Life 18 Months After Suicide Loss

Grief is a living thing. It starts one way and then it changes and changes. That is what I am learning as I get further and further down this journey. It does not go away, get better or ever become less painful. It is like ground zero and life goes on all around it, but it is still there like a crater in the ground where the bomb went off.

Today I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts about grief.  (Having a favorite grief podcast by your favorite grief memoirist is part of the weirdness of this new life of mine. Only people who have their own new grief life will know what I’m talking about. )

Well, today the episode of Nora McInerny’s podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking, was about suicide loss. Apparently, September is Suicide Awareness month. I hate that name because I am more than aware that suicide is a thing and that it fucks up everything it touches. Suicide threatens to ruin my life every single morning when I wake up and remember that my son is in a grave up the road from me or every night when I fall asleep knowing that I can mark down one more day of this life which is one day closer to me seeing Anthony again.

This new life sucks. I am not going to even try to sugar coat that. Things are weird here. We talk openly about dead people, they are still a part of our daily reality, we talk to kids about those dead people and we have our own rituals that help us keep the memory of the dead person alive. We also have an irrational fear of forgetting our dead person and it is not weird for us to refer to them as our “dead person”. Anthony is my dead person. He is ground zero. He is gone but yet he is everywhere. He took his own life and in doing that, he blew up the lives of every single person that he loved more than anything.

I listened to a widow on this podcast talk about her husband’s suicide and her ground zero as I sat in my gym parking lot. That parking lot used to be a Garden Ridge. My husband and I bought our first Christmas tree there when we first moved to the suburbs a decade ago. Anthony was so excited about how life was so much better than it had ever been. We bought the biggest tree we could find and hundreds of dollars of Christmas lights to go with it. It was black Friday and Stacey was so happy to buy all the kids Christmas presents. It was the first real Christmas my kids had in their whole lives.

This morning I sat in that space where we bought all those decorations and listened to a woman talk about her husband’s death by suicide relating to what she was saying because my son, the same son who was so happy just ten years ago, is also dead by suicide.

Anthony had driven past this spot in town a lot in his life. It was the way to his apartment from my house. He must have driven down this feeder road the morning he died as he drove Dan to work that morning. One day he was here driving on these roads and then one day he was dead. And the world kept turning.

This morning the highway was full of cars and people going on with their lives. Red mustangs zoomed by.  I am sure he passed by this corner of town a million times in his red Mustang, but today he is in his grave and I am sitting here listening to a podcast building a life around ground zero.

Part of the reason that I ended up deleting all of my old social media is that I realized I am not the same person I was before Anthony committed suicide. Not at all.  I am a completely new person, this is a whole new life and in order to accept that and begin building a life around ground zero, I needed a fresh start. Not one without Anthony but one with the grief that his suicide left behind. Staying stuck in the in-between of my old life and this new existence was exhausting.

I woke up one day fed up with it. I was fed up with my front yard looking like this house had been abandoned a year ago, I was fed up with being overweight, I was fed up with feeling like my chest was going to explode from anxiety and I was fed up with waiting for Anthony to come back. God, I would do anything for that to be possible but it isn’t and being stuck in this mess was not going to make it happen.

I was also pretty pissed off at God and I needed a change in that relationship too because I was also tired of just going through the motions but not knowing what I really believed anymore. I had to ask myself what I wanted out of life. Before Anthony died, I thought I knew what I wanted but after his suicide, that was all blown up with everything else.

So what exactly do I want? Who am I now? Who was I then? Where am I going from here? Where did Anthony go in all of that? Where did God go in it? Where did the rest of my family and my husband fit in it? 

It felt as if I had been stripped of everything and I was starting life over. I almost felt as if I was losing my mind for a little bit, but what I knew was that I needed to take a break from life on social media and do this on my own without opinions or influences or jealousies of mine or my own flaws of thinking that everyone else has a better life than I do.

In my rage cleaning, I ended up with a prayer closet. The first thing I did in this new prayer closet was to have a phone conversation with a wonderful priest who I trust to be honest and blunt with me. I told him that I was devastated and could not see a way out of the anger, despair, and grief.

He gave me a lot of great words of wisdom on how to begin to rebuild. First, he validated my pain which he said made perfect sense because a child becomes a part of their mother while she is pregnant so to be separated from my son is the most painful thing I will ever endure in my life.

I left that conversation with a plan.

I needed to find an outlet for my anger, find time and space to sit in the presence of God for two minutes a day and I needed to find a support group. I also needed to return to the Sacraments. So I joined a gym to release my anger, I’ve been spending time with God more, I went to confession and I have found a support group and plan to begin going this month.

