About Anger & Forgiveness:
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. This was a significant handicapped me for the better part of a decade.
The gold standard or directions at the time for dying was the stages of grief outlined in a book by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, titled “On death and dying.” The focus of the book was the five stages (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance) that a person dying goes through.
Over time these steps were modified by counselors and support organizations and used as "the" blueprint for the bereaved. Originally, the stages were never suggested to occur in sequential order, nor require the same amount of time or attention. The stages settle into support groups, I attended as a recovery formula. Even to this day, the stages appear in books and support material in its modified form.
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 might have been better off if the end goal was peace. The five stages could have been offered as a priority list, along with the emphasis on the patience necessary to achieve peace.
Now, I realize most everyone was just as baffled as I was.
In trying to reach a state of peace, and forgiveness became my biggest downfall without even knowing it.
There was little I could comprehend about my wife taking her life. I was so not Rebecca. It seemed so unreal (and to this day it still does – at times.) How and why she had done this remained out of grasp and out of reach at the time was coming to accepting that fact. 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.
Emotional debris was scattered everywhere I turned. To collect, organize and consider it all put me in an elusive state. 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 after you can focus and think again. You must pay attention, as life rolls along.
It took me a while to grasp things that I had brushed aside or overlooked. Plus there was a host of oddities that I did not 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.
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. This is just another unanswerable question that will live on.
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.) 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 validated. So 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 modified Kubler-Ross model as it applies to the survivors.
Forgiveness remains a hidden step behind “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 this.
It is common to suppress anger, at least initially. Survivors are quickly aware they have to impersonate a stable behavior and 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 it in the form of blame between each other or externally to home and work situations, friends, medical personnel or health care 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 your part.
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.