I am a suicide survivor as are my son Michael, daughter Mary and my brother Joseph. Terminal mental illness took my husband Frank in 1975, my son Joe in 1988, and my sister-in-law Kathryn in the early 1990’s, and now my cousin Sally’s son Jake this past week. There is little else in life that can compare to the dark jarring upon hearing news of this irretrievable loss. When our loved ones’ pain and anguish ends, ours escalates with astounding intensity. Our lives are forever changed and we are faced with accepting what is.
My experience of accepting this dark pain has led me to know a mysterious God who can transform us through darkness. I remember the exact moment when I began my long healing process after the death of my husband and son. After my husband’s death it felt like someone had cut me in half lengthwise with a meat cleaver and there was this long jagged wound leaving me half of what I was. Sometime after his death, I was on the phone with a relative who said, “You know the pain will get better.” I responded, “I don’t care if it ever does.” With that acceptance I felt a subtle shift within that slowly began healing my wound. After my son’s death the physical sensation was of a black hole in my chest where my heart had been. I remember walking down into the basement one night, which seemed to even intensify the feeling of emptiness in my chest, and thinking I embrace this darkness as a sign of my love for Joe. And again there was that subtle shift that slowly began returning my heart.
This mysterious God of ours can use the pain of terminal mental illness, or any pain, to make us a more aware, compassionate people. In my experience, the transformation begins by accepting and honoring our pain and then letting God grow us into a more caring people. I can’t think of a better tribute to the kind and gentle soul we knew as Jake.