Writing this blog has set me free in so many ways. Telling my story has taken me from being a victim of circumstances that were beyond my control, to being a survivor of the loss of a loved one.
When I first started putting my words on paper, ideas were plentiful and it was evident I could write what I wanted at will. I couldn’t hit the keys on my computer fast enough. For once in my life my brain was working faster than my body parts.
My story is a journey I was reluctant to go on. Taking me away from my normal life, my family, my friends and just about everything associated with the life I once lived.
Within I became a hermit, a recluse living in my own world that was causing me to drift further away from family and friends,while going through the motions of living a life that appeared, at least to me, normal.
Brooding in an inner world where the lights had been turned off, I would venture out from time to time only to have my eyes blinded by the intensity of the sun’s rays. I would then retreat back into my lonely world as fast as the speed of thought.
Six years later someone decided to turn the light on in my darkened world. I took that as a sign, it was time to come out of hiding and face the world. I then had this insatiable desire to tell my story. For the first time I wanted to talk about a life lost and its effect on me. It is only then that I realized that there are millions just like me who are going through a similar process and are on a journey in search of healing.
These past months of writing has liberated me and I have discovered a peace that I hadn’t experienced for as long as I can remember.
I was not only on my way to recovery but I hoped it would take me back to a place I call normal or at least the way it was.
It was working beautifully with my muse working overtime keeping me creatively inspired, each word keyed at the speed of thought, each paragraph edited simply enough to be readable, and spell-check at my beck and call. The wall I had systematically built around my heart was being torn down piece by piece, word by word.
I knew within that I had to finish the ‘book’, as I would refer to telling my story. It had a beginning and therefore it had to have an ending. To me it seemed simple, the ending was becoming a survivor, someone who passed the test and came out the other end beaten and battered but alive.
I had this feeling inside that my job would be complete and I could get back to ‘normal’ when I finished the ‘book’. I just needed to keep writing until there was nothing more to say.
Then the unthinkable happened. I couldn’t finish another paragraph if my life depended on it. It was taking me longer to come up with ideas for my story and unfinished posts were starting to gather dust. I had hit ‘writers block’ at full force. My muse decides to go on holidays. My fingers were developing cob webs and my mind was drifting back into the old ‘normal’.
I needed to take a deep breath and figure this thing out. It was not time to raise the white flag of surrender. There was a reason that I was becoming stagnant and I refused to believe it was just ‘writers block’.
I wasn’t going to try to write another word until I understood what it was that was blocking me.
It’s been several days now since writing the above. I had to take a ‘time out’ to sort out my thoughts. I had to come to terms with something that was holding me back but I wasn’t sure what it was. There was no use in waiting for my muse to come back off of holidays, she wasn’t coming back until I addressed the elephant that was in the room.
Up until this post I had been operating under the impression that surviving the death of a loved one was the main goal, it wasn’t. Then I proclaimed that I was no longer a victim of suicide and not longer trying to survive. Let the world know that I am as survivor. I have reached the summit. I can get back to living my life as a normal human being. I am healed.
So why the ‘all of a sudden’, I can’t put two words together to make a sentence. I wasn’t going to budge until I got an answer and I believe I have. The mental block was only there to slow me down, actually stop me in my tracks. I had come to a crossroads, not in my writing but my life. If I thought that being a survivor of the loss of a loved one was the ultimate goal, I was way off base. It was never meant to be the goal, only a marker in the next step of my life.
I had a decision to make. Accept my new label of survivor as the be all and end all, try to reconstruct my life and get back to normal or take the next step. I had to come to grips with the fact that this journey will never end no matter how many mountains I climb. What I discovered about myself was a little scary but exciting and exhilarating at the same time.
I realized that I would never be content, happy or even at peace with myself unless I continued to move forward, which meant leaving my old life behind and anything that would hold me back including any excess baggage that I needed to leave behind to move forward.
I had worked very hard over the past years to eliminate the intense grief, guilt, confusion, anger, blame and all the other emotions and labels associated with suicide. Now it was time to give my Aaron a hug and let him go, not for his sake but for mine and those around me.
