In the quest for PEACE, after Rebecca, my wife’s suicide, I overlooked a key step . . . forgiveness. Unfortunately, I did not realize its importance, nor did anyone suggest it. I did not find forgiveness mentioned in general grief literature. In the search for PEACE, this significantly handicapped me for the better part of a decade.
While searching for reading material, someone referred me to a book by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, titled “On death and dying.” At the time Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance were portrayed as stages a person dying progress through.
Over time these steps were modified by counselors and support organizations and used as a blueprint for the stages of bereaved. The stages were never suggested to occur in sequential order, nor encompasses the same amount of time or attention. The stages settled into survivor groups I attended. More or less a check-off list of experiences on the path to recovery. The modified version of these five stages appear commonly today in grief support material.
In trying to reach a state of peace, forgiveness became my biggest downfall, without even knowing it. In the wake of all the emotional debris, my focus and concentration were 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 achieve peace.
There was little I could comprehend about my wife taking her life. I 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. Along with my personal struggles, I looked to the outside world (my family, friends and the public in general,) for help. Our life together begged for a plausible explanation. I realize everyone was as baffled as I was.
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, I guess 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 odd things that I had brushed aside, overlooked or chose not to pursue. After decades of marriage, I had come to see them as, well that is just Rebecca. So now, looking back there were plenty of signs that simply did not register for whatever reasons.
As time passed, I was to learn family secrets that remained hidden from me and yet known widely within the family and community. This is an area I have stopped pursuing. It was contentious and would really 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 this is not unique nor uncommon.
Obviously, there was a lot of hurts to consider and consciously decide to let go of. To get into the issue of blame is to discontinue a healthy life. Blame is an incinerator that burns inside. You fuel it and take the heat and suffer the scars. Others can distance themselves and not get burned.
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. Another unanswerable question that has a life of its own.
You learn a lot about yourself by organizing and internalizing your experiences. Plus we both took the Minnesota Multi-Phasic Personal Inventory (which has been around for over 60 years, at the time.) Although the analysis was a bit shocking to digest, it did shed light on our character.
I am who I am and while changes could have made the critical difference, that can never be done. 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 as it had been applied to 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, anger is typically directed at the individuals closest to the one lost. These individuals redirect issues of blame. It is always someone else, external to home and work situations, friends, medical personnel or healthcare facilities.
Anger toward the individual that has ended their life and left behind all the emotional baggage for their family to deal with is seldom expressed. While blame may be accurately assigned in some cases, this approach overlooks the original intent that may have erred as sometimes happens. This 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 the anger.
Forgiveness is the mediator for anger. If you are unable to forgive, you will be handicapped by anger as long as you breathe.
Forgiveness is not a cognitive decision but rather a process of turning loose the blame game.
To soften these comments. I turn to the analogy of “the cup” and honestly 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. In fact, the first few succeeding drops will bring the level slightly above the brim.
Then comes that drop . . . that starts the cup to overflow.
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 simply a decision or event in time. For me, it came on slowly. Like an initial paint job the first coat leaves spots you missed. Additional coats 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 . . . for us all.
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