"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ten Thousand Things

It's weird to be part of a club that most of the time I don't know who its other members are, which is odd because it isn't really that exclusive of a club. People pay an incredibly steep price for admission. Still, many choose to remain silent and unknown in the shadows. Yesterday, around the world many met at an annual gathering to mark the one day each year dedicated to us, the survivors of suicide.

After my sister died, I didn't know how I would go on living, and I definitely didn't think I'd ever consider myself a survivor, which is defined as "one who survives; one who endures through disaster or hardship." 

There's a deep bond and connection between fellow suicide survivors that's hard to describe. They get it. All of us lost someone who lit up our lives, whose very presence in our world made it better, and we lost them in a tragic way. I find it incredibly comforting to be around others that know the kind of journey I've been on without having to talk about it. They're on the same journey and know how harrowing it is. They know the heartbreaking loss, the grief so intense that it causes physical pain, the sorrow of having someone take their life away, leaving those they loved and who loved them bereft and lost, facing the rest of their lives without them. I don't have to explain to them what it feels like knowing that things I once took for granted are no longer to be. My sister won't be beside me in our golden years. Our plans of being two feisty old women enjoying life to its fullest are now just memories. 

They know about the thousand times a day a song, a word, a place, a smell, a phrase, causes a memory to surface, turning everyday, mundane moments into an effort to stay focused in the present and not give in to the emotions caused by the triggers. 

They know about the nightmares--the vivid, awful scenes in our minds of finding loved ones dead by their own hand, seeing the lifeless body of someone whose presence lit up our lives and many others. And they understand the merciful peace of mind that comes when those nightmares and scenes start to fade. 

They understand the yearning for answers to questions that are unanswerable, the effort it takes to find resolution and move beyond questioning to acceptance. 

They know the unique way suicide has of shattering the innocence of even the most mature, worldly and jaded people. To them I've never had to explain the particularly toxic mixture of guilt, anger and resentment that suicide survivors so often feel. We all know about the lives interrupted, life plans forever altered, tasks we are forced to undertake, things we have to learn for our own survival. None of us ever wanted to learn such hard life lessons, to become experts on the suicidal mind and the underlying mental health issues contributing to suicide. But with this knowledge comes power - and more importantly - acceptance and healing.

Until my sister's death, I had only a basic understanding and knowledge about the disease that caused her death, bipolar disorder. Now I know that the very characteristics that made her loved and adored by so many were hallmarks of her disease. She cared so much about others and the world, that she couldn't cope with the pain and suffering around her. Most people with bipolar disorder care too much. Their caring overwhelms them. It causes them a level of psychic pain that most us will never understand. They leave us not so much because they wish to die, but because they just want to escape the pain they're feeling and are no longer able to see any other viable way to escape it. 

I'm reading the book 'Wild' by Cheryl Strayed, which is the story about her personal journey through grief after losing her mother to cancer. In it she describes her mother's love, "The amount that she loved us was beyond her reach. It could not be quantified or contained. It was the ten thousand named things in the Tao Te Ching's universe and then ten thousand more." I wept with recognition and understanding when I read those words. My sister's love was that large. All of us - her family, friends, and especially her nieces and nephews - basked in her love. Losing it was devastating beyond words. 

What a relief yesterday was to be surrounded by others who understand such devastation. I didn't fully understand the power of a day marked and set aside just for us, International Survivors of Suicide Day, until yesterday. The night before as I read 'Wild' I couldn't help but think of all my fellow survivors when I read these words of Cheryl Strayed's: "Nothing would put me beside her the moment she died. It broke me up. It cut me off. It tumbled me end over end. It took me years to take my place among the ten thousand things again... I would suffer. I would suffer. I would want things to be different than they were. The wanting was a wilderness and I had to find my own way out of the woods."

We're all on our own unique, individual journeys out of the woods, but I know without a doubt every one of us will heal and be able to take our place among the ten thousand things again because we're strong. We're resilient and brave. We're survivors. 

Basking in Julie's Love
Aunt Julie and baby Hannah
Julie and her dog Phoenix

Aunt Julie with Hannah, Mason and her dog Phoenix


  1. To feel the enormous love Julie had for others touched me greatly.
    Your love for Julie touches me just as deeply.
    Thank you for sharing this, Keicha.
    Love and hugs to you,

  2. I'm so grateful you found the resources and the people to help you come to this place. I love you. You are a survivor. You are strong. You are resilient. I don't know what I would have done without you during these long days since we lost our beloved Julie. I hope you know that. You have helped me survive. XO

  3. Thinking of you, Keicha. You are not only a survivor of suicide, you are a resource for so many others. Thank you for taking this tragedy and turning it into something positive. I am sending you hugs. :-)

  4. This brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for helping me understand, just a little bit.

  5. Dear Keicha, As you may have noticed I've been absent from blog visiting for rather awhile -- too much on the plate, as I'm sure you can understand. I was meant to catch up with you today. I have never had to deal so directly with a suicide as you and your family have with Julie. I cannot begin to comprehend how deep the pain is when the one lost is your family. Your beloved family. I believe you know that this past summer, our Greg's dear friend took his life and Greg has been very challenged with this in many ways. Tonight we had a long conversation and it was clear in his words that he feels so alone and lost. We didn't tell him that on Thanksgiving, as we were gathered for festivities, Rick's friend and tenant who lived on the "other side of his wall" also took his life. We're all reeling with so many thoughts. What did we miss, what could we have done, so many of the things I've heard Greg say. And you. I will share your words with him. I don't know that he'll comment. But he will read. And I know he will feel comforted. Thank you.

    1. Jeanie, I'm so, so sorry to hear of yet another suicide and to know your lives have again been impacted by this particular tragedy. Please have Greg look on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's website, www.afsp.org under survivor resources for some suggestions and recommended reading. The latest Survivor Day webcast, along with past years is also available on the site. Additionally, I suggest having him look into a survivors support group. If there is a local or regional AFSP chapter in your area, they should be able to refer him to one.

      Please let me know if there is anything at all that I can do to help him, and all of you, through what is a confusing, distressing, and extremely emotionally challenging time. XO

    2. Thank you, Keicha. That's a good idea. It's hard to lose a friend or family member under any circumstances, but as you know, suicide opens up a lot of feelings that are far more complicated. The suicide TG was the third in less than a year and a half among people we know or their family members and the fourth over several years. I'm sure this has always been the case over time, but the frequency astounds me and I can't help but wonder what it is in our world that is kicking despair into such high gear. What is the catalyst. I know about body chemistry and predisposition but wonder -- what is the thing that kicks that action into gear. I'm sure that's been through your head as well. And I suspect that there are no answers.

      I will definitely share this with Greg. I think Rick and I may take a look ourselves. Thanks, Keicha.


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