By continuing to hold onto the past I am effectively making the future non-existent. I know deep down inside Aaron would want that too. He would want the best for me. He doesn’t expect me to sit around and mourn his life as though by allowing myself to move on completely would be nothing short of being a traitor to him, my son.
He would want me to take all the valuable experiences and lessons of life I have accumulated over the last years and turn them into something useful, for others.
But in order to do that there is a price to pay, there is a very important decision that has to be made. I have to let go of the past, I have to forsake what I have been holding onto these past years. I need to let Aaron go so I can move forward. As simple as that.
He is already where he is meant to be. But my desire to keep him alive in my mind and heart, his memories fresh and at my fingertips will not hold him back but keep me from moving forward.
Surviving is not enough, leaving my old life behind is the next step in this wonderful journey that has been given me.
Today, I have made my choice.
One of my first lessons on life after Aaron’s death was a simple one. That life goes on…with or without us. We can choose to get off the merry-go-round called life or we can continue to live our lives even though at times we feel like robots just going through the motions without emotion, desire or the will to live.
Eventually I had to go back to work. I was diving my work van down the highway when I noticed smoke coming up from under the hood, the temperature gauge went from normal to high in a matter of seconds. My water pump broke and I was stranded on the side of the road with the traffic passing by at high speeds not giving me the time of day. I was just a passing blip on their radar.
I had this feeling when I went back to work that somehow, God in his infinite wisdom and understanding of my delicate emotional turmoil that He was going to make things somewhat easier on me. You know, slowly let me find my way back into the everyday life of normal.
At first I was a little discouraged. I mean, come on God, I just went through a traumatic situation and my heart is very tender and sensitive and now this happens as soon as I try to get back to being normal? I would have thought a little understanding would be apropos under the circumstances.
He did understand, a jolt back to normal was what I needed. I had a decision to make, get back on that merry-go-round we call life or purposely digress from the life I was meant to live.
Oh, how tempted I was to leave my van sitting on the side of the road, walk toward the sunset shedding my clothes along the way and never return. But that was not meant to be. Wake up man, bills had to be paid, kids had to be cared for, a wife needed love more than ever.
It wasn’t the answer I was hoping for but that’ll do me, a wake up call that life was going on with or without me. As much as I didn’t really care either way at the time, I knew I had to make an effort to be alive inside.
Not long after, some well-meaning friends took us out to dinner. During the meal one of our friends looks over to the other and says, “they seem to be handling things quite well considering the what they have been through”. Hello? We’re sitting right across from you, we can hear you. I didn’t give the comment much thought at the time although I was happy to know that we passed a test.
But I realize now, the way my wife and I passed that test in that restaurant was part of getting back to normal. Act happy even if you don’t feel like it, enjoy your food even if you can’t taste it, interact like you are genuinely pleased to be with someone even if you feel like going home and crawling into bed, think about the feelings of other knowing you have no feeling yourself.
To me that was the key to my sanity. Like the old saying goes, act like your happy and you will eventually feel like your happy. Act like you have no pain and eventually you will feel no pain.
Those lessons were invaluable to me. I was never going to get a furlough on life’s daily challenges. In retrospect those challenges came fast and furious and the grieving and all other emotions associated with the loss of my dear son would have to be dealt with in private or on my own time.
After all I had my own life to live and life will go on with or without me.
I am not unlike any other parent who desires the best for their children. I try to do what ever I feel necessary to help them achieve that goal. It was important to me that my children succeed in this world.
When an old friend who I hadn’t seen for some time would ask, “how are your kids doing?”, I actually thought they really wanted to know, so I would start with the most successful or those doing the best at the time then work my way down the ladder until I could see boredom mask their face. That was my cue to stop before getting to some of my not as successful or those having a rough patch.
My bar was high but not unreachable. I wasn’t looking for any brain surgeons, Senators, elite athletes, or Albert Einsteins. No, I believed I had my expectations at a reasonable level although any of the above would be acceptable also.
