Deep grief lays out its stark choices, and forces you to choose.
In the last six months I have gotten a crash course in grief, loss and suicide. It is not something I signed up for by any means, but I’m in it. I am grateful for all the people who have lost loved ones, who started this journey way before me, and have the courage to talk about it in a culture that wants sad people to be okay or go away.
God has shown up in big ways. When I’m ready to give up on life, He infuses me with hope. I don’t mean the kind of hope that is a form of denial. There is a difference. It is the kind of hope that is rooted in reality, not fuzzy promises to fix the problem. The problem being that my son is dead and he died by suicide in my house as the neighbors mowed their lawn.
I walked out of this house, looked at him sitting on the couch and shut down the voice in my head that said “take him with you.”
I told that voice that he was fine, he was safe, he was in my house and that was the best place he could be. I thought I was in control of the outcome.
Hours later he died in the garage. I was the last person to see him alive, the last person he called and the last person to hear his voice say “I love you.”
There are no fuzzy promises that can make that go away. Any attempt to is a form of denial, which is where I have been for the last six months.
There is no happy ending there. There is only reality. The reality is that we will all die. That’s it. I can sit in the depression over that fact, or find the freedom of it.
The depression of knowing we will all die is living in fear and trying to keep everyone safe or doing whatever I want, no matter how destructive, because what does it matter anyway? We all will die. We think we can change the outcome if we make the right choices or if we make no choices at all and just wing life going from one bad choice to the other.
The freedom of that is choosing to live. Not to live and numb the pain, fear, and every other feeling that comes from knowing that my children will die, my husband will die, my grandchildren will die, my mom will die and it is very possible that I will stand in front of every single one of their caskets one day, just like I did Anthony’s. Or that I will die and they will stand in front of mine.
No amount of vodka or chocolate cake could numb all that once I saw it for what it was: reality. My family is not immune to tragedy. If Anthony’s suicide has taught me anything, it is that.
But despite that knowledge — or because of it, I am not sure yet — I can be free to love each one of these people, and myself, without the expectation of them being who I need them to be to make me happy. Instead, I can love, laugh, and spend time with who they really are, not who I make them try to be for my sake.
Time with them is short. Twenty-two years with Anthony flew by. I remember the moment he was first put in my arms. My first thought was “I have a baby and he’s so amazing” and then my second thought was “Oh my God, I have a baby, I am responsible for keeping him alive and safe.” For the rest of my motherhood, fear of him dying ruled my life. I would sit in bed and think about what it would be like to bury him as real tears rolled down my face. Now I lay in bed crying over the real memories of doing just that. All that worry and fear did not change the outcome of what happened.
In the darkness of this grief I didn’t ask for I have realized the only control I have: to live in the fear of mortality or live in the freedom of it.
I choose the freedom. Freedom to live my life without worrying about being wrong but working to be holy. Freedom to stop worrying about making all the perfect choices to keep my family alive but to love them as God loves them. Freedom to let go of the idea that I am going to ruin all of their lives because I am not worthy of them — even though God gave them to me, so I must be.
The freedom to have healthy, loving relationships with these human beings who – I know it now – are human beings and not gold stars that prove I am good. I choose that.