Anniversaries – The Day I Wish Wasn’t

antique calendarCalendars are for marking days.  We write down plans, appointments, birthdays and anniversaries so we don’t miss something important.  There is a date on my calendar that has no marking yet glares at me as if written in neon – April 24th.   Every year I dread flipping the page from March to April because I know that the date will be staring back at me.  If I had my choice, I would remove it from my calendar in hopes that ignoring it would somehow take away its pain.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  The daunting day with all of its triggers arrives as scheduled.  What then do I do with this day that is more than a date; a date that will bring tsunami force waves of grief and the consummate wrestling match of emotions?  What do you even call the yearly recurrence of a date that twisted your fairytale life into a nightmare?

My quest continues for the best way to handle the day.  I begin by praying long in advance.  I ask those who mourn with me to pray.  It seems to be best for our family to be away from home where the walls close in and painful memories echo through the rooms.  This year we chose to go hiking at a nearby national park.  The beauty of God’s creation embraced us under the canopy of trees and the sound of water running from fresh springs was a soothing melody.  We stopped along a path to let the children enjoy a spring.  I grabbed the camera, for one lesson I have learned from all of this is that you can never have too many pictures.  I snapped a picture of the girls splashing in the water. FullSizeRender(3) What I thought would be just another picture turned out to be one of God’s little kisses.  A sunbeam shone from the heaven into the pool of water by the girls. I hadn’t noticed it when I took the picture. How amazing that God would give us this beautiful vision of Taylor being with us on that day.

I am still groping for answers as to how to make the day part of the healing process rather than another tear in already wounded heart. My answers will likely look different than yours.  That’s okay.  tug of warWhile I engage in an emotional tug-of-war where fear, weariness, anger, anxiety, betrayal and confusion pull with vehemence against peace, assurance, and fortitude, I must let the hope of what I know be my anchor on the rope’s end.  I know that God loves me.  I know He is sovereign.  I know that He has gone to prepare a place for me and He will come back and take me that I may also be where He is (John 14:3).  I know that not only when that day comes will I see my Savior, but also my son.  This hope which I intentionally seek gives me the strength to face a day that is reminder of the healing that is still taking place within me; of the contrast between what I am and what I seem.

Frederick Buechner in A Room Called Remember: Uncollected Pieces says this, “The time is ripe for looking back over the day, the week, the year, and trying to figure out where we have come from and where we are going to, for sifting through the things we have done and the things we have left undone for a clue to who we are and who, for better or worse, we are becoming. But again and again we avoid the long thoughts….We cling to the present out of wariness of the past. And why not, after all? We get confused. We need such escape as we can find. But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need—not all the time, surely, but from time to time—to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as a part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of the room is Remember—the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.”

Let the day be what it needs to be for your personal healing.  Let others know what you need and want for the day.  The journey to peace in this tragedy is far from over and anniversaries are one of the many hurdles along the course.  The pain is real and it is deep because our love is real and deep. book with flower I didn’t write the story of this life.  If I had, there would be no nightmare.  I don’t understand it, but I trust the One who is the Author of Life.  The One who holds time and seasons allows a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to tear and a time to mend – Ecc 3:1-8.  That fateful date has forever changed who I am.  I wrestle with the nightmare, but intentionally seek hope that will give me the strength for today and wisdom for the long road ahead.

God knows your pain,

Kristi

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Suicide – Overcoming the Stigma

Suicide.  It is a word we avoid; spoken only when necessary and then in a hushed utterance because merely its mention evokes an uncomfortable feeling in both the speaker and the listener.  Survivors languish in a lonely grief because society’s unenlightened view of suicide leaves them feeling marked.  In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne is made to wear the letter “A” visibly upon her bodice in order to expose and shame her as punishment for adultery. scarlet letter

“It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.”

Suicide is an event that drains the color from your world except for the emblazoned “S” that shows itself bold upon your being. S for the social, moral and religious stigma that, whether perceived or real, leaves you feeling disgraced or stained.  S for the shame and solitude of imposed guilt. S for the struggle between your love for the victim and your feeling of abandonment.  S for the deafening silence we endure for fear that the mention of their name or the admission of your pain might foist on others a delicate uneasiness.flaming s with heart

Whether the stigma is suppositious or substantive, its effects are the same.  Its burden is yoked upon your shoulders and complicates the already wearisome toil of grief.  The rugged path before you looks much like the path you have trekked since the journey began and the monotony of its incessant difficulty is exhausting.

As survivors, we need to throw off the yoke of stigma that encumbers us.  Release yourself from its weight.  There should be no disgrace.  My son’s suicide was not an act of cowardice or selfishness.  Whether your loved one had a history of depression or was engulfed in short-term darkness that led to an emotional stroke, at that moment there was no choosing. They were blinded by the lies that depression threw in their faces – It will never get better.  I have disappointed.  They are better off without me.  Depression robbed them of the resiliency needed to live.  Depression is not a lack of faith.  It is an illness.  Blame lies only in the illness, not in the victim.  Let’s enlighten society to the truths of suicide.  Let’s show others how to look for warning signs.  Let’s teach others that survivors need to grieve without time limits and according to their own needs rather than a prescribed plan.  Let’s show the world that we want our loved one to be known for the life they lived and not the manner in which they died.