A few months after Aaron’s suicide, Rhonda and I went to the States for a long over due visit. Prior to our leaving on our trip a dear friend organized for us to stop at her place, on our return. Staying with her in a distant city for some relaxation and catching up with old friends. During our stay she put together a dinner party for us, inviting some close friends and some of our family who were living in the area.
It was nice seeing everyone and we really felt loved and cared for. It was special and we are eternally grateful. Just what we needed at the time.
During dinner I was having a conversation with a friend sitting opposite us. I said with a grin, “you know our expectations for our kids have changed over the years. At one time we expected great things from them, our bar was pretty high, maybe too high for some so we lowered it. Having a job or career that they enjoyed and being happy was where we placed the bar. But in the last few months since losing Aaron we set the bar even lower. Staying alive was our new expectation.” Rhonda and I laughed, an inside joke. We actually believed this, life became the greatest commodity for our kids as far as we were concerned.
Now I don’t know if I was speaking loud enough for anyone else at the table to hear what I said but I felt like everyone froze in place and stared. I thought my friend who I was directing the comment at was going to need a blood transfusion as I could literally see his face changing color.
I have thought of that scene many times over the years. It never fails to put a smile on my face.
Of course our kids don’t need our high or low expectations nor do we need to lower or raise the bar for them. They will do that on their own, its their life and they will succeed or fail without our help.
But my expectations on life and its outcome for my children remains the same to this day.
Do what I have to do to keep them alive and trust God that He will help them with the rest.
In the beginning stages of my journey I had developed some bad habits. Fear was at the top of the list. Fear that I would lose another son or daughter to suicide. I starting monitoring some of their movements with the precision of a tracking device. Watching their every move, their every word, the tone in which they spoke, their attitude. I questioned everything, where are you going, who are you going with, when will you be back, how long will you be out, what is so and so like, where does she live.
They were teenagers for God’s sake. Their alter egos were all over the place, it was impossible to track them all. With all good intention I tried to nip the problem in the bud, confront what could only be described as normal teenage behavior that sent alarm bells ringing in my head.
I was on a mission to stop the next suicide attempt in my family at any cost. I was out of control. I started using strong-arm tactics and I am embarrassed by my actions, and downright horrified because it could have caused some serious damage in their young minds.
When I believed that those I was closely monitoring were moving out of the sphere of my comfort zone I would say to them, “I lost one child already, I am not going to lose you too”. I was so fearful of losing another I was willing to say anything and the sad part about all this was that I believed it. Fear turned to hysteria. Now I may be over emphasizing my actual actions but that is how I felt inside. I was terrified to lose another and willing to do what I thought was within the framework of my parenting responsibilities.
My kids were as affected if not more by Aaron’s death and here I was putting unfair pressure on their lives because I was fearful for their well-being.
One day I had a wake up call. When one of my teenage daughters was acting out and I gave her my, “I don’t want to lose another child” bit. She retaliated by giving me a well deserved verbal slap on the face. She said, “dad, not everything is about you”. I froze. She was right. I had made losing Aaron about me. I took it personal
That dressing down was the best thing that could have happened to me. I thank God for my kids, they are so forgiving.
Fear was the reason I acted the way I did but guilt was the driving force that lead me to the fear.
Unfortunately guilt comes with the territory of having a loved one take his or her life. We can feed it with fear or we can learn to keep it in its place. It’s there ready to pop it head up and devour us if we let it or we can allow the process to run its course and let guilt naturally fade from our lives.
I am a different person these days. Time and the desire to continue my journey no matter the obstacles brought me to higher ground.
The day the guilt vanished was the day I became a survivor. The day I saw my self as a survivor was the day I stopped being a victim.
If we continue to carry the guilt with us we will never be able to understand what we are fighting for. We are fighting for the survival of our lives, to be able to continue to function in a world that has turned upside down on us.
Guilt carried long enough, will make us believe that we are responsible for the death of our loved one. That is when we play the victim.
