The Guilt of Surviving Suicide

My first blog comes on the anniversary week 1996 of my mother’s passing.
Terri was one tough lady. Always spoke her mind. Small town girl from Swan River Mb. Spent time in foster homes. Married young, had three wonderful boys ( and the grey hair to prove it ). Divorced, worked slinging beer at a biker bar, got her G.E.D. and completed a secretary course at the community college. She loved sports, competed in archery, played baseball, curled and bowled. She followed hockey, baseball, curling, football and the Olympics. A true Manitoban, she liked her bingo. She loved her family.

Our relationship with our parents changes as the stages of our lives change. They start as our care givers and protectors. My mother at the end, was a friend.
We talked often, I had the opportunity to share lunch with her from time to time. She would listen to my ideas of job prospects, and dreams of how I saw them developing into some kind of successful future. She always smiled and gave me encouragement even when the plans changed the next month. We talked about future grandchildren and dreams. She missed out on two amazing dreams that came true.

We shared a love for the Blue Jays. If we weren’t watching together, we would be on the phone talking about a play or player. After she was gone and even now, I still reach for the phone to talk about a trade or a game, or cause it’s one week till season starts. I wonder what she would think about this years line up.

My mother had been sick for many years. She had had a number of surgeries, some that had not gone so well. As a resolute, her doctor told her that they would not do anymore unless there was no other choice, she had too many finger prints inside. She had epilepsy that had haunted her for as long as I can remember and was one of the factors in her depression. I remember as a child seeing her being put into hand cuffs on the living room floor because they didn’t know how else to protect someone who was having a seizure. She lost her drivers license because of the epilepsy, several times over the years. This was very hard on her. She dealt with migraines that would shut her down. Her doctor suggested that she was depressed and she being stubborn, got upset and ignored him. She, I found out later, had been spending time at the casinos and not winning. She had started to build up some debt.

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In the weeks leading up to her suicide she made a comment to me that I didn’t respond to. She told me that she was worth more dead then alive.

I heard this same statement a second time a few years later from a friend, this time I did say something. We talked about what it would be like for his wife and children to survive with the loss of their husband and father. I wouldn’t presume to think that our conversation changed his mind but I like to think that it was enough to open it to other possibilities. I am happy to say he is still with us today.

Our son has autism and deals with depression on a daily basis, and suicide is a conversation that is common in our home. Letting our children known that they matter and they are important to us and their future, is a discussion we will never end.

The Sunday before her passing, I was curling with my step father and my mother came to watch. She hadn’t been feeling well lately and hadn’t left the apartment in awhile. I don’t remember the last time she came to watch a game, she didn’t go often since she couldn’t play any more. She was dressed up with her makeup on too. We sat and talked for a short while and after I gave her a kiss and said good bye.

The next day, with a glass of Crown Royal and the same medication that helped her with her epilepsy, she left us.

She left post-it notes on the backs of the things in the apartment that she wanted each of her kids to have. She also wrote us letters. She had a plan.

Not responding to my mother and not staying longer at the rink has been with me all these years.

She could have stayed longer.

Is it fair to ask those we love that are in so much pain to stay for us so we can avoid the pain of their loss?

 

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Don’t Stay Alone

Don’t Stay Alone

I once worked for a group home with mentally challenged young adults.  The house they lived in was in an older area of the city, where most of the houses were what would be called, character homes.  This was one of those.  It had high ceilings and tall windows that went to about eighteen inches from the floor to near the ceiling .  There was stained glass throughout the house that added to the old character feel of the house.  The mouldings were made of big, dark wood, lots of it, also hardwood floors that creeked.  There were large banisters on the stairs and old plastered walls, well painted, but you could tell it’s age.  This house was three stories tall with a basement.  The basement, although well lit and clean, wasn’t an area many wanted to visit.

Many of my coworkers told stories of how the house was haunted and had spirits roaming around.  One of the residents lived on the third floor, all alone.  When you worked the over night shift, you generally worked on your own.  One of the girls said she would often see the image of the resident from the third floor, sitting on the sofa in the living room in the middle of the night.  She knew he was sound asleep in his room three floors up.

Another staff had noticed planters move across the living room floor and it was common to to see images out the corner of your eye, moving out of the room.  The basement had a narrow staircase and people had often said, they saw the image of a child at the bottom of the stairs, when they turned on the lights.

There was a period of time in the house where stress with the residents had escalated to the point of violent aggression.  This had gone on for several weeks.  One night late in the evening after a particularly stress filled day, the staff was gathered in the front office to review the days events and complete reports, when an image, a brown mass really, appeared above the table for a brief moment and then slowly floated out of the office door, into the hallway and disappeared around the corner.  We all looked at each other to confirm in our own minds, that we had really seen the same thing.