As Christians, let the S which brands our lives be that of our Savior.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:37-39

Let is stand for the Savior who knows our suffering. Let the S stand for salvation which one day reunites us.  Let it stand for the shelter of His wings.  Let it stand for the security of knowing our names and the names of our loved one are permanently etched on the palm of His hand and made visible by the blood from the nails.

engraved in his palm

Hawthorne says of Hester, “She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.”  Grief is a path that is difficult to walk without the added weight of stigma.  Release yourself from its burden.  Find solace in Christ and strength from the many other survivors who understand your pain.

 

I’m praying for you,

Kristi

 

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Suicide – Behind the Mask

Life is full of uncertainties, difficulties and change. These unavoidable bumps in the road are the things that build character. While the mind realizes this, the heart longs for the comfort of surety. We choose the lane that offers the smoothest ride and look for the signs that warn of the danger of construction, detours, uneven lanes and speed bumps. There is great comfort in certainty and for most of my life I lived smugly within the predictable pages of my fairy-tale existence. The occasional disruptions were short-lived and only served to make the rest of the story more interesting because everyone knows that fairytales end with “happily ever after.” IMG_0074On April 24, 2013 my storybook life came to an abrupt ending when our oldest son, Taylor, took his life with absolutely no warning at the age of 27. It is a day forever deeply etched in life of our family. It is history only in that it was a life changing event, but a past that forever haunts and influences our present and future.

Suicide – such an ugly word. A word that even in my worst nightmare I never expected to be spoken in regard to my perfect little family dream. After all, we are financially privileged, well-educated and faithful Christians. I prayed daily for our children. I was the stay-at-home mom who taught Sunday School, was an active member of the PTA board, and team mom. Our house was the place where the kids hung out and called me Momma Prince. Our older 3 boys were well on their way to successful lives and the younger 4 were still keeping us busy at home. Yep, it’s the stuff fairy tales are made of.

On October 6, 1985 Tim and I welcomed our first son. I was so proud, but at the same time so scared. I remember walking in the house with him for the first time and thinking, “Oh my! This isn’t a baby-sitting job. I am responsible for this little life. We entrusted him to God and prayed that he would become a man after His own heart. Not that we never made mistakes, but we did our best and Taylor made it easy to be parents. He seemed to have beenrobin-williams-smile born an old soul with wisdom and understanding beyond his years. He was compassionate, brilliant, and a gifted musician. His energy and charisma drew people to him and he was a source of joy for all those he encountered. But, while he was a light to hundreds who called him friend, no one knew his battle with darkness. The Mr. Perfect kept his pain, secrets, fear and despair hidden behind a mask of laughter, service and a gregarious personality. When a crack in that mask threatened to expose the small piece of darkness that exists in all of us to some extent, Taylor let the devil convince him that the darkness would supersede his good.

He came to visit me only hours before. I knew that he was hurting and dealing with feelings of guilt and regret. But, he told me that for the first time in a couple of weeks, he actually felt hope. Three hours later I found him. A sound erupted from me unlike any I had ever made, a wail of lament as my heart shattered into a million pieces. shattered_heart_by_demonvash08-d4x2v4rAnd so began our life detour of complicated grief.

All grief drapes its heavy cloak that threatens to smother you and comparisons of grief would be inappropriate, for the worst grief is your own. Complicated grief adds another layer to the cloak because not only do you grieve the loss and its immense sorrow, but you must also face the trauma associated with the loss. The grief becomes overwhelming and seems unending. It catapults you into the territory of an invisible enemy where anger, guilt, and disappointment rage and unanswered questions bombard. Where shame leaves you exposed and abandonment seems to leave you alone in the fight. The battle is fierce and unrelenting and exhaustion makes the fight more difficult. The casualties of the war are many.

I have learned a great deal in the past three years. The lessons are difficult and I have in no way mastered them. There are still daily skirmishes in the battle. Some of these can be fought alone, but some others require the support of family and friends who willingly fight beside me and tend my festering wounds. They serve as the hands and feet of a Savior who was also wounded in battle but won the war. I am a casualty of this earthly war that was not of my choosing, but I will not let myself be defeated. Grief is a formidable foe and shame is a bully, but God is my shield. I am slowly beginning to pick up the shards of my shattered heart. Gradually I work to piece them together with a mortar of God’s grace and love that He has mixed with my tears of sorrow. I’m not sure what it will look like. One thing is certain, it will never look like the old me. It is a work in progress and the completion date won’t be until we reach Heaven’s victory party.

In the meantime, let’s fight together.
Kristi

PS: Over the next several weeks I hope to address topics that deal specifically with suicide. I would appreciate your prayers. It is such a difficult subject, but in the last 4 days I have had three people contact me about friends who have lost loved ones to suicide. Only someone who has walked its ugly path can offer words of comfort. Feel free to message me.

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