger before getting to acceptance according to grief experts.  Some days, I am writing a story of forgiveness that takes away the anger, other days, I am not.  Mostly, I find I am no longer angry.  Mostly, I am finally approaching the telling of story of the aftermath of my daughter's suicide with a theme of understanding for her pain, her confusion, her depression, her illness.  

My children each must write their own narratives.  Together, we hope to find resolution.  We hope to help each other.  If our stories of loss and grief help others, than the narrative is not in vain.

My oldest daughter posted a part of her narrative on her blog yesterday.  If you wish to read it, you may do so here.  She is a beautiful writer.  My daughter-in-law commented that it is a "brutally beautiful" post.  That it is.  But then again, she is dealing with a very brutal narrative.  

*Memorial Hospital Website, Towanda, PA


Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

The process of grief is, as you and Keicha both vividly point out, not neat and linear. Personally and as a therapist, I've found that it means jumping around the spectrum of shock and anger and grieving. Some days are so very hard. Some feelings remain so raw. But allowing yourself to experience them fully, especially the anger, is ultimately healing. My thoughts are with you and my heart goes out to you and to Keicha, who, like you, writes so beautifully and powerfully.

Keicha said...

How ironic that you included that Joan Didion quote. It really struck a chord with me when I read it.

My life changed when I walked out of the grocery store on a beautiful sunny Saturday. Sometimes I marvel at how I sat in my car screaming, feeling as if the bottom had just dropped out of my world, and yet everyone around me was oblivious. It seemed so odd that my pain wasn't palpable to everyone around me for miles.

Jeanie said...

Your daughters post was beautifully written, as is yours. It sounds like you are wise enough to let your grief be what it is each day or at any moment in a day. My thoughts are with you both.

LC said...

Two powerful posts. Ican relate to the non-linear nature of the grieving process. But I realize I cannot comprehend the depth of injury that Julie's death left in the spirits of you and your family. This post and Keicha's gave me a glimpse of the layers beyond your own pain.

I will continue to pray.

gigihawaii said...

I cannot imagine what you went through. To lose a parent is bad enough, but to lose a child or grandchild would be even more painful. Lord help me if that ever happens to me.

Dee Ready said...

Dear Sally, what courage and honesty you and your daughter Keicha have shared with us.

Now that I've seen pictures of you both, I will visualize healing white light surrounding your family and your grandchildren.

I told Keicha about Emily Dickinson's poem "After Great Pain a Formal Feeling Comes." For you both, this is "the hour of lead."

Be gracious to yourself.

DJan said...

I just read Keicha's post and have nothing to add except to say thank you, Sally, for pointing me there. It was painful but somehow healing to read her words.

Beth said...

I think that there must be more than 5 stages of grief. I personally feel that I have gone through more than that and after almost 5 years I am still grieving.

Your post is very moving! and now I am off to read your daughter's post.

Kay said...

Both yours and Keicha's posts are truly insightful and painful. It also shows how you've all been able to work through your feelings and organize them so you can deal with them. I'm in awe of your strength and courage to look grief in the eye and fight it with love and determination. You are both great teachers to all of us for losing someone is something that touches all of us throughout our lives.

Thisisme. said...

As a relatively new follower, I simply did not know that you had lost your beautiful daughter, Julie, and I am so desperately sorry for your loss, even more so because of the way of her leaving. It must be so very difficult for all the family to deal with, and I really do feel for you in your loss. I guess you literally just have to take one day at a time.

Grandmother said...

Your words tell how the journey after loss really is rather than how the books say it should be. You're generous to share and it will heal others in its wisdom. May you find all the grace you need.

JDS said...

Your post and Keicha's are both very moving, and I wish you the best in dealing with your grief. We had a suicide in our family earlier this year, and I know what a struggle it is to reconcile all the conflicting emotions.

Olga said...

Very powerful. I found your daughter's post just heart-wrenching in its honesty. I'm hoping that writing has a therapeutic effect for you both.

Friko said...

You have experienced the worst event in any parent's life: the death of a loved child. You are still standing

Thank you for the courage you have shown in writing this post. I cannot imagine what you have had to bear.