I’m a, ”you have to show me and I’ll believe it”, kind of guy.  After working there,  I’m not so sure that is the case anymore.  I’m definitely not as quick to disbelieve a story now.

Walking A Mile In My Shoes

Walk A Mile In My Shoes

I saw a meme recently that said “ Never mind ‘walkin a mile in my shoes’…Try spending a day in my head.”.  It made me think how would I describe what it’s like in mine with a traumatic brain injury.

Let’s see, you would wake up early around 5:30 to 6:00 AM every day.
You don’t connect with time like you used to, so your first thoughts are to try to figure out if today is a work day or a stay at home day.
Shortly you become aware of the ringing in your ears, one of the new symptoms you are still trying to get used to.
Your brain injury brings new symptoms as time goes by and nerves fail and deteriorate.
The pain in your hands and feet is a throbbing tingling sensation this morning , another new symptom that is annoying right now, which is better then the pain from last night.
When you get out of bed to start your day you find your balance is a little unstable, easily corrected with the support of the bed and the wall.
You brush your teeth with the lights out because it’s easier on your light sensitive eyes.
Brushing your teeth can be a challenge, sometimes you have trouble figuring out what items you need to accomplish this simple task.
Often you have trouble with your balance in the shower.  Getting rescued from the shower because you fall is probably not on your bucket list.
Putting on your deodorant can be a challenge too, you may find yourself standing at the bathroom counter knowing there is something you should be doing next, but you can not find the memory anywhere.

Memory loss is a symptom you will have to deal with daily.  Short term is the worst, most every thing from the last three years is gone.  Anything you experienced recently won’t stay unless you find a way to repeat it some how.  Anything you do retain, will feel like a distant disconnected memory.
When you try to recall memories from the distant past, it brings on headaches.
There is a tingling sensation inside your head, it’s almost like you can feel every connection in your brain activating.
You’ll try to avoid bright light and loud noises because they both make you uncomfortable.
Your vision is one of your oldest symptoms.  You’ve lost some of your right peripheral vision and everything is generally blurred.  As the day progresses, a tension headache will start from your temples, then across your eye brows and forehead.
Fatigue will start to hit by 10:30-11:00 AM.  You’ll need a nap by early evening or maybe some time in a low light room to rest your eyes and head.
Your migraines are finally under control, now that you are on the right medication, as long as you remember to take it.
You’re going to experience a disconnection from your surroundings.  It’s a feeling like you are watching what is going on around you but you are not really taking part in it.
Confusion and distraction come over you, you can’t understand why simple tasks are so challenging.
Repetitive tasks set well and allow you to be productive.
New tasks challenge you, strain your thought processes and generate headaches.
You spend a lot of time in your own head but find that you don’t really spend much time thinking about anything.
You’re ready for bed by 10:00 PM but you know you won’t sleep more then five hours so you have to stay up till midnight or 1:00 AM.
You realize you’ve made it to the end of another day.

Protecting Princess

Protecting Princess

It’s ten O’Clock and you are sitting in the back yard with your dog and you hear a noise.  It’s the shed door caught in the breeze banging against the side of the shed.  You run in the house to tell me about the door.  I asked if you closed it?  You said no you didn’t, you are scared, you want me to help and you need me to protect you.   You tell me it’s not your fault I raised a princess.  I give you a smile and we head out back to take care of that scary door.

Protecting you is a job I gladly accept.

Eight years your mom and I tried to start our family.  Then we received the gift of your brother.  We thought our family was complete, until the morning your mother came to me to tell me she knew she was pregnant.

The first doctor she went to said she was wrong, but she knew something just felt different and she was right, it was confirmed by the next doctor she saw.
You were on your way to us, our second gift, four years after our first one.

Your pregnancy with your mother wasn’t without drama.  You were going in for weekly checkups and ultrasounds and two weeks before your due date, your doctor said go straight to the hospital.

I was at work and received a call from your mom to let me know what was happening and ran home to get all our stuff for the hospital stay.

I couldn’t have felt more helpless then standing by your mothers side in the hospital waiting for your arrival.

Holding her hand, helping her sit up and handing her a cup of ice chips and trying my best not to be in the way of the nurses and doctors.

As is your way, you were going to do this delivery your way and on your time.

Three code blues brought doctors and nurses rushing into the delivery room.  We kept losing your heart beat.  They had to attach probes to your scalp to monitor your heart rate.  I watched as a doctor instructed the resident on the procedure.  All I could do was stand to the side and stay out of the way.

You had months to plan your arrival and you were going to make it a grand entrance.

After hours of waiting and no baby, the doctors decided it was time for a c-section.  They wheeled you and your mom off and handed me scrubs to change into.  Then you two changed the plan again and it became an emergency c-section and I wasn’t allowed in with you.  I was left alone in the hall, once again, unable to be of help.

