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