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40 Years.

Updated: Aug 12, 2019

“What restraint or limit should there be to grief for one so dear?" -Horace

40 years. September 5, 1979-September 5, 2019. How is this even possible?

How can I play Bette Midler’s, “One True Friend,” while the tears fall and feel as I did (almost) on that day in 1979? I flip open my calendar and look at my schedule for September 5, 2019. I usually take the day off to remember, to garden, to think…How did I happen to schedule a speaking event that evening? It must be meant to be as the speaking is merely a sort of thank you to a group of women who gave $7000 to SPS. They’ve asked me to come that evening to tell them how the money was used. It will feel weird, and I’ll probably cry because no matter what….that day is still darn hard.

Here is something that still drives me a bit crazy: September 5, 1979 wasn’t even the day mom died; it was the day she was found. She was found 2 days after Labor Day that year. She ate dinner on Saturday night with neighbors. The elderly neighbor woman walked her the 2 doors to her house. It was through the police report that I learned mom had asked the neighbor the following: “If you were going to kill yourself, how would you do it?” The neighbor replied, “Well, Ellen I would never want to kill myself.” “Do you think rat poison would do it?” Mom asked

I would like to believe that in 40 years we’ve come to the point where that would cause the responder to ask more. My agency and our country certainly has worked hard to “get the word out”. We have a national hotline number, we have many trainings, we learn to ask more questions. She died using the same method as she did in her 1st and only prior attempt: liquid butibarbisol.

Having learned how the Dr.’s at the ER in 1977 knew what anecdote to give her, she poured the liquid into a glass and rinsed the bottles it had come in, carefully disposing the bottles in the back alley garbage cans of neighbors. She also then rinsed the glass. She was found in her bed, looking the report said, “…as if she were sleeping.”

Her torment and agony had ended while mine had just begun. I wrote last month about my continuing bits of guilt. This is a different month. This is a different column. While the various twists and turns of guilt will remain with me until I die, I’d like to focus on what helped then and what continues to help.

Teresa, my good friend who literally took me to a grief counselor 2 weeks after the death helped. Dr. Del Hagin, the miracle man who I believe helped me to come back to some semblance of normal helped. Good friends helped. But what helped the most was connecting with others who were walking the same road I was. Meeting another survivor was truly the beginning of my healing. The isolation fell away.

While I HAD met another survivor the very day I got the call, she was my then husband’s boss’ wife who whispered this into my ear: “My mother did the same thing a year ago. We do not mention the ‘S’ word on the Catholic Campus of The University of Notre Dame.”

Going to a conference for survivors of suicide loss within that first 2 years was the real eye-opener. I can remember feeling as if I’d “come home.” Going back to school to pursue a Master’s degree in counseling helped most especially because our first assignment was to write a paper on the most profound moment of our lives.

As my professor handed the graded papers back to we students, he said, “Stephanie, I’d like you to read your paper aloud to the class.” “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” I thought. I said I couldn’t do that. He waited. The class waited. I said that I REALLY could not do that. The waiting continued. And so I read the paper as the tears fell, and I stopped several times because I was sobbing. What a genius that man was.

More isolation fell away. The hugs from classmates and from the professor helped a great deal. I never felt ashamed of mom or of the way she died. Reading the paper was going to make me cry, and I didn’t want to do that; well, not in public like that. I will grieve for the rest of my life. I’ll grieve in small ways and at odd times.

Let no one ever say to me – or to any of you- the following: “Aren’t you over that yet?” I think of mom every day in many ways. Most are things she taught me or sayings of hers or reminders in stores. It is of HER I think- not with grief and despair or sadness but rather with love and joy.

She was a character when she allowed herself to be. She was kind, thoughtful, caring, and could be quite humorous. She loved with a ferocity that was unparalleled. But she did not love herself enough and after the many blows of her life, she simply had to quit. Dad was waiting for her, her mom was waiting for her and her daughters and grandchildren were settled. I’m sure at that point, she knew we’d be sad but also knew we’d continue on knowing that the resilience that she lacked was present in us.

Each and every one of our loved ones was in unspeakable emotional pain. Their pain ended. Each and every one of us will continue forward for all that we continue to live for. We move forward first and foremost for ourselves, our inherent need to survive, and our belief in the goodness that life can still offer.

We move forward for them: we talk of them, we tell their stories, we laugh and we cry and we let the world know what incredible human beings they were. We also move forward to take our own experience to help someone else.

Words from the Talmud: “Judge no one before you have been in his place.” Words from the Bible: …”To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven…A time to be born, and a time to die…”

I wish peace and joy and the remembrance of love for each of you…

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