Then my husband and I cleaned our front yard. We cleared the flower bed, planted some plants and we mulched our backyard. I also began to clean the inside of the house and eventually will get around to cleaning the kids’ bathroom which will be a penance I can offer up for the Church. It is so disgusting that it should bring us all a lot of Grace! I am also slowly returning to social media, mostly with new accounts.

And from there I have begun to feel alive again. Alive and still grieving but alive.

That is where I am at 18 months after burying my son, the love of my life and my best friend. I miss him every single second of every single day. I wish he was here. I hate the thought of life without him and all the new gyms that will be built in his absence or the fact that I am eating organic oatmeal and he is not here to make fun of me. I hate not being able to text him a joke I find funny and he responds by telling me how old I am. But this is my new life and I can control how I build it in his honor. It is the only choice I have because going back is not an option and giving up would only add to the pain of my family.
What do I want out of life? I want to help people heal and I want to do it carrying the memory of my son with me every step of the way.  It starts by allowing myself to be healed first.

I miss you Anthony and I hope you know how much I love you.

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My thoughts on the Church Scandal

Hello everyone! I just wanted to let ya’ll know that I have been writing about all of my thoughts and emotions about the latest round of Catholic Chaos over on my Patheos Blog if you want to go read them. I wanted to write about all of it with my fellow Patheos writers.

Please pray for the victims of sex abuse and for those of us who have our own abuse brought up in these stories.

Here is the link on where to find me on Patheos!

The Angry Dog

Once I went to confession and the priest told me that my anger was like a wild dog that was chained to a tree and barked wildly at anyone who got near it. At the time I sat there looking at Father with a blank stare because I had no idea what to even do with that statement.

The day of my Tio’s funeral in my hometown I decided that I would walk from the Church where we had our family meal after the Mass and graveside services since it was only a block away from my Tio’s house where I was staying. I had walked this entire town for most of my childhood and wanted the fresh air. As I took off down a back road a crazy dog showing his teeth came running up on me barking only to be jerked back by his chain. This made me think of what Father had said to me about my anger and gave me a visual to attach to what he said but still, I didn’t quite get it.

Today, I get it. I am so mad. At the root of that anger is pain. The pain of my childhood, of my broken relationship with my mother, of the lies that people tell themselves and others about me to make themselves look and feel better about the awful things they did to me (and to Anthony as in the case with his biological father) and for always being left to take care of myself. I am also angry at how all of my own hurts caused the death of my son.

That anger makes me run up on people who are just walking by like that dog did to me on my walk after Tio’s funeral. Or even worse, my anger lashes out at people who are just trying to help me, even if they are fumbling at doing it.

Grief is an asshole. There is no right thing to say to me. And saying something or not saying something hurts because life hurts. Talking about Anthony hurts and not talking about him hurts. Waking up hurts. And pain makes my anger worse and then the anger makes my pain worse. It’s a horrible cycle.

During that confession Father said to me that it was time for me to take the wild dog that is my anger. Since I had no real idea what he meant by that, I just shrugged it off. A few weeks ago I spoke to the same priest about my grief and he gave me solid advice on real concrete things to do.

One of them was to find an outlet for my anger like exercise. So I started working out and it is helping so much. I have nothing to lose so i don’t even care if I look horrible in front of everyone. I just need to let out steam and I do!

Second is to spend 5 minutes in prayer even if it is to tell God off or to say nothing at all to him. I have been doing that too. In the middle of rage cleaning, I ended up with a prayer closet. An extra desk ended up fitting in there perfectly and I out my extra Catechism, Divine Office and white board in there and suddenly I had a prayer closet. God is hilarious.

Third is to find a support group. This is my least favorite piece of advice. But I’m going to try it anyway and begin next Thursday. It just so happens that a support group for suicide loss began in the town north of me where Anthony is buried. Just deciding to go has helped.

All three of these things plus going to confession and Mass this past week have lifted a huge weight off me and I feel as if the wild dog that is my anger is a bit tamer and calmer.

Yesterday someone who I have had an ongoing issue with sent me harassing messages online and I stayed calm, didn’t lash out and didn’t insult her back and I just walked away from the whole thing rather than argue and exchange hurtful words. I also allowed myself to admit that her insults hurt me. I never would have done that before. I would have let my anger rule my actions. Instead i realized that something awful had to have happened to her for her to treat another person that way, the same as something awful happened to me that has me treating people that way. That made me feel compassion for her and also gave me the wisdom to walk away from it entirely.

I can only control myself, my words, my actions. What I am choosing to control today is that angry dog.