Ken, my son who lived with me, killed himself the day after Christmas. I’m still in shock and disbelief. I’ll write more later..
I thought I’d review my experience of 2012 tonight and maybe list some wishes for 2013, but my mind took me to another place. Earlier this evening I started a novel by Helen Garner, “The Spare Room,” and I started thinking about my son, John, johnshome.wordpress.com , who died of colon cancer in February, 2001. The book is about two friends, one of whom is dying of cancer. But when I thought of John, Cancer wasn’t what I thought of.
I remembered an experience John had at a new middle school he attended after we moved to Connecticut from Indiana. He was taken into a booth in the boy’s bathroom and beat up by a boy from a corrective institution. The boy was there on some kind of grant from the government, I believe, a trial program for delinquent boys. The boy took John’s watch, gave him a black eye, a busted lip and a messed up face. John was borderline autistic, a mild mannered, gentle soul who was trusting. Even though the other boy had no marks or injuries, the incident was treated as a “scuffle between boys.”
Even though John was hurting physically, he was mostly injured emotionally. He drew into himself, stayed up late at night teaching himself to play the guitar, picking out soft, haunting tunes. He checked a book out of the library called “Violence in America.” It broke my heart.
I was so angry, I took him to the principal’s office and insisted the principal explain to him why nothing was being done about the boy who hurt him. I don’t remember the explanation, but it was lame. It was obvious that something political was going on. I took John to the head of the education board, Again, sympathy, but no help. I called the local newspaper. A lot of sympathy but no help when the reporter learned where the other boy was from.
I think John and I both lost faith and respect at that time for people in high places. It’s been a long road trying to change my opinion.
Not a very pretty story. I’m sorry I can’t do better, especially today when I should be looking back at the positives in my life and thinking about going forward. But this is real; anything else I might write would be forced.
Tomorrow, perhaps, I’ll take stock and look ahead. For now, I’m sending John a hug and a prayer, and then I’ll get back to my novel.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is on the TV tonight. Scott loved that movie. He watched it every year. I’m surprised at how just knowing its on fills me with dread. It’s been 13 years since Scott killed himself and I still can’t watch his favorite programs, look at his photos, his handwriting, anything that reminds me of him. He loved sizzlers, Seinfeld, Star Wars, roast, rice and gravy.
I often wonder what he would look like now, if he’d be married, if he’d have children. I loved him so much. I still can’t believe he’s gone. And I miss him.
I’ll be glad when Christmas is over. Next, I have to get through his birthday, January 9th. He’d be 49. The hurt never goes away.
I had a cousin just a few months younger than me. Her name was Terry. We met 27 years ago when we both were 58. It’s a long story, but briefly, she lived in Kansas and had been looking for her mother for years; finally found us in Missouri, but her mother had passed away. I was thrilled to have her in my life.
She and her husband visited us a couple of times, and my husband and I drove to Kansas to see her. We talked on the phone and exchanged letters.
She was such a gift; we both lamented the fact that we lived so far from each other. I felt we had been cheated (she much more than I) for not knowing each other when we were younger. My dad’s family all lived close, within walking distance of one another. If we had known each other then, we would have been playmates, probably best friends. And then, after finally meeting, we still couldn’t see each other that often because of the distance, and, later, due to the fact that we both had physical problems that made traveling difficult.
Our contact has been less frequent the past few years, and I’ve been the one to call. Terry had been quite ill and on medication that left her drowsy, with slurred speech; I did most of the talking. Not a very rewarding exchange.
I was thinking about her today and realized it had been quite awhile since we talked. I decided to call her and was looking forward to hearing her voice. Her husband answered, told me she died last April. And now I regret that I didn’t call her sooner.
I’ve had that experience before. I called my best friend after my husband died and learned she had died months before. You’d think I would have learned by now to live as if today is the only day. To not let time grow between us.
But time seems to go so fast. And I think….tomorrow. Then tomorrow comes, and I let it slide by too And before I know it, weeks, months have passed. Nothing in life is so certain that we can take anything for granted.
I’m glad, and grateful, that my cousin and I were able to enjoy each other, if only briefly. If she hadn’t found us, I would never have known I had a cousin in Kansas. She enriched my life and she’s a part of me now.
I love you Terry. Thank you for the gift of you.
When I worked at Newington Veteran’s Hospital as a psychiatric nurse, one of my duties was to teach classes on suicide to medical personnel—nurses, interns, aides, and students. I informed them that those who were serious about ending their lives were often secretive about their intent. And that the male’s method of suicide was usually more lethal than the female’s. Guns or hanging vs. drugs or self-mutilation. I advised them of warning signs: withdrawal, change in personality, loss of interest in most activities, looking depressed, poor work or school performance, change in sleep patterns, alcohol/drug abuse, talking about death or suicide, careless in appearance.
Then my husband and I retired and moved from Connecticut to Missouri. Chris had separated from the navy, was married, living in Texas; Scott, divorced, was in the Air Force in California; Ken was working at a television station in Connecticut and John, married, a recent survivor of Hodgkin’s disease, was working as a computer analyst in Connecticut. Separated and scattered, we were all involved in our own interests. We communicated by phone, internet and regular mail.I took my retirement as an opportunity to seriously follow my life’s dream—writing. I took a few creative writing classes at a local university and then some online.After Scott separated from the Air Force, he lived with Forrest and me while pursuing a degree in computer science. Forrest became a master gardener and his interest turned to our yard. I spent my time writing poems. After graduation, Scott took a job at Hallmark in Kansas City.
