“No one was there for me. She should just get her act together.”
I had called to ask for a loaf of bread for a woman with an infant son in trauma. The mother of the mother had called me because her daughter had feared the reprisal if she asked for help. As we talked I remembered. Two years ago, that had been me. It had been my child who was crying incessantly because of her own inner trauma. It was me struggling to go on that one more day when sleep was a thing of mystery and I couldn’t even lay my baby on the floor because something was wrong that caused me to fear leaving her alone.
I talked to the grandmother for a while brainstorming ways we could help and then began calling the women in the church. I started with the woman who baked and often shared her bread. Her response shocked me. I hadn’t known her when her children were small and her response of defensive blaming showed me the struggle she must have dealt with then. So I let her have her decision and simply told her mine.
I think because my mother is so good at forgetting, I made a choice somewhere in my life to remember. I also made a choice about what I wanted to do with that remembering.
“When my child was sick no one was there for me even when we were running back and forth for doctor’s appointments and staying in the hospital. No one helped me through the days when she cried and screamed. But I made a choice then. I chose to remember so that maybe someday that memory would help me be there for someone else who felt alone and overwhelmed. No one can go back and change what happened for me then. But I can choose to let it be something I hold in resentment or something to give me the empathy I need to help others. I am choosing empathy. I don’t want anyone else to have to feel as alone as I felt then.”
She made the woman a loaf of bread. Others in the church contributed meals to take one more stress off the young mother and babysat the eldest as she went to the appointments where she found out her infant had a constriction in the bowels that required medical intervention.
We need to remember. When a celebrity dies, there is a reason it gets attention. Our western society is not very welcoming to signs of grief. Unless we are lucky enough to be born in a culture that understands the healthiness of emotions, we are taught to limit our expressions and time frames for grief through subtle and sometimes not so subtle judgments. We are given lists of what is acceptable and not acceptable to express grief about in an open forum. We are “shamed” for grief by comparisons to other areas seen by many as more worthy of our attention.
So we turn to films and books to allow a release of what we hold so deeply inside. Robin gave us many of those memorable roles that helped us feel the balance of pathos and mirth. Now he is gone. The laughter he was able to bring to so many was not enough for him at the end. He knew the power of laughter. He brought it to Christopher Reeves in his hospital bed when life support systems and paralysis replaced his image as Superman. The humour and hope he brought us didn’t disappear because he died. It is a legacy he left behind.
But for those who like me have known depression to the point of entertaining and even acting on thoughts of suicide, and for those who are one the other side of suicide like I am with several key individuals in my life, there is another level of grief that is expressed at this time. We stand with his family as they struggle to hold the balance of his light as they grieve his loss. We grieve the constriction of hope that characterizes the darkest regions of the illness. But there is also another level to the public outpouring of thoughts.
For these moments, we are able to defy the social mores against talking about suicide. We are reawakened to our own aloneness at the times when darkness surrounded us. We are reminded of others we may have pushed away when they needed us. We remember those in our lives who we didn’t know how to help. We remember and our remembrance calls us to respond.
I am a person who began an attempt at suicide but survived. I have now lived almost as many years on this side of the attempt as the years that led to that place of dark hopelessness. I survived. More, I have grown so that I can now make the active choice for life that I could not make then.
In those moments of despair I was not actively thinking of ending my pain. For me, depression skewed the brain into the rationalization that I would be benefitting others by ending my own life. I even went so far as thinking that I would force God’s hand into rejecting me since I had come to believe my existence hurt his kingdom plans.
I can’t even credit myself with making an active choice to not take that action. Even when I heard the words of the song that ultimately reminded me that I wasn’t alone and that God’s love held me, I defiantly took that one more pill even though I was already at a level far beyond what was prescribed. I cleaned up any clues so no one would know to help me if things had turned out differently. And I went to bed saying to God, “Okay, God, it’s up to you. Either I wake up or I don’t”.
I woke up.
Since that time a part of my healing has been finding the forgiveness and compassion to accept the part of me that could make such a choice. That the me of that time thought in terms of finding a way to die that “would not hurt others”, that she believed it was the only way her kids could have the chance of getting a “good mom” didn’t lessen my judgment of myself. In retrospect, a lessening of the irrationality of the thoughts in that time caused me to want to push that part of me away just as many judgments spouted at present seek to distance from compassion at this time of mourning.
As with the response to the young mother at the beginning of this post, remembering gives me a choice. I do remember the loneliness and judgments. I do remember the experiences in life that brought me to that point.
But in remembering, I have learned compassion. I have learned that not telling my story just perpetuates the loneliness that increases the risk of despair winning the day. I have learned that we all respond to grief in our own way but often don’t even realize how we bend to the cultural mores instead of listening to our own hearts. I have learned that we can’t decide for another how they will respond to our own choices. We can only act with the greatest empathy if we are willing to acknowledge our own pain.
In her post for Sojourners, Carmille Akande says,
“Relationships are hard. Discipleship is messy. Love takes sacrifice. But I believe it is what Jesus has called for us to do! Jesus had compassion for others. He cared for those who were hurting. He spent time with people. One of my favorite healing stories in the Bible is in Mark 1:40-45. A leper, an outcast of society, came to Jesus for healing. I know because of his condition, no one had time for him. No one offered him a place of belonging. A place where he could feel loved and accepted. No one offered him a sacred place. But, when Jesus saw him, the Bible tells us that he was moved with compassion. Jesus reached out and touched him! He was willing to heal him.
The people we see every day may not have leprosy, but they may have some type of pain. They may be going through a difficult time and need someone to have compassion on them. A place to receive love. A place where someone will listen. A place where they don’t receive scriptural formulas, but a heart poured out for them. Can you be that person? Can you provide a place? Will you be that place?
We are all broken in some way. We all need encouragement from others. Let us all strive to be a sacred, healing presence for others. We will never have all the answers about suicide, but we can certainly start by making time for others — not to lecture them, but to provide a sacred place for pain.”
When events like this cause stirrings of memory or asks me to step out of the comforts of my carefully scripted beliefs, may I have the heart to respond.
Lord, help me remember, not only the pain, but the grace that got me through so that I can live grace into the lives of others.
Lord, help me remember.
Some of the blog posts and videos that played a part in informing my thinking:
“Suicide and Pain: What are We Missing?” by Carmille Arkande; blog: Sojourners: Faith in Action for Social Justice, God’s Politics by Jim Wallis and friends; http://sojo.net/blogs/2014/08/13/suicide-and-pain-what-are-we-missing
“Genie You’re Free” by Carol Vinton; blog: Upside Down Grace; http://www.upsidedowngrace.com/2014/08/genie-youre-free.html
“Our Weird Uncle Robin” by John C. O’Keefe; blog: john c. o’keefe; http://johncokeefe.com/2014/08/13/our-weird-uncle-robin/
“Thoughts on Depression, Suicide and Being a Christian” by Nish Weiseth, blog: Nish Weiseth; http://nishweiseth.com/blog/2014/8/thoughts-on-depression-suicide-and-being-a-christian
In which depression is NOT your fault” by Sarah Bessey; blog: Sarah Bessey; http://sarahbessey.com/depression-fault/ (Please note: Sarah is adding to this as she finds other blogs that speak with compassionate voices)
What Robin Williams Did for Christopher Reeve That You’ll Never Forget; video from Oprah Winfrey show; http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Robin-Williams-Amazing-Gift-to-Christopher-Reeve-Video?playlist_id=52420
Ironically, I can’t locate the article that spurred this post by mentioning how emotions are shamed. Someone I knew shared it on Facebook. I just want to make sure credit for bringing that thought to my attention comes from elsewhere.