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Filtering by Tag: suicide

say it loud {2/22/13}

Kelley Clink

This week I had two conversations with two wise, wonderful women, and both of them found their way to the same topic: how conditioned we are to keep our pain private. Whether we are mourning a death, the end of a friendship or relationship, the loss of a jo, whether we are anxious or angry about upcoming life transitions, whether we are sad for a reason we can't articulate or see, we somehow believe that others don't want to hear about it. Probably because, at some point in our lives, someone actually didn't.

Now, I'm not trying to point fingers at parents or teachers or friends. I'm saying that there is some truth here: it's hard to listen to someone else's suffering. Not because it is a burden, or because we don't feel compassion, but because it makes us feel helpless. Most of us (I hope) don't want anyone to suffer. And most of us, when confronted with another's suffering, don't know what to say. There isn't a handbook for this (well, there are probably lots of books that could help, but they aren't exactly being distributed on street corners). 

So, where does this leave us? With the scary-ass prospect of not only having to tell people what we feel, but also what we need. And the even scarier-ass prospect of being mindful enough to figure out just what the hell it is we feel and need.

I know. Yikes.

For a long time I thought it would be so much easier if, like Elizabeth McCracken wrote, we could summarize our transformative pain and put it on a card:

When I was a teenager in Boston a man on the subway handed me a card printed with tiny pictures of hands spelling out the alphabet in sign language. I AM DEAF, said the card. You were supposed to give the man some money in exchange. 
I have thought of that card ever since, during difficult times, mine or someone else's: Surely when tragedy has struck you dumb, you should be given a stack of cards that explains it for you. My first child was stillborn. I want people to know but I don't want to say it aloud. People don't like to hear it but I think they might not mind reading it on a card. 

But the more I think about it, the more I believe in the importance of saying it out loud.

I know. YIKES.

Here's my theory: the less afraid we become to share our pain, the less afraid others are to hear about it. In fact, the more we share with others, the more others share with us. And when we give ourselves (and each other) permission to be wounded, vulnerable, human, we create space for compassion.

Not everyone is going to get it, and that's okay. As one of my lovely friends said this week, if I share my story with someone and they aren't comfortable with it, it's their problem. Your compassion can extend to these people, too. Perhaps your story is too close to something they have also experienced, something that they are not ready to share. Or perhaps they just feel helpless. Whatever the reason, I'm 99.9% sure it isn't because they don't care.

It's taken me nearly a decade to understand this. And I spent more than half that decade pretending I was fine because I thought it was what everyone wanted to hear. I thought it was what I was supposed to feel. But when I started telling people about my pain--out loud--my life changed. My grief changed. My heart changed. And I began to heal.


at the end of the day {10/19/12}

Kelley Clink

Last night I turned out the lights one by one, until the world shrunk down to the puddle of reading lamp next to the bed--a circle too small to hold back the fears and desires I'd managed to ignore during the day. They spread like the dark, settled like the dark, and I was reminded of nights after my brother's death.

There were no easy moments in my grief. There were, however, easier moments. Those were most often the middle of the day, when thoughts about my brother could be buried by distractions: work, errands, exercise, television, books, chores. Evenings were a shaky sigh of relief, a weight dropped the moment before muscles quit. Mornings were harder: the fact of his death the first thought in my conscious mind; the realization that I'd have to do it all over again, figure out how to live another day without him.

But nights were the worst. All my day distractions stripped, the thoughts I'd been fleeing reared up in retribution. I'd lay down, close my eyes, and wonder about his last conscious moments. I'd press my hands to my throat, to see if I could feel what he felt. I'd catalogue all the ways I had failed him. I'd strain my ears in the quiet, sure I could hear death coming next for me.

Eventually, thankfully, the sleeping pills would kick in and wash my mind to a blank.

I can't remember when this changed. The first night that something else--an argument with my husband, work nerves, or even excitement--kept me awake. The first morning that, instead of Matt, I thought of breakfast or how much I had to pee. There wasn't a day when the grief magically disappeared.

There was, however, the day when I realized the grief was gone--and had been so for some time. I was sitting on a beach in the sun in northern California, alone, watching the Pacific crash against the earth. I was thinking about how my brother had never seen the Pacific. The thought didn't stab me, it was just there. Just a thought. I asked him to come and sit with me, to watch the waves and feel the sand and the sun and the expansiveness of sky, air, wind. 

On the drive back to the apartment where I was staying, I rolled down the windows of the car and let everything in. I felt so alive, so free, that my heart swelled enough to stretch its seams. It was a different kind of ache, but I knew that somehow it came from the same place.

what to say {9/26/12}

Kelley Clink

Yet another friend of mine has lost someone to suicide.

First off, let me say for the record that I hate this. In addition to that: I am genuinely surprised when it happens, as if the fact that I don't want anyone to ever have to go through that kind of grief is enough to have eradicated suicide from the planet. Clearly it isn't. The latest statistics (from 2009) show that the suicide rate is at an all time high.

This breaks my heart. Every time someone I know becomes a survivor of suicide, I want to scream NO! and push them back over to the other side of the line. You know that line--the one that cuts across your life like a canyon, dividing it into Before and After. But I can't. The most I can do is apologize, offer an ear and a shoulder, and wander around in a state of shock for a few days.

I still have a hard time believing how bad I am when it comes to dealing with loss. I want to be that person who knows exactly what to say to make someone feel supported and comforted. I want to be that person who knows that they are supposed to drop off a casserole or clean a bathroom, send a card once a month or take someone out to the movies. Instead I open and close my mouth a lot, like a fish, and say things like "I wish I knew what to say."

Here's the thing: when I hear that a person I care about has lost someone to suicide, I try to remember what it was like in those first days. I try to think specifically about the things people said or did that were helpful. And that's how I end up with a fish face. I don't remember anything anyone said or did. I was so blown apart, so broke down, that nothing touched me. I remember wishing many months later that there had been more cards, more care, more people asking me how I was doing (how I was really doing).

But the truth is, there are no magic words. The closest I can find, the ones I say the most and the ones I really want to believe, are: "you are not alone." And then there are the ones I save for later, which I know unequivocally to be true: "it gets better. So so so much better."

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