Spring seems especially beautiful to me this year. The greens are so vivid, the whites so bright and the blooms so bountiful. Daily, I marvel at the colors. In just a two block area of my regular running route, there are numerous dogwoods, the most fragrant lilac bush and a patch of multi-colored tulips that stretches for a third of a block. I drink it in every time I go by there and smile at the taste. I’ve always enjoyed spring, but this year I have reveled in it and rejoiced at its beauty. For the last couple of weeks, I have relished each day and felt truly alive. Joyous even. My heart hasn’t been this light in months, and I rather like it.
I’ve always liked spring and the way it washes away winter’s bitterness, but this year I seem to have a better appreciation for the beauty and hope that it brings. Some of it may be due to the harshness of this past winter, and viewing it through the narrowness of a camera lens has certainly helped. But I think the biggest reason I am feeling spring so deeply this year is because of where I’m at in my grief over Sissy’s death.
April 21st will mark the first anniversary of her suicide. That’s one week from now. In recent weeks, I’ve tried not to think about that date much. It hovers in the back of my mind, though. It’s always there, running through my brain during quiet times. Like in the morning darkness when I’m walking the dog and the neighborhood is asleep. Or at night when I lay in bed in the room where she used to sleep. I rarely cry during those times. Mostly I just feel regret for the way her life ended and for the way our relationship withered near the end. I find myself sighing a lot during those times.
I can’t believe a year has already passed. Time has flown, but I’ve made a lot of progress in recovering from her decision to leave us. The tears only come when I stumble across a certain family photo or hear a particular song. There is a song we sing in church sometimes, Spirit Song, which makes me think of Sissy and choke up. The words in that song are the wish I held for her for so long before she died.
O let Him have those things that hold you
And His Spirit like a dove
Will descend upon your life
And make you whole
O give Him all your tears and sadness
Give Him all your years of pain
And you'll enter into life
In Jesus' name
It’s kind of ironic that we sang it this past Sunday.
Suicide usually leaves families asking why. Why did the person do it? Why wasn’t their family enough? I don’t have to ask why Sissy killed herself. I know why. She couldn’t stand the pain of losing her son. I’m convinced she started dying the day her son died. She spent nine long years trying to swim out of the grief and never could. She finally let the waves take her. That’s an answer I don’t have to search for, and for that I’m grateful. That knowledge allows me to move forward and keeps me from being angry about her decision.
A few months ago, someone asked me, “Don’t you wish you could have her back?” I can’t comfortably answer that because she’s at peace now, and she often told me she just wanted to be at peace. The decision to live or die was hers to make, not mine. I’m not condoning what she did. I just don’t judge her too harshly. I miss her with all my heart, but having her here in pain would be selfish of me. The reality is I had prepared myself for her death months before she actually died. It didn’t lesson the pain of her death, but it started my grieving process long before she jumped from that bridge.
Some of her behaviors in the last months of her life caused us to separate ourselves from her for our emotional and physical well being. That decision caused a lot of angry feelings toward us by other family members and we are still dealing with their anger. That is painful, but I do not regret our decision to stop enabling Sissy to succumb to the demons of her illnesses. In the past year I have accepted that I don’t have to have anyone’s approval for our decisions. I just have to live with the consequences. We simply try very hard not to say or do anything to cause any more pain to people in our family and avoid situations that might erupt in harsh words. I wish some family members would do the same. They don’t. I have a lot of conversations with God about this.
Suicide leaves a wide wake of pain in its path. It’s a unique grief. People don’t know what to say, so they avoid talking about it period. It’s a lonely grief. I’d say this branch of the Hula-gen’s has done about as well as we can with it. It has certainly accelerated Papa T.’s dementia. I worry about the lasting effects all of this will have on Teen Angel and we suffer from “always waiting for the other shoe to drop” syndrome. Once you’ve had a deputy at your door in the middle of the night, you tend to expect bad news all the time, especially when you have ailing parents. But all in all, we’ve done a great deal of healing. We can tell funny stories about Sissy and laugh. We can talk with Papa T. and Mama J. about some of Sissy’s worst moments without shouts or tears. And we work through each day with intensity and a newfound respect for each precious moment. That’s why I find myself driving home these days with the windows down, smiling and singing loudly I’m Alive over and over with Kenny Chesney.
And today you know that’s good enough for me
Breathin' in and out's a blessing can’t you see
Today is the first day of the rest of my life
Now I’m alive, and well
Yeah I’m alive, and well
The beauty in nature these days reminds me that I am indeed alive and well. I feel very alive. I am content in my love for Sissy and my acceptance of her death. Sissy always liked bright colors. I see her in that patch of tulips I run past each day. And I smile.
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