We will not grow old together
By Carol / November 25, 2013 /
Finding perspective and gratitude after suicide.
When I thought about my senior years, I imagined spending a good deal of time with my older sister, Jane. Though she lived in Pennsylvania and I in Iowa, we found increasing time together as we grew into our retirement years.
We both enjoyed gardening, reading, travel. She doted on her grandchildren and I looked forward to grandchildren of my own. I felt relaxed and pampered in her home, which she opened as a bed and breakfast so that she could share her gifts of hospitality and cooking. She enjoyed coming to Iowa to re-connect with her rural roots.
My image of those golden years shattered when Jane died by suicide in 2008. Until then, my personal experiences with death included my parents and grandparents. Those deaths were difficult to absorb but they happened in the natural order of things. Jane’s did not.
Grieving Jane’s death unbalanced me in a way I often described as feeling as though the universe was out of kilter. This lack of balance manifested itself in car accidents. I had at least 13 accidents, ranging from scrapes to collisions, in three years. Thankfully, no one was killed.
It was three years before a friend who’d also lost her sister to suicide took me to the Survivors of Suicide annual conference in 2011. What a blessing it was to learn about the healing power of ceremony in addressing grief and to do so in the company of others who shared this unique kind of loss. After that conference, I performed a “letting go” ceremony for Jane that helped me tremendously.
I thought that ceremony made me okay, and in many ways it did. But when a friend lost her son to suicide earlier this year and we attended the Survivors of Suicide conference this past weekend, I realized my grief journey is ongoing.
During a breakout session when I joined others who lost siblings to suicide, the moderator asked each of us to answer this question: “What do you think your sibling would wish for you now?”
My first thought was flippant — Jane would want me not to cry so much! Upon reflection, though, I believe Jane would urge me to do what makes me happy and not to wait. She’d urge me to appreciate, be thankful for, and find joy in each moment, since each moment is precious and we don’t know how many moments we will have.
It’s no accident, I’m sure, that the Survivors of Suicide conferences are held worldwide on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. In the face of horrible loss, we may need help remembering to be thankful. We may need help putting the loss in perspective.
As a result of the conference, I’m consciously adjusting my focus from what I don’t have and won’t have since Jane died, to what I can be thankful for because of Jane’s life. I’m focusing on the positives of the past and the future.
No, Jane and I won’t grow old together, but I am lucky to have enjoyed life with her for 60 years. Jane modeled love and compassion and hospitality for me every day. She graciously shared gentle wisdom learned in her years as a nurse. She left a legacy of love in her daughters and grandchildren.
I honor her and help myself heal by recognizing this and sharing the beauty of her life with others.
** If you or someone you know is struggling with suicide, find help at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
I’m so sorry about your sister. Thank you for sharing this.
Thank you, Becky. Among other things, I hope that in talking about Jane’s suicide, others will know they are not alone and that there is help. And hope.
Carol, grieving for a suicide death is truly a unique journey. I have been dealing with it since 1987 when my best friend took his own life. There are still occasions although rare now when I wonder why I didn’t notice something was wrong when we spoke the night before his death.
I’m sorry for your loss, Randy. Each suicide is different, but my sense is that most survivors wonder why they didn’t see it coming or do something to stop it. Time definitely helps but as someone at the conference said, “time doesn’t heal everything but it does dull the pain.”
Carol, In my backwards way that is the message I was trying to convey. I am sorry for your loss but I am glad that you are dealing with this in a healthy way and my prayers are with you.
Thanks for affirming my journey, Randy. Sometimes I’m a little slow on the uptake, but I get there eventually.
Carol, this is such a brave and poignant post. It reminds me that we each grieve in our own ways. I am so sorry for your loss. By paying tribute to the positive, loving memories of Jane, you are honoring and celebrating her life and your life with her. Thank you for sharing the link to the survivor of suicide support group and for reminding us all to focus on the blessings in our lives. Perfect timing as we approach Thanksgiving.
Thank you, Kathy. I actually wondered what I would get out of going to this conference a second time. Turns out I really needed and benefited from the experience. If the AFSP link is useful to even one person, the post will have been worthwhile.
Carol, I echo Kathy’s comments. I found this a courageous post and I thank you for it. Feeling gratitude for what we have, rather than grieving what we no longer have or pining for what we never did is, I think, one of those major life lessons that often comes only from pain. I am sorry for your loss.