It was not a long wait and a nurse came out with you in her arms.  She walked you across the hall to a little room full of monitors.  This was the first time I saw you.  I stood behind you and started to talk to you, you turned your head and looked right at me.

After a long night mom and baby were going to be ok.

You were home in only a few days and you wanted to put some excitement into our lives, because the hospital delivery wasn’t enough I guess.  While your Granny was feeding you, the milk foamed up in your mouth and you stopped drinking and breathing.  I scooped you up in my arms and told your mom to call 911.  We walked into the bathroom as I watched your tiny body turn purple, your little arms and legs tight and your back arch.  You looked up at me, eyes wide with a desperation, “help me Daddy!”

I rubbed your back as we walked trying to keep you calm, maybe that was for me.  I knew I had to clear the bubbles from your mouth, so I used my little finger to clear out some of the foam.  You took care of the rest.  While I was removing the bubbles you started to suckle on my finger.  Your body relaxed and your colour returned.  The fire department and perimedics were there in minutes.  They gave you a good check over and said you looked perfect.

Just for fun you did this again a couple of days later.  I was ready for you that time.

Soon we were walking you to the school bus.  Talking to you about street safety and stranger safety.  We walked with you when you went to visit friends and when it started to get dark, even when they were a few doors away.

Over protective maybe, maybe not, we waited over eight years for your brother to arrive and four more for you.  We were going to do what we could to keep you two safe.

We taught you the evils of boys, and you still wanted to date them.

The first guy to catch your interest turned out to be an abuser in training.  You knew the best place to meet was in public and with friends.  When he tried to separate you from your friends you stayed with your friends.

We share with you our experiences and open our hearts to you.  Our conversations are open and honest.

After standing by helpless in the hospital,  I wasn’t going to miss out on an opportunity to stand by you to support you.  Whether it was to walk with you on the streets on Halloween night, or wait for you at basketball practice, and maybe, if it’s one day down the aisle on your wedding day, I am always going to be there for you.

Protecting and teaching you is a job I proudly accept.

Jupiter

Jupiter

Imagine you are four years old and you are told that you were adopted.
You have autism and no one knows yet.
You have above average problem solving capabilities.
You know who your birth mother is and you have met many of your birth family.
This is how our son rationalized his situation:

He told us that he came here from Jupiter with his silly uncle.
He will be returning soon to live with his birth family on Jupiter.
First he and his silly uncle will have to fix their space ship.
But, they need to find spare parts.
Then they can repair the ship and leave.
He says he’ll miss you, but he needs to return to his birth family.
Now imagine having your four year old holding your face with both his little hands, looking you straight in the eyes trying to tell you his story.
You can not laugh because you know he is very serious and he will get upset.

Taking Time

Taking Time

“How are you doing?”
We ask and respond to this question, what, maybe a couple dozen times a week? Maybe more.
I have never really given the question much thought, it’s just a greeting you throw out.
What I have noticed is that, if I take the time to respond to the question, that people generally are not that interested.
When I start to explain how things are going with my injury or about a new symptom, they turn it into a joke or a personal story.
Is this a natural reaction to an uncomfortable situation, and our way of deflecting?
Is this a way of controlling the conversation?
Have we forgotten how to listen, or is this a case of poor manners?
Why did we ask if we weren’t interested in an answer?
When this happened to me again today, I felt disappointment and hurt, and that prompted me to share these thoughts.

This just felt so personal, but as I sat looking at the words I was writing, I realized they were more personal then I originally realized.
How many times had I asked that very same question? How many times had I taken the time to actually listen to the response?
Most times my response these days is “I’m ok”, “l’m fine”.  But,  I’m not ok,  I have shit going on that I can’t fix.  I have shit that others are controlling that I
don’t know if I’ll ever be able to change.
How many others have answered the question to me the same way, and have had their own shit to deal with but found that it was easier to say “l’m fine”, rather then be disappointed in a disinterested response.
This is my disappointment, that I didn’t give you the time you deserved, that you felt I wouldn’t be there to hear you.
When did our lives become so busy that we can’t give someone a few minutes to find out “ How are you doing?”.

Tom

Tom

It was one of those perfect fall September days, the sun was warm, the trees were turning, they had become that copper gold colour.
It was one of those days you wanted to drive with the windows open and the radio up.
I was driving passed the college when a car pulled out in front of me.  Inside were four young ladies coming from the college.
On the radio was playing Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels“.  This song has a strong defined drum beat.  If you have ever heard the song, you know what I’m talking about.
It turns out the girls in the car in front of me are listening to the same station.  I know this because every time the song hit that beat, the girls bounce in their seats.  They are laughing and have smiles on their faces.
Perfect.
This is how I’m going to always remember my radio friend Tom.