My last post was seven months ago. I thought I had crossed the finished line, accomplished what I had set out to do. To put Aaron and his untimely suicide behind me. I understand that sometimes we think we have said everything that needs to be said on a subject. Sometimes we feel we just need to step back and take a deep breath. And there are times when we had enough of a subject and want to file it away Or maybe all three.
One of my boys, Gabriel (23) is living with his girlfriend (Rachel) and her parents while she is preparing to have her first child. It is a very exciting time in their lives. A few weeks ago tragedy hit Rachel’s family. Her dad ( 51) died in a motor bike accident.
On Facebook Rachel wrote a touching ode to her dad letting him know that his unborn baby grand-daughter would learn about her grandfather that she would never get to meet. Rachel also mentioned in a text to Rhonda and myself how surreal this experience has been thus far.
When I heard the news I knew the process, I was instantly transported back in time. I could feel their pain, their shock and that surreal feeling of “what the fuck just happened”. For a time you live in this bubble as you can feel your body move and think but in slow motion. You go through the motions of life wondering when you are going to wake up from this nightmare you are experiencing.
You wonder when your loved one is going to walk through the door then realizing that it was all a dream or a bad joke being played on you. You see your loved one in such obscure places like a shopping center, riding by on a bicycle or just waiting for a bus at the local bus stop.
Some people call this being in denial. I think it is being on the cusp of another world. Perhaps it is a way of God allowing you to slowly accept your loved one is pulling away and never coming back, as though you are still holding his hand while he is trying to leave this world. A time to adjust, not a time to mourn. Shock sets in as you do not want to believe what has happened and your mind does not accept the outcome. It’s not a miracle you anticipate but a mistake that you are hoping will right its way back to the way it was.
During this time friends and family are gathered, many coming out of hiding not having seen or heard from in years. For a short time you are insulated and protected from what inevitably will come, the grieving process. But this surreal feeling is a blessing in disguise, a place between two worlds. A time to be able to hold on and feel your loved one as though he is sitting right next to you. A feeling that you could learn to live with but reality will invade your space.
For me this surreal state lasted until just after Aaron’s funeral. We had a wake or gathering at our house of friends and family. When all our guests left including my dear wife who had to work that evening, the older children moving the party to another venue, I was left alone with our family dog who took his place at the end of our bed oblivious to our loss.
Alone for the first time grief hit me like a ton of bricks. Reality came in like a flood. My world would change at that moment never to be the same. That surreal feeling that enveloped me like cotton wool protecting me from heartache was gone. My life was going to change its ways forever.
I don’t know what type of grief Rachel and her family will face or how long it will last. It is up to the individual. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, no time limit. I do know that there is a light at the end of a very dark tunnel and when we come out the other end our life will never be the same. Some better, some worse.
I pray for Rachel, Gabriel and their unborn daughter that their end result will be for the better.
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.
For better understanding you may want to read About This Blog first.
Aaron’s memorial was on a Tuesday, the following Sunday happened to be Mother’s Day. Since all our family was together for the first time in years we decided to get together and celebrate mum’s day in a local park for a BBQ.
The weather was perfect and we had a 100% attendance. The mood was light and cheery, a big weight had been taken off all our shoulders as the memorial and burial weighed heavily on our hearts.
It was nice to be outdoors in the sunshine, the little ones feeding the ducks by the pond. Plenty of food and drink and more happy faces and laughing than what I expected. It had been so long since I have witnessed all my children together of all ages the eldest being about thirty-six and the youngest eleven. The grandchildren mingling with their aunts and uncles some of who were the same age gave me a feeling of joy and pride I hadn’t experienced for such a long time. It was a great day.
A regular occurrence at our past family gatherings was full on sport or games. Touch football, cricket, baseball, soccer, capture the flag etc,with all getting involved. This day was no different.
I was right in the thick of it pushing, shoving, yelping, hollering, shouting, cheering. I usually had to relinquish my competitive sportsman like in your face hands on participation for the referees whistle keeping the peace and making sure that everyone went home in one piece. An overly competitive family thanks to me.
The only wave of sadness came on me when everyone was running around laughing, yelling, arguing, teasing, pushing and high fives going every which way.
This is where Aaron thrived. In the middle of all the action. Actually he was the one who instigated getting us all out of our lounge chairs and on the playing field no matter where we were or how many we had. He usually started most arguments too.
I was never so proud of my family watching from the sidelines each one touched by Aaron’s death in their own special way but putting aside their grief to just have fun. Soon we would all return to our respective homes and have to deal more personally on the events of the week.
But not this day. This day was special.
As the “games” and pent-up energy was released on the playing fields and as the sun was about to set, Before packing up one of my girls suggested to everyone, “why don’t we make this our annual family day. We don’t get together like this too often any more, most of us have our own families now and Christmas is no longer our family get together. Why don’t we make this time each year our Special Family Day, Aaron’s day.”