I played the victim for too long, I carried the guilt around all these years privately blaming myself for my son’s death.
My guilt and victim tag vanished in one day when I proclaimed to the world;
I am not the victim here, I am a survivor.
For better understanding you may want to read About This Blog first.
When we received Aaron’s death certificate it read “cause of death undetermined” meaning the coroner had not completed his findings on the cause of death. More than a month later I got a call from the coroner who wanted to fill me in of what he knew and to ask a few questions so he could complete his report.
He told me that there was no alcohol or drugs in Aaron’s system and then proceeded to ask some questions about his mental health and lifestyle etc. My answers were guarded, I think because I have a tendency to distrust strangers about my personal life and that of my family. It’s not that I was trying to evade his questions although I must confess I wasn’t making it easy for him to get a straight answer out of me.
He then asked if there was anyone else in the family who he could speak to that could shed some light on Aaron’s background. I directed him to my eldest daughter Lisa, who was most involved with Aaron at the time as he working in her cafe.
The next day Lisa calls and mentions her conversation with the coroner and how he felt that I was “in denial”. OK, fair enough but denial over what?
I knew that Aaron died. I knew that he walked in front of a speeding truck. I knew he would never be coming home. I knew he took his own life, I knew he would never be at another Christmas dinner or family function. So what was I in denial about?
It’s not like I was going to bed at night, reaching over and kissing my wife goodnight then say, “let’s get some sleep, I want to get up early so I can put the coffee on for Aaron when he comes home.”
No, I knew exactly what was going on.
There was obviously so many things I was confused about and didn’t understand but being in denial was not one of those things.
In saying that I must give the coroner the benefit of the doubt because delving into my memory bank I must confess he may have a case for “denial”,
The only person who knew about my loss from my work place as a mail contractor was my immediate boss. I never said a word to any of my work colleagues about my son’s death. I didn’t want any undue attention, I didn’t want any one to feel awkward around me. I am a very private person and I wanted to keep it that way.
The Christmas before April 2008 our dear kids all pitched in and gave my wife and myself Air Tickets and organized accommodation so we could go back to my home town in the United States for a holiday. I hadn’t been back for nearly forty years so it was a very special gift. We already had our tickets booked for June 2008. Two months after Aaron’s death.
We had considered postponing the trip as we knew we would still be quit raw emotionally. We were encouraged to continue with our plans as apparently it would be good for us to get away.
I asked Rhonda before we left for the states if it would be okay if we could not mention that Aaron took his own life.
My sister is my only living close relative along with her two grown married children. We spent most of our time with her. Of course she knew of the tragedy as it happened but I never told her that he intentionally walked in front of a truck.
Why? Because I was ashamed that one of my kids would do what I thought was an unthinkable selfish act. My pride got in the way and I refused at the time to allow myself to talk about it. I was confused and ashamed. Not in denial. I knew exactly what I was doing by not revealing the whole truth.
Was I confused? Absolutely.
Were there unanswered questions. You bet.
Was it a touchy subject for me? No doubt.
Was I in Denial? Not a chance.
But, and just maybe there could have been one small incident that could be interpreted and possibly sway the pendulum toward self-denial.
The week I went back to work after the funeral I was sitting in my van preparing to make a delivery at a shopping center. My eyes lifted just as a young man passed by. I didn’t see his face but from behind he looked and walked like Aaron.
I was miffed, could that be him? I had to see his face. I don’t know what I was thinking. Getting out of my van I followed the poor guy and I was off for my first ever stalking adventure. My short legs were having a hard time keeping up with this guy so I had to put on the after burners to get far enough in front of him to see his face.
Out of breath and far enough in front I did a stop and turn all in one motion like I was lost. I got a good look at this guy who looked nothing like my son. I felt pretty silly but not foolish enough to think if even for a moment that maybe, just maybe I was in a bad dream or worse, someone was playing a bad joke on me.
I will confess that for that brief moment and only the one time I may have been, just maybe “in-denial”.