It has occurred to me that I have a tab up there into which I should toss some of what I've learned over the past 2.5 years. The following eight things are what come to mind off the top of my head. They should be read with The Lovely Daughter's remonstrance in mind: "Mom, everyone is not you." She's right; I only know what works and doesn't for me. Some of these probably apply to anyone whose child has died, in whatever way, or to anyone who's suffered any kind of death at all. Other ideas? ~ add them to the comments.
I've passed scripture and theology and worship and polity and exegesis ordination exams. Not one of them asked anything about what I really learned during my seminary years, about how to live beyond your child's death from suicide:
1. Ask everything you can think of to ask; look at whatever there is to look at. Or not. My primary sources of information after my son died were the woman who ran his apartment building, the detective who investigated the "case," and my son's girlfriend. I asked what I could ~ which wasn't much ~ at first, and later I peppered the detective with questions and asked him to show me everything that he could. I talked to the coroner and to the funeral home director and to the crematorium personnel. I saw my son's body, touched him and held him, and accompanied him to the crematorium. My husband did not do any of those things, and as far as I know is glad he didn't.
2. Learn what you can about suicide. Read, go to groups, look around online. You will probably be surprised by how little you know and how much there is to learn about this taboo of all taboos. It will make you sick at first, but gradually you will get used to horrific words and pictures and concepts. My husband doesn't do this either.
3. Do your work, whenever you can and in whatever increments you can. Or find something else, perhaps an activity or event to memorialize your child. My friend Karen G does amazing work, all kinds of it, with respect to children and cancer. People told me that it would help me to go back to my seminary and spiritual direction classes, and it did. (For the record, I thought at the time that they were showing signs of extreme delusional thinking.) I could not have gone back to teaching energetic and hopeful high school students, but I could return to the fairly controlled and solitary life of a graduate student.
4. Expect bodily stress, and expect no doctor to inquire about it. Weight gain, weight loss, headaches, joint aches, sleeplessness, exhaustion, intestinal messes, cognitive dysfunction. I am just starting to address this particular arena, and I know that I have a great deal to learn. I have to re-learn how to eat, how to move, and how to sleep, and I am guessing that all of those challenges are inter-related.
5. Find someone with some expertise who will listen to you. For a long time. Years. A therapist, a spiritual director, a pastor, a rabbi. This will not necessarily be the person or people whom you expect it to be. Friends get tired and experience hurt of their own (see below). Many experts and professionals have little or no experience with the
profound grief raving lunacy of bereaved parents, or of anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one by suicide. Many pastoral types are fearful or feel threatened by people who are intensely angry or feel deeply betrayed by God, or who have completely wiped their hands of God. Very few people have the stamina and creativity required to be present to a parent who has lost a child to suicide.
6. Recognize that your most genuine relationships will change. Family and friends will disappoint you and you will disappoint them. People really, really hate it when you become healthy enough to state the obvious and the true: that the "Before" life is over. They want you to be who you were, and have no way of understanding the courage and fortitude it takes to become the person who lives with and despite this new reality.
7. Make new traditions. New holiday places. New places to go out to dinner. New vacation spots. My friend Karen J has instituted a wonderful tradition of Monday night extended family dinners: They help her busy daughters, bring the warmth of family to her sons-in-law, offer her grandchildren the security of a loving circle (and the opportunity to improve table conversation and manners - Karen leaves no stone unturned!), and assuage some of her own terrible grief. But ~ all this newness takes tremendous energy. And so:
8. Take your time. It, whatever it is, takes however long it takes.