Thank you, Janet. I can’t remember who said it, but if we didn’t have darkness, we wouldn’t appreciate the light. It’s all part of life, though in cases like this, I wish it weren’t. I appreciate your comments.
Carol, I’m really sorry to hear about Jane’s death. In ‘Growing Up Country’, you wrote so well of your time together. You were obviously very close. She must have been very proud of you and that book. It encapsulated your childhood and, no doubt, gave Jane a great treasure trove of memories to look back on… literally.
You have shared Jane’s childhood with your readers and shown her charm and industriousness through your writing. In a very small way we all got a glimpse into the type of person she would mature into. From what I read you were lucky to have each other and to have such lovely parents. I bet Jane felt that love throughout her life, even if circumstances did somehow conspire to take her from you.
Thank you, David. You have touched on one of the really beautiful aspects of having written the memoir about our childhood. My grandparents, parents, cousins and Jane live on each time I share those stories. I know that we girls never doubted for a second that we were loved – as children and throughout our lives. Jane exuded that love. Because I know who she really was, I can begin to understand what a dark place depression can be. I suppose that’s the value of tragedy to humanity – If we’re lucky, we develop empathy and a desire to help others.
Carol, once again you have addressed your grief and loss so well, both in allowing your pain to show through and offering hope to others. Your words, “My first thought was flippant — Jane would want me not to cry so much! Upon reflection, though, I believe Jane would urge me to do what makes me happy and not to wait. She’d urge me to appreciate, be thankful for, and find joy in each moment, since each moment is precious and we don’t know how many moments we will have,” likely strike near the heart of what Jane would say aloud if she could. I think of my nephew struck down in his late 20s by another’s gun, and how much I miss him (we were 6 years apart and more like brother and sister), and I am still so sad that he is gone too soon. However, knowing Joe as I did, he’d say, “Go, enjoy life. Someone has to!”
I treasure you as a friend via the Internet and always look forward to your beautiful words and sharing.
I’m so glad I met you and so many others through the Internet, Sherrey. The support is consistent and heartfelt. More to be thankful for in this season of thanks!
I’m sorry to hear about your nephew. What a loss to bear. I love what Joe would say to you. Someone will enjoy life and it may as well be us!
Thank you, my friend.
I use to work with your sister and your niece Dracaena. I keep in touch with Dracaena on facebook. When i close my eyes and visualize Jane- I instantly see her face and smile and warm demeanor. Thank you for sharing this- I plan to share it as well- my wish is it may help someone else. You have a beautiful family
I love meeting people Jane and Dracaena work with, Michelle. You are all an amazing group of talented and caring women. I always see Jane with a smile on her face, too. Thinking of her smile sustains me as does hearing from people like you who remember her so fondly. Thank you for being here and thank you for sharing with others.
I’m so happy that you’ve found a way to honor your sister, help yourself to heal, and now by sharing your story help others as well. None of us will be spared from facing some type of grief, and during the holidays it’s especially painful. You are brave and smart to have found a support group that helps you acknowledge how you feel but deal with it in such a healthy way.
May the memories of the good times throughout those 60 years with your sister sustain you.
Thank you, Flora, One of my learnings from this journey is to understand that I could not do this on my own. My friend had lost her husband and done serious grief work at the time. When she lost her sister, she immediately sought a support group and took me along. I am so fortunate she did. Finally, I’m able to think more of the good times with Jane.
So sorry to hear this, Carol. Depression destroys hope, and can feel so personal and often embarrassing, how to even bring it up? Some then hide it too well. Your sister is free of her pain and lives on in those who love her. Yes, she would want you to enjoy life – happy with her in your heart.
In a way, I can liken Jane’s depression to the years after she died when I was in the fog. I know something was off but I didn’t know how to get out and I couldn’t do it on my own. Jane knew something was wrong but her space was so black she couldn’t get out. In spite of the efforts of many people who loved and cared for her, the dark won. Thank you for commenting, Linda.
I’m so sorry to hear about Jane…….she was a lady (and my first choir director) and a lady always knows when it’s time to leave. We too have experienced suicide in our family….it’s was just too painful here. Praying for you and yours.
