In the quest for PEACE, after Rebecca, my wife’s Suicide, I overlooked an essential step . . . Forgiveness. Unfortunately, I did not realize its importance, nor did anyone suggest it. I did not find forgiveness mentioned in general grief literature. It was not a priority topic in any survivor supports groups.
In the search for PEACE, this significantly handicapped me, and I did not even know it. Almost a decade past before it appeared as a point of concern.
Thinking about it now, it makes me sad.
While searching for reading material, someone referred me to a book by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, titled “On death and dying.” The book named Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance as the final stages dying people progress through. This crowd appeared to be more at ease with approaching death.
In subsequent years, these same steps were adopted by the counseling community and presented by grief support organizations as stages of bereavement. The steps were not suggested to occur in sequential order. There were no, time stipulations recommended, either.
Today in survivor groups, these stages are commonly brought up, more or less, as a check-off list of experiences. A modified version of these five stages appear today in the grief support material. But forgiveness continues to hide in the shadows.
In trying to reach a state of peace, forgiveness became my biggest downfall, without even knowing it. With all the emotional debris, my focus and concentration remained impaired. I stumbled along, receiving impromptu advice.
It would be incorrect to suggest I was not receiving help. As I think of it now, I would have been better off if my end goal was PEACE. Now, I see the five stages as reoccurring events that require a lot of patience to calm the Soul and achieve peace.
There was little I could comprehend about my wife taking her life. It was so "not Rebecca." It seemed so unreal (and still does – at times.) How and why she chose to do this remained out of my reach.
At the time, I was beginning to accepting the reality of it all. Personal struggles lead me to look to the outside world (my family, friends, and the public in general,) for clues.
Our life together begged for a plausible explanation. In time I realized everyone was baffled and did not realize this could never be known.
Emotional debris was scattered everywhere I turned.
To collect, organize, and consider it all eliminated any comfort zone. After three dozen years, I thought I knew everything there was to know about Rebecca. Through all our personal and external encounters I had built this image that vanished with only five words, “Rebecca has taken her life.”
I am old now, officially in my winter years. I have learned you can pick up key insights when you can focus and think again. You have to pay close attention to everything you read or hear, as life rolls along.
It took me a while to grasp the odd things that I had overlooked, brushed aside, or chose not to pursue. After decades of marriage, I had come to see my wife's behavior as, well, that is just Rebecca. So now, looking back, there were plenty of signs that did not register for whatever reasons.
As time passed, I was to learn family secrets that had remained hidden from me and yet known widely within the family and their community. This area I stopped pursuing. It was contentious and would not help at this late date. I am so thankful for the family members and friends that were willing to step forward and help with this family history. Although shocking at first, I now know that family secrets are unique yet not uncommon.
There was a lot of hurts to consider, and I had to decide to let them go consciously.
To address the issue of blame is to discontinue a healthy life. Responsibility is an incinerator that burns inside all of us at times. You fuel it, then take the heat and suffer the scars. Others can distance themselves and not get burned, or so it seems.
Through it all, I have the highest regard for Rebecca and her Mom and Dad. I think they did the best they could do under the circumstances. Was there a way to do things better or different? Would it have changed the outcome? Unanswerable questions that will live on beyond my years.
I am left to wonder if my innate character had been different could I have changed the outcome. An unanswerable question that has a life of its own.
You learn a lot about yourself by organizing and internalizing your experiences. We both took the Minnesota Multi-Phasic Personal Inventory (which had been around for over 60 years, at the time.) Although the analysis was a bit shocking to digest, it did shed light on the differences of our character.
I am who I am, and while changes could have made the critical difference, that can never happen. So in certain respects, that case is closed.
In the end, my personal "key take" on rebuilding life after Suicide is forgiveness. Forgiveness is not singled out in the Kubler-Ross model when it applies to suicide survivors.
Forgiveness remains a barrier and on the other side is “anger.” Both have to be dealt with as a pair to ensure some level of peace. Anger that cannot be forgiven eats away at one’s Soul.
It is typically not discussed in an open forum and yet is lurks within everyone, to some degree. The odd thing about it is everyone in the present and future will suffer because of anger and forgiveness.
It is common to suppress anger, at least initially. Survivors are quickly aware they have to impersonate a stable behavior. That is hard to maintain. So one lives with this time bomb inside. Sure some folks explode under certain circumstances. In the case of Suicide, the focus of anger is typically on the individuals closest to the one lost. This crowd will pass along the issues of blame. It is always someone else responsible (external to home and work situations) friends, medical personnel, or healthcare facilities.
Seldom is anger directed at the individual that has ended their life and left behind all the emotional baggage. While blame may be accurate, this approach overlooks the initial intent that may have skewed as sometimes happens. This hand-off routine leaves anger to fester and imprison the beholder. As a result, anger may prevail for extended periods, and worse, some folks will go to their graves holding on to it.
Forgiveness is the mediator for anger. If you are unable to forgive, you will become imprisoned by rage.
Forgiveness is more than a cognitive decision but rather a process of disengaging from the blame game.
Often I return to the analogy of “the cup,” I cannot remember when and where I first heard this? It goes:
If you start to fill a cup a drop at a time, you will find the liquid will eventually reach the brim. The nest few succeeding drops will bring the level slightly above the rim.
Then comes that drop . . . That starts the cup to overflow.
Then the question becomes, was it that last drop to blame? If not, which proceeding drop should be labeled the cause?
Forgiveness is a process, not merely a decision or event in time. For me, it came on slowly. Like the first coat of paint, when spots you missed show up. Additional layers can create a pleasant finish. Does it change the original look? Well, yes, it does. But in the end, you are the only one that can change.
Will others follow suit? First of all, that is beyond your control — just another unanswerable question that will live on beyond our years.
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