Every year in fall it always feels like it is happening too fast. The leaves change and the light shifts and the temperatures drop and my transition from outside to in feels anything but soft and gradual. Everything is hurrying up in order to slow down and it is not exactly gentle. In fact, I think the word that I would pick, right here, right now, is harsh. This year in particular as we hurry to get it all buttoned up for the winter everything seems to be falling apart. Our water heater went. The furnace is about to pop. My perspective and clarity have taken a nose dive.
A little less than 2 weeks ago we lost a friend- family by love and marriage- who I think it never occurred to us that we could loose. A pillar. A steady. An emblem of a place and time. For Chris, he was his first and most real muse for what he wanted to live into as papa. Patient. Attentive. Kind. Fun. Funny. Engaged. Earnest. The winter that Chris spent living with him was what solidified his desire for his own family, in many ways it was what launched him toward me and the lives that we have built together.
But now his loss and the particulars of his death are launching us into conversations that no parent ever wants to have with their kids, especially not so close to home. And yet. These are the conversations we are having. And I do not just mean my little family, even though that is certainly real for us. I think that more than ever we are being asked to talk about hard things, things we rather avoid, things that will never go away no matter how hard we long to look in another direction. And I get it. I really do. I have spent much of my life in the Midwest where we all learn from a very young age that it is our job to keep others comfortable, avoid conflict and ignore the elephant in the room at all costs. Status quo. This probably has a lot to do with my square peg round hole complex. Consciously, I have always pushed back against this, I think Chris has too, and certainly we have been raising kids who are a lot more comfortable talking about a wide variety of things that I never could have as a child. But mental health and suicide are not light fare. Nor should they ever be. Ever.
I have no idea what to say. I am feeling my way through the dark. Working as best I can off of instinct, suggestion, and whatever research I can manage. But when you talk to a kid about hard things, when you talk to a child who is grieving and you are grieving too, you have to meet them with your heart forward. You have to look them in the eyes and hold their pain and resist the urge to lighten it up or lift their burden. Grief is a roller coaster. It is non-linear with no real end. And suicide grief is a ride on a whole other level. Fast and furious and super fucking sneaky and insidious. Plus, kids, like adults, are unique and themselves and as such there is no map for how they will process anything.
Maple is my deep empathy child. So she goes right into the pain of her cousins and their mom and feels their loss instead of her own. She is gentle and generous and so magnificent. And then she’ll sit down with me to work on some math and rips me a new asshole that she can populate with cutting insults and abuses. Her process is at once soft and violent, and she aims to hurt- but it is also somewhat straight forward and understandable, and while painful to navigate, it is not impossible.
Eider on the other hand is an existential child. He has always been concerned about death and the end of consciousness and “the void”. As much as we have endeavored to introduce him to world views that support peace and connection, that doesn’t prevent him from experiencing the profound hopelessness that it sometimes is to be alive. So, knowing this, I waited to talk to him about the particulars about what happened until Chris and I returned from out east. I thought for a moment before I left that I could avoid those details all together, but then my mom relayed to me that he would cry over dinner, put himself to bed early and then not get up til late in the morning. When I first got home, he was an uncomfortable combination of clingy and provocative. So, I picked him up from fiddle and while we waited in the car for Maple to finish swim team practice, he crawled into the front seat and we sat facing each other so that we could talk about what happened. He sobbed. And howled. Let his head fall all the way back and his mouth drop open so that the deep wail from all the way in the belly of his soul could tear it’s way up and out.
We talked about what it is to feel sad and still have a spark of happiness in your center. We talked about how sometimes even that spark can go away too and that that is ok, but that we need to ask for help when it does. Even though the asking might sometimes feel impossible, we have to do it anyway. We talked about medication and that because something bad happened in relation to a medication doesn’t mean that all of those types of medications (anti-anxieties, anti-depressants) are bad and in fact they can really help a lot of people and that he doesn’t need to worry about our friends and family that take something. We talked about how it is hard to understand things that are not straight forward and that have so many potential outcomes and that it really sucks that this had the outcome that it had. It is sad that our friend is gone. It will never not be sad.
I have no idea what I am doing. But if I am learning anything about being alive right now it is that I cannot wait until I have it figured out before I act because that is never going to happen. I have to do it anyway, even though it is imperfect and even though I am probably going to make a mess of it more than a few times. Just because we don’t know how to have a conversation doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have it. Blinding flash, right? Just try. Open your heart and make the effort. Your vulnerability is the seat of your courage. Fuck it up. Stick your foot in your mouth. And then try again. Amend yourself. I am talking to me here because I am in it and I am you and we each need to stop allowing our fear to ever stop us from showing up for each others suffering. In the words of the iconic Mark Hunter: TALK HARD.