Hence the beginning our yearly get together. It has become our special day. We get together, we eat, we drink we play games. We talk, we catch up, we hug and laugh together. We shed a tear or two, maybe more but very rarely mention Aaron. We don’t have too. We know why we get together each year. We’re family and Aaron is here with us each time we get together because he lives in our hearts forever.
Its two in the morning Rhonda’s phone beeps, a text has been sent. She turns on the light, grabs her glasses and reads the message half asleep. One of the kids asking if she was doing anything. If not could she pick him up from the city as he has no other way home.
My dear wife works twelve-hour days and to say she is tired at night when she crawls into bed is an understatement. Without missing a beat she texts back, “tell me where you are, I’m on my way.” She jumps out of bed gets dressed, grabs her bag and heads for the door in her pajamas.
Me with my eyes closed can picture her every move. This scene has played itself out a hundred times.
“May I remind you” I say, my eyes still glued shut, “that before he went out you told him he needs to find his own way home. You don’t have to do this”. .
“Yes I do” she says.
“Because I can, because I’m a mother, because that’s what I do.”
“Ok, you win, drive safe…..”.
Rhonda takes pride in being a mother, she loves it and she relishes the daily mundane challenges each child presents.
Broken arms, severe burns, heartbreak, bullying at school, low grades, health issues, sibling wars, police matters, teenagers, the list goes on.
Rhonda is right in the midst of it at all times, always ready to fix any problem big or small. She may not have all the answers but you can be sure she will go about finding someone who does.
One morning while having a cup of coffee together,(not many days after Aaron’s death), we were caught up in our own thoughts enjoying one of those special moments without having to speak. We were still in the “what on God’s good earth just happened to us” state of confusion.
We were understandably having a hard time accepting Aaron was no longer with us, that he would never show up unannounced anymore, that we would never see him again at a family gathering was difficult coming to terms with.
Breaking our silence Rhonda blurted out, “you can’t fix dead”.
She looked over at me to see if I had heard what she said, I did and I looked at her for an explanation.
She said, “you know, I have this philosophy in life that as long as there is a pulse,there is life and where there is life there is hope. When we have hope I have the belief that if there is a problem or one of our kids needs fixing it can be done. But you can’t fix dead. Aaron can’t be fixed anymore.”
We went back to sipping our coffee giving more attention to our own thoughts.
From time to time when we hear of a suicide our hearts go out to the survivors, the loved ones left behind. We understand the unwanted journey that each one must travel. We would look at each other and sigh, sometimes one of us would say, ” “you can’t fix dead”.
Now it impresses us even more that we can and should try even harder to fix those who still have a pulse.
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”.
For better understanding you may want to read About This Blog first.
Thank you for stopping by and having a peek at my site.
If you have read any of my posts you may express some concern over any humor I may put into my writings on such a sensitive topic as suicide. And if you are one who has lost a child or loved one to suicide or any other means I know it is an emotional and heart-rending experience.
I want to take the opportunity to say this, if you find my humor distasteful or offensive, I apologize. I mean no disrespect.
I could very well be writing from a different vantage point in my healing process as yourself. I have had over six years to get to a place where I am able to talk about my experiences of my son’s suicide openly and hopefully as honestly as possible.
Adding humor to my posts makes it easier to write from my heart. Hopefully it makes the subject matter more palatable.
I know how hard it is to come to terms with such tragedy. I know the stigma associated with the way our son has died. I know the pain, the grief, the heartache, the anger, the confusion and all the other emotions that well up inside. Its like having our own personal tsunami building up and crashing on the shores of our hearts day after day.
It may seem like it will never end and I am not sure it does completely but I can say this. Time heals. I don’t think there is any other way.
It’s going to bed at night with a heavy heart and waking up in the morning prepared to fight the battle just one more day. You get through that “one more day” and you prepare for the next. You wonder if it will ever cease.
The good news is, there is relief. I promise you, as long as you are willing to put one foot in front of the other, one day at a time and not give up you will be a survivor of your child’s death.
I know this because I am a survivor.
For better understanding you may want to read About This Blog first.
The last time I saw Aaron we had a disagreement. It wasn’t an argument, no one getting angry just a normal garden variety unresolved difference of opinion that sent each of us on our separate ways feeling uneasy. I watched Aaron walk away and I couldn’t help but feel he left somewhat discouraged. I know I was.
I never spoke to him again and one week later he took his life.
I don’t believe for one moment that this little misunderstanding between us had anything to do with him committing suicide. I have no doubts about that.
I tried my hardest to recreate that day over and over again trying to convince myself that the conversation we had ended differently. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way.