What a lovely way to put it, Carla. Jane was a lady. Always. I’m sorry to hear that you have felt the pain of suicide in your family. It is more common that we know because people often don’t talk about it. We’re able to talk about afflictions like cancer; I hope one day we can talk about mental illness and suicide as openly.
Carol … this was so beautifully written … not just from a literary perspective but from the perspective of the amazing road you’ve traveled since Jane’s death. I saw your suffering at the time, but had no way of experiencing its depth … I never realized you’d had more than a dozen accidents.
You were brave to share your journey with us, but we are the better for it. Thanks.
Thank you, Mary. You were one of the good friends I could lean on. I didn’t talk about those car incidents (though some were so visible you couldn’t miss them!) because I always considered myself to be careful when I was behind the wheel and I was embarrassed to be seen as such a poor driver. I didn’t connect the accidents to my grief until after the fact when I came out of that fog and could look back on that time with some clarity.
I am so sorry for the loss of your sister, Jane. I know you must miss her everyday. Thank you for sharing this poignant post and I hope others can find comfort in your words to help them endure the such a painful loss in such a tragic way.
Thank you, Pat. In sharing my story, I do hope others will see they don’t have to make the grief journey alone; there is help and hope. I was slow to realize both that I needed the help and that there were such good people out there to give it.
What a beautiful post. My sympathy on the loss of your sister.
Thank you, Mary, for both sentiments.
Carol, I feel your pain. I lost my older brother to suicide in 2008. I think perhaps your experience will force me to get out of my own darkness surrounding the experience to seek others with similar feelings. He was estranged from the rest of my family, so I’ve always felt I was the only one who even felt anything about this loss. Thank you for sharing your painful experience and pointing to a way of rethinking the experience.
I’m so sorry about your brother, Pat. I feel for you and I encourage you to seek out a suicide support group. A Google search should help you identify people near you to help. I do think there is a uniqueness to suicide grief, so if possible find a group that specializes in suicides. I’m sending you hugs and love.
Thank you for sharing this painful memory in such an edifying way. When I read Growing Up Country, I had no idea that your sister, the one who entered the ironing contests with you and who waited up with you for Santa Claus, was no longer with you. You brought her and your parents, grandparents and childhood friend to life and whenever I read about them, they are there sharing their life with me.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving.
My family is very much alive to me because of the stories in my memoir, Rachelle. My sister died six months after I published the book. I’m glad she had a chance to read the stories; I hope they brought her some joy in remembering our childhood. I know how very much I have to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoy time with your family this week, too.
What a painfully, courageous, lovely homage to your sister and the love you have for her. It’s never easy to lose a loved one to suicide. Wish I could give you a big hug, my friend.
Love and wishing you peaceful Thanksgiving.
Thank you for the virtual hug, Paulette. The support of my on-line friends means a great deal to me.
Wishing you a wonderful holiday with your friends and family, too.
Carol, this is a brave and timely post and a sad one for those of us who love your memoir and are shocked to learn of Jane’s suicide. I’ve had enough experience of depression to know that I can’t judge anyone who has not been able to go on. But your method of surviving is stronger than death. The love lives on! Blessings to you and your family.
You may not be able to grow old with your sister, but perhaps you can grow wiser with her. I see that in your words here. And the response is a testimony to you, to her, and to the love stronger than death.
Thank you for your loving and encouraging words, Shirley. I believe the value of these kinds of experiences is that they teach us to have more empathy for others who suffer. It may take time, as it has for me, to learn the lessons, but I hope in the process to become a help to someone else. My hope in writing this post is that someone who is suffering, too, will realize there is help and hope.
Carol, I’m so sorry to hear about your sister–thank you for sharing so beautifully about her life and your own journey. Your words speak courage, comfort, and hope.
Thank you, April. Sharing her story and my journey are part of my healing. I appreciate hearing from you.
Thank you for sharing this, Carol … your story touched me deeply. Wishing you peace and love at Thanksgiving.
I appreciate you reading and commenting, Lee. I wish a wonderful Thanksgiving to you and yours, as well.
Carol …. I am so sorry that you had this loss and I could not give you a hug. You helped me so much as I lived alone in West Des Moines, more than I ever let you know. Please know that you are in my prayers and cyber-hugged.
Thank you, Deb, for the prayers and hug. I have fond memories of our time together in WDM. I’m glad to hear from you.