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Love often makes itself visible in pain.

“Real grief is not healed by time…If time does anything, it deepens our grief. The longer we live, the more fully we become aware of who she was for us, and the more intimately we experience what her love meant for us. Real, deep love, is, as you know, very unobtrusive, seemingly easy and obvious, and so present that we take it for granted. Therefore, it is often only in retrospect-or better, in memory – that we fully realize its power and depth. Yes, indeed, love often makes itself visible in pain.”

-Henri Nouwen

I am a long-term survivor; Mom died 43 years ago. She was 61 years old. She died by suicide. I think of her every single day. I also think of my dad every single day, and he did not die by suicide. Ultimately, the reality of my life is, that I was 31 years old when I became an orphan. My parents were both 61 years old when they died 2.5 years apart.

I was faced this week, yet again, with the reality of how very young I was when they died. My sister is 84, her husband is 86. My niece, their daughter, is 57 years old and helping to care for them in these years of their poor health. She asked how old I was when Mom and Dad died and when I told her, she said, “My God, you were SO young.” Indeed I was.

Two weeks ago I started seeing a client, a daughter of an 84 year old woman who died by suicide. Mom and daughter lived together. I’ll take a major swipe at the medical field we deal with in today’s world by saying that this mom had too many surgeries back-to-back and was on too many medications.

My client saw the changes in her mom and summoned help from doctors, took her to her doctors, and yet was told that they didn’t see anything they could do. Mom went from being an active, vibrant, happy woman who loved life and her family to a woman who was depressed and yelling. My client could chronicle the events leading up to this. She told the doctors this. Nothing was done. Mom took her life while daughter had gone out to work and to do some errands. No hint was given ahead of time; no verbal indication.

Mother and daughter lived together and had a wonderful life. They traveled, they saw family and friends, they laughed and truly seemed to be each other’s best friend. What is daughter left with now? The anguish and guilt of, “I should have seen it, what could I have done?” She is broken. We all know what this journey is like….

As a daughter of a mom who died by suicide, I envied the relationship this woman had with her mom. I envied all that they were able to do together and to be to one another. I’ve often said to MY daughter that SHE is the daughter that my mom needed.

I go back and read the words of Henri Nowen about grief and love. As I have gotten older and faced similar issues that mom had, I understand more clearly why she took her life. I believe that from her one and only prior attempt (4 months after dad died) to her death, she struggled every single day to stay alive. As she had loss after loss (husband dying after lengthy illness, friend dying, daughter moving out of state, and, finally, an unwanted job change), she tried in many ways to continue to live.

She got counseling from our pastor who, finally, recommended a licensed clinician who was not available when she called over a holiday week-end. She looked for ways to continue to live. These are the things that come to me as I work in the garden or drive in my car. I can say that I KNOW why but that doesn’t make her death by suicide any easier. I know that my mom loved me deeply as I did her. The lessons she taught me remain with me as do the memories of times of joy and fun.

I know that my client will deal with her mom’s death as we all have dealt with our losses but I also know, as do you, the long journey that is before her.

I believe that part of what we are left with is the feeling that we want to spare others from this journey; when we can’t, we want to be there for them. Her raw pain is on her face and in her words. A friend of hers, trying to be comforting, I’m sure, said something like “well, she WAS 84 – how long did you think she’d live?” Missed the point, huh?

As a “seasoned” survivor, I can say that the death of my mom by suicide shaped who I am. You, too, were shaped by the suicide of your loved one. How could we not have been?

I am grateful that SOS continues to exist and be run by 3 very competent leaders. I am grateful that I can continue to connect newly grieving survivors with both the SOS group, with Peace out Sista, and with fellow survivors who they meet with one-on-one. I am grateful that I had 2 parents who gave me a good life and left me with good morals and values. I am grateful for the mom who showed me how to be a caring person. I am grateful for the power and depth of love…

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