Grief is a choice, right?

Suicide grief is both voluntary and involuntary. There are moments when we choose to make grief the focus and there are other times when grief comes knocking and we can’t ignore its presence.

Several mornings a week I go for a walk along the Bendigo Creek Trail. If the weather is cold I wear a jacket, Adam’s jacket. I have other jackets so it is a conscious decision to wear his. Apart from keeping me warm, it provides a personal connection. I welcome the sense of closeness. When I put my hands in the pockets I know Adam’s hands have also been there.

I saw my other three children over the weekend. They are parents now and are grappling with the challenges of raising a family. I don’t need to wear their jackets to feel close. I can hug them, talk to them, and observe them. That level of intimacy is no longer possible with Adam. I grieve the loss to our family and feel deeply his absence.

Some memories of our loved one can be particularly dark. I read recently that darkness is not the absence of light but rather a place where the light has yet to penetrate. It means we can take a memory, a disturbing memory, hold it gently and respectfully, and wait for the light to come.

Adam went missing for a few days. I looked for him but my efforts were in vain. It wasn’t until a friend of his called to say that he had been admitted ‘voluntarily’ to the acute mental health unit of the Frankston Hospital that our fears were quieted.

I went to visit him that Sunday. As I was approaching the hospital a group of people were crossing the road. They appeared a motley bunch. Several metres behind the main group was a solitary man, withdrawn and forlorn. Despite the gaunt features, I recognised my son. Where was the vibrancy, where was the life, where was the tanned body of someone who welcomed hard physical labour?

I have reflected on this event many times. The starkness was both revealing and confronting. Adam was altered, perhaps permanently. He looked lost and bewildered. I wept. I grieved. I had some understanding of the internal struggles that had led to this. I recognised the downward projection and wondered where it would end. I understood the challenge that awaited Adam and was concerned how he would adapt to this new reality.

In nurturing this memory I have come to recognise the brutal honesty of Adam’s demeanour. His brokenness was laid bare. I have often felt guilty that I wasn’t able to do more. Over time I have come to appreciate that what I brought was a father’s love, both unconditional and limitless. It is this love which sustains a person through the most tragic loss.

Much of our grief is involuntary. When we experience an unwanted or unexpected loss we lose our equilibrium. We feel pummelled from all directions. Our world seems unhinged and our emotions unrestrained.

Grief is never neat or orderly. Like the waves of the sea, it won’t be tamed. There are encounters that are often unplanned. Something unanticipated halts our daily routine, reminding us of our loss. As Petrea King explains,

Grief can spring out of drawers and cupboards, off shelves, from photographs, wafts to our nostrils upon a perfume, is precipitated by music, clutches at our heart, hollows out our insides and plummets us to the depths.

We have a candle on our dresser. We have lit it on occasions to remember Adam. Much of the time the candle goes unnoticed, hidden behind the picture frames. However, there have been instances when the candle emits a perfume that invades your senses and arrests your attention. It is a reminder to pause and acknowledge Adam. Sometimes the feeling is one of sadness while on other occasions it is thanks.

We attend a service of worship on Sundays. Sometimes a song or bible reading will refer to ‘Adam’, the first Adam, and you may catch your breath or find your thoughts wandering, contemplating happier times or revisiting some of those unanswerable questions.

Grief is never optional. It is important we recognise our need to grieve whether voluntary or involuntary. As Earl Grollman says,

“Grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love. The only cure for grief is to grieve. “

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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