After Suicide Loss, Grief Lasts More Than Just a Year
When my grief was in it’s infancy, like a baby, I basically existed, ate and slept. Now, it’s been 18-months since my mom died by suicide after a harrowing battle with depression, and my grief will be a walking, babbling, 18-month-old.
There is so much emphasis on the first twelve months of grief — and rightly so. Those months are delicate and difficult. Everything feels monumental and new. As we round the corner to complete a year of grief, we realize there is no magic in one year. Thankfully for me, my grief faded in intensity as that first year completed, but I woke up on that 365th day and still missed my mom with my whole heart. Grief lasts a whole lifetime beyond that first year.
As my grief has grown, I’ve become more comfortable with my it. We’ve gotten used to each other and maybe even appreciate each other. While my grief has changed in magnitude, much of my grief’s original characteristics endure.
I still miss my mom. My life has begun to look different than when my mom was alive: I have a different job, I don’t live with the same people and I’ve gone on trips without her. Among our family of three, my dad, brother and I have learned to communicate with each other, even when it’s hard to. We’ve had large family gatherings, all without my mom. We’ve made memories that my mom is not a part of.
It hurts when these memories come to mind before memories of my mom do. As time trudges on, memories of my mom seem to fade a little bit. The distance between us only grows larger.
I still wear out easily. I need much more sleep than I ever did before, and I’m more aware of fatigue in my body and mind. At one point I wondering if something else was going on with me. I went straight to Google, which I know is never the place to go for medical advice, but I did it anyway and suddenly wondered if I had adrenal gland failure, thyroid issues or even anemia.
I went as far as booking an appointment to donate blood. The woman at the Red Cross was so kind and appreciative of my donation, but I felt a little guilty knowing I was more interested in knowing my iron levels so I could rule out iron deficiency than my actual donation.
And guess what? I’m not iron deficient, I am not anemic, my thyroid and glands are just fine. I’m grieving. Grief takes such a toll on our bodies. I vividly remember the day after my mom’s funeral. That day, after six days of feeling and knowing such intense tragedy and sadness, I could only sleep. Even my appetite took months to come back to normal.
I still cry. And it’s not just when I’m sad. I also cry when I’m happy or moved by something. These days, I tear up at cereal commercials. (This was so not me a year and a half ago.)
I was reflecting with a good friend last weekend about life after the death of a loved one. Her brother suddenly died just a few months before my mom died. We share the same horrible loss of an immediate, beloved family member. I hate that we are unified over such sad circumstances, but I’m grateful we have each other to compare notes with. We were talking about how we are both so much more “weepy” than we had been before our respective losses. I don’t know what it is. Maybe we become more empathetic or witness situations that bring us right back to the day and the moment we lost someone. Who knows? All I know is I carry Kleenex around just like I carry my wallet and car keys, but now I’m more experienced with my grief and I know how to nurture and care for it.
When I’m sad, I just let myself feel sad. I read notes, emails and old texts from my mom. I remember her fondly and often.
I pay attention to what I need. If I need to take 4 months off running because I feel tired, I will (and I’ll revel in it!). If I need to be by myself for a little while, I’ll do it. If I need to be around friends, I make it known.
I know that my grief is only a reminder of love. I don’t mind it because as long as I feel my loss I am reminded of the heart full of gratitude I have for the time I had with my mom and my old life. Some people never have relationships with their family. I had 25 great, memorable years with my mom. I still have a tight family unit with my dad and brother (and such supportive extended family). Things are different, but our lives are still filled with so much love and honesty. Would I rather my mom be here? Yes. Give me three magic wishes and they’d all be for my mom to be here. But that world doesn’t exist and I’d rather soak in all the goodness that is left. I’ve seen my grief only beget gratitude.
This is also only representative of my experience with grief. I’ve been able to be close to others as their grief journeys look wildly different than mine. And that’s okay.
The good news? Our grief can look different and we can still do this together.
I’m grateful for that too.