This month, our blog takes a look at a very powerful story written by a student in our Wellness Counsellor Diploma program. She has agreed to let us publish her story in the hopes that it may assist others to understand this very painful experience. Her courage and dedication to use her experiences to help others find their way though extreme pain is remarkable. Please read and feel free to post any comments you have.
November 13, 2008 my oldest son made a very final decision about the direction of his life when he committed suicide. He was 18 years old. He had just moved to Kelowna to live with his father and had started at UBC-Okanagan in September, full of excitement and hope. In retrospect, I realized that the transition to the adult world was too much for him. He wasn’t ready and he was struggling with the change. There was a lot of change. I had ended a seven year common-law relationship with my boyfriend 11 months earlier. Over Christmas holidays our family dynamic changed abruptly.
My boyfriend and his two daughters had moved in with us about eight months after I split from my husband. The oldest daughter tortured my son with her constant criticisms and sharp-tongued sarcasm. His sensitive and socially immature temperament left him with little ammunition to defend himself against her relentless attacks. He had vocalized his hatred of her many times over the years. My boyfriend had been a friend of my ex-husband before we got together and my son had all kinds of judgements about that. Underneath this seething disapproval, he missed his step-dad greatly, though he pretended not to.
Thursday, November 7, my son called me on the phone to let me know just how I had failed. He blamed me for ruining my life and his. I had failed him, the other kids, and myself. He was angry that I was dating, and he wanted me to stop. He was yelling at me, scolding and berating me. I was shocked and hurt by this…attack, seemingly from out of nowhere. I tried to reason with him, but the onslaught continued. On and on he yelled, his bitterness and hurt spewing from him, his accusations hardly making sense. I listened in stunned silence. Then I got angry, very angry. I let him know that he could not talk to me this way, this was unacceptable. I told him that I would talk to him about anything concerning this issue if he could talk calmly and rationally without yelling at me, but if not, I didn’t want to see him. How dare he talk to me like that. I was offended and indignant, but I also felt the guilt and shame of his judgements burning me like a hot poker. My thoughts taunted me. Maybe he was right. Maybe I had made a terrible mistake. Maybe a lot of mistakes. Maybe I was a thoughtless, selfish person, just like he said.
Saturday he showed up on my doorstep miserable but apologetic. That night, I listened to everything he had to say, to all of the pain he had been holding in for so long. It was hard to hear his misery and to know that the results of my decisions had affected him so deeply. I told him how very sorry I was for his pain. If I could take it back, I would. It was never my intention to make him miserable. How could I know it would be so hard for him, so hard for us all? I had pain too, but there had been lots of happiness, and I had learned a lot. I told him it was important to try to find the good in what happened and not just focus on the bad… After that talk, we had a great weekend together, just the two of us. Watching House, raking leaves, eating his favourite foods and chatting about this and that.
He also confided in me that weekend that he was failing English. He said he couldn’t tell his father, even though I encouraged him to do so and tried to convince him his dad would understand. That he could help him. But he didn’t see it. He didn’t think his father would accept failure. I persuaded him to talk to his prof when he went back to school and see if he could do anything to improve his mark. Then he would have to talk to his dad.
The next evening I put him on the bus to Kelowna for the last time. On the way to the bus depot we talked some more about the issue at school and how he could tell his dad. I told him “You know I love you with all my heart, don’t you” and he said “Yah mom, I know.”
The next day was my mother’s birthday and I had called her in the morning to wish her happy birthday. I went to work as usual and got home shortly after 6. The call came sometime around 7:30. My younger son handed the phone to me. It was my kids’ father, insistent, telling me to go to my bedroom, close the door and sit down. The bottom dropped out of my stomach and fear formed a knot in the space. I knew something was terribly wrong. My younger son was hovering outside my bedroom door, intuitively aware that something terrible had happened. Through the alarm bell clanging in my head, I heard the voice on the phone telling me my son was dead. My first born had hung himself.