With my very best wishes to you and your family; may the healing process begin.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

You and Keicha have written a very powerful combination of posts. I remember being surprised after my mom died that the stages of grief cycled and recycled on their own unpredictable schedules. Your family's grief has so many added dimensions, I can only imagine how difficult your journey must be. But your very honest posts have helped my understanding a great deal, and they will help others as well.

Joanne said...

Your post and your daughter's post are both so raw with pain. trying to make sense of something that seems so inexplicably impossible to comprehend yet you are able to write on your blog and let us into that painful world of losing someone you love. I hope as you write the words filled with the hurt and heartbreak you feel that somehow a wave of healing and comfort returns to you. God bless you.
Blessings, Joanne

troutbirder said...

They say time heals all wounds. For me it hasn't but I've learned to cope. In the instance of bi-polar, there was no blame to be placed on the victim, myself, nor our grieving family. Except for a stingy government and medical profession that promised safety in the world of "wonder drugs."

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Hi Sally, oh, my heart goes out to you and your family. I knew that Julie had died, but had wondered how. I was thinking a car accident or something. I appreciate your writing this post, because I know that it will help many. God bless you and your family, and know that I am praying for you.


Kathy M.

Linda Myers said...

Thinking of you as you move through your grief.

Sandi said...

Oh Sally, It was hard to read your post and Keicha's through my tears. I don't know when Julie died, but it seems it's been less than a year. I stand in awe of your writing, and your eloquent comments on my blog. I could not cope the first year after my son took his life. I was so raw and wounded I saw no light. I went through the motions with my daughters and husband, but I barely remember anything but my pain. I remember the anger, but not so much, mostly disbelief.

Thank you for sharing your grief, and for sending us to Keicha's blog.

A grief shared is healing, and miraculously, brings hope.

Sending you love and hope and comfort

Sandi said...

Sally, I totally forgot to thank you for your comments today. You truly hit it right on the head! I need to do what I do for myself . . . then I'll be what I need to be for my students. I needed your wise words today.

And, if you ever need a knee replacement, do it! It's a real pain, but I am now nearly convinced it will be worth it! (Although, you'll have to stay posted to find out for sure!)

Terri Tiffany said...

Losing a loved one is difficult enough without the added sadness of suicide. Like you,I might rage at times at the person for taking their life when I know there is always an answer waiting out there.Thank you for sharing your feelings as you do-- I know you will help someone else with your words.
We lost a brother-in-law a few years ago tragically and the dynamics in our family have been changed forever.Life changes in an instant for sure.

KleinsteMotte said...

Your pain is so clearly expressed. Now that you are back in retirement there are more moments that let you relect. Glad you take time to write about it. That is a good way to let out the feelings. Be careful not to let guilt enter. You did all you could. Have you met up with others who have gone through a similar event? I hope you soon get beyond that terrible feeling of loss and are able to just remember all the good Julie gave to those she loved. Though her life was too short she tried hard to be there for her family to the best of her abilities. Her illness stopped that. Her illness is still a medical mystery. May you find inner peace very soon.

Jean said...

This post is so poignant and heart-rending, because it's so honest, but also it's interesting to me because I once taught Kubler-Ross's "On Death and "Dying" and I believed the stages of grief were neatly arranged with no wavering. Your post has shown me the truth.

Jeanie said...

Sally, I am always so moved with how openly and eloquently you can share your story with us, how you carry us along. I remember grief bursts for many moons, sometimes, I think, even now. And being angry, depressed then accepting then angry all over again. It's a process that is indeed a challenging one, one that requires courage we aren't even aware we have.

I am honored to be one of those who walks with you during your journey. Thank you for such openness and sharing.

English Muse said...

What an amazing, poignant post. Thank you for writing this. My warmest thoughts are with you.

rosaria said...

Very helpful! Thanks.

Terry said...

Both these posts were painful to read, but I imagine living this terrible experience even more so. I admire your courage, anger, grief, bargaining, acceptance, will be present at different times, I can't imagine how difficult this must be, but my thoughts are with you and your family. I wish for you peace.

Barb said...

You write so truthfully, Sally - I do imagine that grief, like life itself, doesn't follow any "prescribed" pattern. Perhaps, as you say, forgiveness has to be given over and over again.