Dealing with grief is important. According to the Centers for
Disease Control (Dec 2011), there are more than 34,000 suicides
in the US each year - averaging 95 suicides per day, one every
15 minutes and 11.26 suicides per 100,000 population. You don't
want to become one of them.
do not happen in even time increments since they occur disproportionately
more during the holidays. The numbers swell well past 95 suicides
per day during the holidays and fall back again in less stressful
can tell from personal experience that holidays became highly
stressful after the death of my son. I could not wait for them
to be over. At family gatherings during Thanksgiving and Christmas,
I found excuses to leave the house - go outside for some air,
stretch my legs, anything to be alone for 20 minutes. Always
the same prayer, "Please let this day be over soon."
All because holidays - a time a family togetherness - made
it glaringly obvious that I was not together with my son.
the first year after Travis' death, I was a most serious suicide
risk. In the next few years, the risk diminished but was always
seen as a legitimate alternative to living without him. I was
not afraid of death - death that ended the pain, I would have
welcomed. It was the pain in others my own suicide would have
caused, that I could not accept. But the ice was pretty thin
more than twenty years, I had talked with no one about it. My
son, my only child, died by suicide, leaving no clues in advance
and leaving no note behind. Counseling would have been a wise
decision - except for the part about having to talk about it.
is really about your children, your students and personal losses,
not mine. This is only offered here as a suggestion for those
mired in grief.
with others is good. Repetition diminishes the pain while you
search for meaning and answers. It also takes a truly good friend
to listen because while it seems necessary for one person to
repeat the story a hundred times, it is exhausting to listen
to it more than once.
if you are the one with the grief, rely on your 100 friends.
Also, pay a licensed, qualified, grief counselor as one who can
give you objective feedback - comfort you when comfort is needed
and challenge you when challenge is called for.
did neither. I refused to rely on friends and family - and they
may have been grateful; they had their own lives and losses to
deal with without listening to me for hours on end. Because Travis
was the son of my first marriage, it seemed so unfair to me to
lay the burden of this conversation on my second family.
even seeking professional counseling was too demanding because
I would still have to talk about it, come up with the words,
have to re-live, in the presence of another, the unspeakable
experience. And by the way, exactly how do you speak about the
was wrong. Years passed while I kept stuffing the pain back deep
inside. Denial and I became old friends. For the seven
or eight years ahead, I worked very, very hard on my business,
traveling as many as 200 days a year to speak at conventions
and conferences. Nearly every hotel room has a Gideon Bible in
the nightstand drawer.
Twenty-one years after Travis took his own life, I finally got
help. It was a choice between allowing his death to completely
consume my life, or facing the issue and finding a way to live
while still accommodating this loss.
long will this take?" I wanted to know.
is no normal length of time. You'll know when you get there,"
they told me.
my case, it took five months of weekly therapy. Roughly half
of that time was one-on-one with a grief counselor where for
the first time in two decades, I was able to express aloud to
another person the depths of the despair held inside. Yes, it
took me two months to get that out into the light.
other half of the time was spend in weekly group therapy with
others; our common ground was we had all lost someone without
having the chance to say goodbye. Confidentiality rules mean
I cannot share the kinds of losses, but I can tell you it was
a withering list of circumstances. And yet for each of us, having
such awfulness in common with others meat we did not have to
be alone anymore.
never saw any of them again after our tenth meeting. But knowing
first hand that there are others in the world who know very
well what it means to experience our pain, made living easier.
one can tell you how to circumvent your pain, what solution is
right for you. I can tell you how it worked out for me.
the moment I knew of Travis' death, I was focused on the death
itself. How deep was he into his problems, how alone was he that
he could not pick up a phone to say he needed help? Or just to
say hello and let me figure it out from there? "Travis,
something is wrong. Tell me."
he told no one, let no note. He simply excused himself from the
world and stepped out. What if I had been there? What if he could
have known how much we needed him in our lives - since clearly
he was able to dismiss that? What if I could have gotten to him
with him in his moment of greatest pain, in my grief, was the
closest I could be to him in the ever-present now. The moment
of my own greatest pain was the moment of his greatest need.
So I sustained the pain on my own. This was my punishment for
not being there, the price I agreed to keep paying in order to
be there when he needed me most.
trade, I thought, even if long after the fact. In short, my memories
of Travis were all at that moment.
solution (for me; you find your own)
I had chosen the most painful moment for him, meaning the time
of his life in my mind was a matter of choice. As the chooser,
I could select any time, not just that time. As a matter
of choice, I simply rolled back the calendar to focus more on
his better times, say between the ages of 5 and 12 that always
bring a smile to my face. Now I feel close to him at his happiest
times, not his saddest. Given that I cannot change history, this
is the best I can do.
being remembered solely at his worst moment could not have been
any fun for Travis, either.