I felt numb. Tears slid silently down my face, but I could barely comprehend why. Perhaps it was some cruel joke. But no, his voice was still on the phone grimly reporting the details. Everything and nothing flashed through my brain. Time was standing still. I hung up from the call to knocking on the door, concern heavy in his voice. Mom, mom, what’s wrong? Has something happened? As I reported the grim news he wept, the question on his lips that was screaming in my head… Why???
In the days that followed, my ex-husband and I planned our son’s funeral together, in some sort of waking dream. We were both acutely aware of the grim irony of the similarities between planning a funeral and a wedding, and how our son would never have the latter. Paradoxically, I was so busy with the planning, I didn’t have much time for anything thinking…or feeling. My best friend had come to stay with me. Thank God for her, she managed many of the details I was incapable of and was constantly by my side. I don’t know what I would have done without her. I looked after my other four children mechanically and fell into an exhausted, drug-induced sleep at night. I woke early each morning, to a few seconds of blissful fogginess until the wall of pain, guilt, and blame hit me like a cold wave. For who should bear the responsibility for his pain but me? How could I not see it? How could I not see the extent of his anguish? I was in this crazy conflict of emotions both cursing the fact that he was gone and yet grateful to God for that last weekend and the opportunity to tell my son how much I loved him. When I could finally manage to compose myself, I got up to face the reality of the day. I could not allow my grief to cripple me. I had to stay strong…for the other children.
Shower, brush teeth, dress, go to funeral home, plan, choose flowers, urn, casket, write eulogy, choose pictures, set times, make arrangements with cemetery, and on and on it went, one day merging with the next.
My ex-husband and I had split when our oldest son was 10. Our divorce had been long and bitter, we were barely able to have civil conversation, and the family was divided accordingly. Inexplicably though, my ex and I were able to agree and work together on the arrangements for our son’s funeral, leaning heavily on each other for support. It seemed as though we were fused together by our grief, our common need to relate and have another human being understand our pain. Only we two could possibly understand the depths of this despair. Only we two could know this anguish.
My ex’s large extended family, many of whom I hadn’t seen for 10 years descended in a wave to give their condolences. I was flung into their midst and found that they were warm and supportive. I had the opportunity to have a frank discussion with my ex brother-in-law and his wife and begin to heal the breech of misunderstanding from the split-up and bitter court battle. I began to realize that my son’s death was a catalyst for change. He had always wanted his family together. Now it seemed he was getting his wish. He had somehow sparked some healing.
The day of the funeral was surreal. I leaned heavily on my ex-husband as he walked me down the chapel aisle, grateful to have him there to support me. The funeral service itself was a blur, but what sticks in my memory was the outpouring of love and compassion I felt from everyone. It was amazing. Like a huge warm blanket. My son was a shy, socially awkward kid who thought he didn’t have many friends. Nothing could have been further from the truth. So many people attended the funeral that they had to make the chapel at the funeral home bigger to accommodate everyone. People said such amazing, beautiful things. Some told me wonderful stories about him, about his wit, his love of history and his compassion. Classmates, teachers, co-workers from his part- time job at Safeway, parents of friends, people I hadn’t seen in years, all coming to pay their respects and show they cared for a young man whose life had been so tragically cut short. Show they cared for my son. I’m quite sure he had no idea of the effect his death would have on so many people. A ripple effect as if from a pebble being cast into the stillness of a pond.
A week after my son’s funeral, I returned to work. I had missed a total of two weeks, but it seemed like two years. It felt like I was walking the gauntlet. Most people wanted to express their condolences. Some wore their pity on their faces, their voices heavy with it; it was almost unbearable. Seeing it there brought fresh pain. Others were so uncomfortable that they were unable to talk about it altogether and acted as if things were normal. Things were anything but normal.
As I sat down at my desk, I saw a tiny tissue-wrapped package. I opened it and found two small stones, a gift from one of my friends at work. As I held the stones tears streamed down my face and I realized that I was part of a much bigger picture.