I blogged on June 1 two ways grieving a suicide is different from grieving a non-suicide death. There is a third way it’s different – and I’ve been suffering from it since day 1 but was not able to name it until now. PTSD – Post traumatic stress disorder. I thought the only people that experienced this were actual victims of a crime and people who were present when someone died or went through trauma. So anytime I had a panic attack I… well… I said things to myself that in hindsight I can see weren’t helpful. “Come on, Denise, this isn’t rational. You’re fine. It was months ago. You should be able to drive your car faster than 70 mph now without freaking out” and so on. I remember my Mom sent me a video on FB of pranks where people were sleeping and startled into waking up. I freaked out watching this (it’s okay Mom – who knew??). It wasn’t rational to me and so my self talk was judgmental. But still – almost a year later – loud, sudden, unexpected moments send me into a freaked out mindset. If I drive too fast my breathing gets fast and shallow – that’s my warning sign that I’m about to melt down. I’ve had outbursts of anger that were disproportionate to the circumstances at hand. God who am I?
I read a little about PTSD… 3 buckets of symptoms exist:
Reliving the event.
I experience all three of these to varying degrees but most frequently I experience the 3rd one. Increased Arousal: These include excessive emotions; problems relating to others, including feeling or showing affection; difficulty falling or staying asleep; irritability; outbursts of anger; difficulty concentrating; and being “jumpy” or easily startled. The person may also suffer physical symptoms, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle tension, nausea, and diarrhea.
All I can say is God bless my family and friends as they hang in there with me. I wish I could just “be better.” I truly do. It’s probably hard to know how to love me through this. I get so frustrated with myself. And then I get frustrated with Drey. And then I feel an overwhelming amount of love and loss for him. Sometimes I just have to sit in it. Sometimes I just have to let the pain swallow me. This is such a lonely grief.
A friend recently asked me how grieving a suicide was different from grieving a non-suicide death. It’s a great question… and I am grateful for my dear friends who are willing to openly talk & ask questions about Drey and my grief. I am just 10 months into this pain but so far I’ve experienced two areas of difference. One you’d expect – one maybe you wouldn’t.
Drey’s suicide has left me asking “why?” I believe the “why” question is a normal part of grieving regardless of how someone died. The difference with suicide is that not only do you ask “why” of God but you ask “why” of the person you lost. And with that “why” come the “what if’s, if only’s, I wish I would have’s” and the “I should have’s.” He chose this. He chose to end his life. But I’m his Mom?! How did I miss that? How could he have been thinking about this and I was so unaware? Maybe we shouldn’t have moved. His Dad and I never should’ve divorced? I should’ve been harder on him about his drinking? But he was 19 – an adult. I didn’t want to push him away by harping on him?? Maybe I should’ve made him stay involved in the church instead of letting him make his own choice regarding spiritual engagement once he started high school? Why didn’t I drive over to his Dad’s that morning? My gut told me something wasn’t right – why didn’t I go over there?? Why did I just go about my day like normal? I don’t have answers to these questions. I won’t on this side of heaven. So part of finding my “new normal” means learning to live without answers. I am a work in progress.
The second thing that’s unique about grieving a suicide death is the overwhelming presence of shame. For the first several months I felt shame’s presence. It was as if it were a demon latched onto my back. I felt the weight of it. I felt it hissing in my ear – often asking me the questions I listed above but also following up with a horribly devasting lie of an answer. I remember one time being at the grocery store and had gone down one aisle to grab something while my husband went down another. During those brief few minutes a person casually looked at me but in my mind they held my gaze just a little too long and I immediately believed they knew my son had taken his own life. And they knew it was because I was a bad parent. I quickly tried to talk myself through that they don’t know me, I wasn’t a bad parent, stay focused, what did you come down this aisle looking for, it’s okay, stay calm… But within a matter of seconds I was reeling in a frenzy of panicked shame. I quickly found my husband and didn’t leave his side the rest of the grocery store visit.
Shame. What a damaging emotion, a painful state of mind. Learning to talk back to it is an ongoing process for me. I have found that keeping some bible verses top of mind is very helpful. I was recently at the grocery store by myself. About half way through my shopping I started to experience the panic of shame again. I repeated out loud Philippians 4:13 over and over. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I know people were looking at me but I didn’t care. As I was saying it I put an emphasis on a different word each time. “I can DO all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.” Thankfully I was able to complete that grocery store trip successfully. What is it about going to the grocery store? It’s such a mom thing I suppose. Just always leaves me feeling vulnerable.
Here’s an awesome TED talk about the topic of vulnerability. http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html
Here’s an awesome TED talk about the topic of shame. http://on.ted.com/Brown2012
I hope you find these as helpful as I have. I will learn to be vulnerable again… to share openly and honestly. Because I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!