In the days, weeks and months that followed that last memory and conversation with Aaron has haunted me. I just wanted to make things right, to know in my heart that me and Aaron were good, no bad feelings between us. But there are no do overs in life where there is death.
Growing up, Aaron and I had the normal father son relationship that you find in large families. He was one of the clan, no special attention (except as a baby) and not much personal one on one time. When he was of age and left home he spent a lot of time overseas, so much of our contact was via letter writing.
When he returned from living overseas, being away quite a few years, I had to get to know a completely different man. He was wanting to start his life over, settle down and look toward a career.
Considering his options he expressed his desire to study law and become a defense lawyer or a policeman. Now thats an oxymoron if there ever was one.
We did have one thing in common that was special to both of us. We loved sports, playing it and following it.
Aaron took everything very seriously and was quite intense so I knew how to get under his skin. When watching or talking sport I always took the opposing side. I loved seeing him getting riled up. On one occasion when we were watching the Rugby World cup he was such a patriotic fan, Go Aussies.
I said to him, “you know, Australia is my second favorite team in this world cup.
“Who’s the first” he asked.
“All the other teams” I told him.
He was fuming. He called me unpatriotic.
We also knew when to stop if we were barracking for different teams. An unwritten rule we had, nothing said after winning or losing. We could each walk away with some pride and no hard feelings. That was important to both of us. If we crossed the line, a simple hug and an “I love you” was suffice to make things right.
Revisiting that last conversation and meeting with Aaron I know I could never take it back or do anything to make it right. Eventually it did become a turning point in how I began to view each “last” conversation with all of my children.
If there any misunderstandings, bad feelings, harsh words, negative body language or anything that caused tension at the end of any exchange with any of my children no matter how old or how far away they lived, I made every effort to make it a priority to get things right, ASAP.
I would usually call, text or email my apologies, say I was sorry for how we ended our last encounter and try to move on. I’m so thankful my kids understand me and are always quick to forgive. Even if it wasn’t my fault. Ha
Of course this parenting technique is probably not the best example to follow but it has worked for me.
It’s not a permanent solution but I am completely happy with band-aid tactics until I am comfortable with knowing that not every disagreement and argument is going to lead to someone going over the edge.
But it does leave me with a peaceful feeling knowing me and my kids are good.
On April 29, 2008 my son Aaron walked against the traffic on the main highway leading out of town. Head bent down texting a friend, “it’s over”, he then walked in front of a truck and was killed instantly. Aaron was 28 years old, I was 59.
Six & a half years later I am starting this blog writing about my personal experiences as a father who lost a son. It’s not about Aaron and what he did and why he did it. I can’t speak for him. It’s not about his mother or brothers and sisters whose loss was in no way any less traumatic for them as it was for me. I can’t speak for them nor do I feel I have the right to.
But I do intend to be as honest about his suicide and its effect on my life.
I write in hope that I might be able to connect with others who may have had the same experience or who knows someone who did. I believe we are put on this earth to help each other in some way make sense of the truth in our lives whatever that may be.
At the same all these memories and experiences are like pieces to a puzzle. As I write, I hope each piece will find its way into the bigger picture.
I had to decide whether to write a private journal that I might someday turn into a book or a blog that I can immediately share my experiences with others who could use some solidarity and companionship through someone who has been subject to the same grief, heartbreak, anger, compassion, understanding and unconditional love because of the loss of a well-beloved child.
They say time is a great healer and for me this has been true. I tested my emotional metal by watching a video clip that a family friend put together for us to play at Aaron’s funeral. He used a song from one of Aaron’s favorite bands along with photos from birth to a grown man. In the six and a half years that followed I tried to watch it again one time about a year after his death. I got no further than the first few photos before I had to turn it off.
When I decided to write this blog I wanted to see how strong I have grown since that fateful day by watching this video clip once again. The turmoil that erupted inside was no less violent than the day he died, but I made it to the end. I had come a very long way.
When I was twenty two I was camping in the mountains of New Jersey for an extended period of time. I was going through the DIM (do it myself phase in my life) I had this massive hunting knife that made Crocodile Dundee’s double-edged look like a pen knife.
I was making my own bread at the time. This particular loaf was hard as a rock. I tried to slice a piece and my knife bounced off the bread into my index finger. It cut deep and hurt like the dickens.When my finger sewed itself up the cut must have damaged a nerve because whenever I touched it I felt a sharp pain. For many years that followed the pain from this cut was still quite evident and constant.
Eventually the pain subsided but the small scar remains to this day which reminds me of the mishap forty-four years ago.
The pain from Aaron’s death is still very painful when I allow myself to touch it. It is getting easier as each day or month passes but the scar I know will remain forever.
Everyone has their own way of mourning the death of a loved one. Everyone has their own healing process.
If I can help make that process easier for others by sharing my story then this blog will be worth its weight in gold.
Thanks for visiting,