“How are you doing?” It’s a question we get asked often these days by folks who know about Sissy’s suicide. My answer varies, depending on the mood I’m in at the moment, but usually I tell them something like, “I’m fine, thanks. Thanks for asking.” I soften it a little because people don’t really want to know how we’re doing. Oh, the ones who we’re extremely close to want to know and can stand the honesty when you lay your heart in their hands. God bless them. The others wince at our pain and really just want some sort of reassurance that we’re doing alright because they can’t bear the details of our grief. And that’s okay. I understand. Really, I do. There’s something about this kind of grief that’s a little more intimate and raw than the pain you feel when someone dies of a natural cause. It’s a little TOO intimate for some people.
The truth is, we ARE doing okay. We hurt tremendously, but each day we smile a little more than the day before, and each day feels a little more normal than the day before. Each day brings a new emotion. First, there was numbness and disbelief. Then came the anger. Anger that she could put Mama J. and Papa T. through this at such an old age. However, my anger drifted away as we began to sift through Sissy’s belongings. It’s such an intimate process, reading someone’s private papers and sorting through their finances and treasured items. Each thing I’ve touched or read has given me a better understanding of how the depression took over and destroyed her life. She started dying the day her son died nine years ago, and I just can’t be mad that she chose to finally end her suffering. I know she didn’t do it to hurt us. She just wanted the pain to end.
We’ve only begun to dispose of her belongings. Because Mama J. and Papa T. are not physically able to take care of that task, it has fallen to me and Hubby to do the bulk of the work. It will take weeks to close her accounts, clean out closets, box up items for an auction and prepare her house for sale. Some of the boxes we have to go through contain keepsakes that Sissy saved when her son and husband died. We don’t look forward to that. We try not to think about how much has to be done because it gets a little overwhelming. In fact, we try not to think too far in advance about any of this because it is so difficult. Mama J. and Papa T. need a lot of care right now. Their pain runs the deepest of all. To bury two children and a grandchild in the last two decades is almost more than they can bear. They are managing, but they are very fragile right now.
An emotion that keeps drifting in and out of our souls is guilt. Should we have done more? Could we have done more? What if? I wish I hadn’t. I wish I had. We keep reminding ourselves that we did the best we could. It was Sissy’s decision, not ours. My emotional barometer clicks over to sadness most of the time now. Not extreme sadness. Just a dull ache that things did not end better. That our relationship with Sissy was rocky near the end. I hold onto the memories of the good times. The dinners and trips together before her mental illness turned her into a person she never wanted to become. I’m especially grateful that Christmas 2007 with Sissy was such a wonderful time. It was the first time she was able to celebrate Christmas with us since Chance’s death in 2000. I hold onto the memories of her smiling and laughing amid the twinkling lights and colorful packages.
Those memories will sustain us as we slog through this grief. We will prop each other up and try not to tear each other down with our emotions. That's a big danger for the family members affected by suicide, you know. We have a long journey ahead, but our days are better now. We’re looking forward to the fun that summer brings: swimming, concerts and parties with friends. We have a party this Saturday with old friends, and we will see Willie Nelson in concert Memorial Day (11th row!). We have plenty to smile about, and we will be okay. We’re fine. Really, we are. And thanks for asking.
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