About that time, a few physical problems I had worsened and I began thinking about the uncertainty of life. I started a memoir about me and our family for my sons to read after my death. I always regretted that I hadn’t asked my parents for more information about themselves. I know very little about my ancestors. A bonus, for me, in the writing was that going back and looking at my life in retrospect changed my perspective about me, the family and life in general.
I was involved in my writing project and welcoming John and his family who’d just arrived from Connecticut for a visit when a call came from Scott. He’d driven himself to a hospital in K C because he was suicidal. I knew he’d been depressed and had even overdosed (that’s another story for another time). A few months before his call, we’d brought him to Springfield and admitted him to a hospital here. He was discharged after a few days. Forrest, Scott and I then looked for a house for him here. I wanted him close so I could keep an eye on him. I gave earnest money on a house he liked, but he went back to KC and as far as I knew, he was doing fine. I was keeping in contact with him closely by email and by phone and had no idea he was suicidal.
After the call came, Forrest and I drove to KC to see Scott in the hospital. We boarded his cats and took care of some other business for him, stayed overnight and saw him again next morning before returning to Springfield to be with John and his family. I’d planned on returning to KC after John left, but a few days later, Scott was discharged from the hospital and went back to work. I thought he was doing fine. Two days before he shot himself, he talked to me about plans he had for buying a house and the new vet he’d found for his cats.
Thirteen years later, I still can’t watch “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Scott’s favorite Christmas holiday movie, look at his photos, or think about him for too long. I haven’t come to grips with the fact that I, who should have known, did not recognize the warning signs that my son was in trouble. I should have been more alert, not so distracted by my writing and other things that were going on. I’ve learned, too late, to treat each moment as if it was the only moment, and to give it all I have.
After Scott’s death, my heart couldn’t finish my memoir. Sadly, instead, I published a memoir in memory of Scott, and, later, one for John who died of colon cancer.
How beautiful and sacred life is! And how fragile! We can’t afford to be careless. I must live with my inattention for the rest of my life and suffer the resulting heartache.
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (tamu.uloop.com)
I just started following a blogger whose husband is ill and she has to care for him. Almost all her thoughts and moves are affected by how her husband will react. She plans her life around him and his needs.
I understand where she’s coming from; I, too, was once a caretaker for my husband. Keeping him safe and happy was my life’s work. It was difficult at times, but mostly it was rewarding.
And this is why:
We were in our late 70’s when he became ill. Our children had long left the nest and lived in other towns. We’d lost two sons, along with many other friends and relatives. We mostly had just each other. I was a retired psychiatric nurse, and chose that profession because my heart went out to those in need and I wanted to help them. I especially related to the sick, as I’d been quite ill as a child, often separated from friends and family, trying to deal with my fears and discomforts alone. My mother took good physical care of me but was too busy or unaware of how to comfort a sick, scared child. She never spoke of or explained my illnesses to me. Basically, I was just put to bed in a bedroom and left to my own devices.
Mother had always wanted to be a nurse, but she lost her father and brother before penicillin was discovered and had to quit school and go to work to help with the family bills. Her nursing aspirations were carried into her adulthood. She saw that I and my bed were clean and that I was well fed. When I had Scarlet Fever, she rubbed my rash with calamine lotion. She boiled my sheets and everything that came out of my room. When she learned that I had Rheumatic Fever, she cried on the bus on the way home from the doctor’s. I knew then that something bad was wrong with me, but I had no idea what it was or what was going to happen. The treatment for Rheumatic Fever back then was bed rest. There were no medications to treat it with.
Anyway, after I retired as a psychiatric nurse practitioner, I missed practicing my calling. And with the boys gone and no one to take care of, I needed a reason to get up in the morning.
My husband was a strong, controlling individual. He made the important decisions in our family, and I was happy to let him do that. I’ve always been a sensitive, introverted individual, never really sure of myself, afraid to take the initiative.
Then, after Forrest became ill, first with Alzheimer’s, then with COPD, hypertension, diabetes, kidney dysfunction, and colon cancer, I gradually had to become the decision maker and performer of all the household duties. I gained confidence, and, in fact, enjoyed being responsible.
But most of all, I enjoyed taking care of my husband—cooking his meals, buying his special treats at the grocers, seeing that he had his oxygen, clothes to keep warm, bringing his meals to him in the TV room after it was too much effort for him to come to the table, taking him to his doctors’ appointments, wheeling him in the wheelchair. We’d sit on the patio, watch the birds build nests, the trees grow, flowers bloom. Sometimes, we’d watch TV together, or I’d watch while he slept in a chair across from me. We were together. We connected. Not only was he allowing me to care for him, he was enjoying it. Sadly, it was our best time as a married couple.
The woman I spoke of at the beginning of this blog lives in Australia on a bird farm. Our experiences with illness are not quite the same, but, still, I can empathize with her. Her blog address is: http://jmgoyder.com/ She’s courageous, admirable and an inspiration. I think you might find her blog worth the visit.