By Mark Price who lost his oldest son to suicide in August, 2012
I’m writing this at the request of my daughter Sarah
In the last few years, Sarah has interacted with a number of people suffering through their own very personal grieving processes. Everyone dealt with it differently. Although there seemed to be a lot of common elements, she started asking about the differences in how people process grief. This can be tough because the timing of such questions usually couldn’t be worse. Sarah and I had a common event in our lives and she noted that my journey through the process was very different than hers. She chalked it up to me being some kind of hard case while she is more on the squishy emotional side of the spectrum. I told her I don’t think it’s that simple, so she asked me to explain. Maybe this will help others with some insights and maybe not. I hope it helps. I’m not really comfortable talking about myself this much.
From my perspective here’s the bottom line
I think the events and challenges that we face as we make our way through life prepare us for the next events and challenges that await us in this life. How many times have you said, “If I only knew then what I know now…”. Some of these events will bring us to our knees in anguish. Some will teach us how to deal with other events yet to come.
Contrary to popular children’s songs and public schools, there aren’t any rainbows and unicorns around every corner. And folks that refuse to accept current reality because they don’t want it to be that way are not people to get advice from. The events and people in our lives shape our perspectives and make us who we are. And it is constantly evolving. This may sound kind of depressing but don’t get me wrong. I’m very positive, hopeful, happy, and sometimes downright silly. The trick is to maintain balance in life and be prepared for whatever may come. If this is contrary to your views, that’s fine. I don’t believe in fate. I’m just saying…..this is my perspective.
I was raised by loving and sacrificing parents
It was a religious home, and as years passed and my own faith grew I came to appreciate the reasons for, and blessings that come to us in this life. As the oldest child, when Dad had to travel on business he would tell me that I was the man of the house while he was gone and to be responsible and protect the family. The first time I recall that conversation I was eight years old and solemnly accepted my temporary role as a sheepdog for the family until his return. Though it was more my mother’s prayers and the hand of Providence than my actions that got us through those times I developed a sense of responsibility for others at an early age.
During the Vietnam era
I did my time in a submarine fighting the Cold War. I came to terms with the reality that if we ever got into nuclear fisticuffs with the Soviets, everyone and everything I loved was already gone. Nothing else to lose…It’s a mindset. You put that into a cubby hole and get on with your job and missing your family. The ability to compartmentalize things seemed to be required in the military. I still see it in friends and family who served. I believe it is an important mental skill. It gives one the ability to come back to an issue, concept, feeling, or problem and look at it more rationally after one’s subconscious has had time to digest it. It helps keep things in perspective.
I got married, had a whole bushel full of kids, and went through the soul-numbing trauma of a nasty and contentious divorce. Sometime after that, I got custody of my children. As a single Dad, I tried to provide a loving home for them in spite of some inevitable teenage rebellion and personal struggles. I love my children dearly and they will never know the sacrifices made to give them the best home I could. Regardless, I feel that only the hand of the Lord has allowed them to turn out as well as they have. I’m a very proud father in spite of my shortcomings.
The end of August, 2012 I lost my oldest son
My son died a terrible, violent, and senseless death. They say that there is nothing worse than a parent outliving a child. They might be right. To this day, I can vividly recall all the feelings that I felt in the days and weeks that followed. Disbelief, anger, self-recrimination, desire for retribution….the list goes on. There were times when I felt like my heart was going to come out of my chest.
We traveled from all over the country to mourn and make funeral arrangements. I saw the rest of my children’s faces and my heart broke for their loss. On one occasion I had to leave the room to go outside and cry in private as the family pondered what to do with his meager worldly possessions. To this day I can recall that entire week and the feelings that hammered me.
I was Dad, a steady source of strength
I knew that others needed me to be a steady source of strength for them and someone they could go to for a shoulder to cry on or to hold them and reassure them. This was my role. I was Dad, and as such, I was who you went to when things went wrong. Without realizing it I had prepared my whole life for this role. So that’s what I did.
I bawled like a child at night alone.
What I didn’t fully appreciate at the time was the support that I received from family and friends. Everyone wanted to help and tried to console as best they could. From some, in my heart I knew they couldn’t understand, but I appreciated the effort. Since then I have come to understand and appreciate what that level of support actually did for me. I didn’t know it at the time, but I now realize it was a buttress of love that had my back. And still does.
So, in my usual fashion, I put my grief in a cubbyhole
I would bring my grief out for processing on a private and personal schedule based on when I was prepared. It helped me to keep the rest of my life in balance. I returned to work as soon as I could because I knew I needed to keep my mind focused on something else. I stayed occupied with hobbies when I had any spare time and didn’t let my mind wander aimlessly on its own. Periodically I pulled that grief out of its cubbyhole, thought about it, assessed how I felt, and put it back for next time. There was and is no chance that I will let my grief define me or how I relate to others.
As of this writing, I don’t think I really grieve about losing my son very much anymore. I miss him and often speculate what his life would be like if he were still with us. I don’t know if this is grieving, but it doesn’t feel the same. I remember both the good things and the not so good things. I remember the ashen look of wide-eyed fear on the face of the DMV tester when he failed his first driving test. I remember his big smiles as he tried to help me build a cabinet, building model rockets, playing with the welding machine when he was older. I miss him.
But the most significant thing that has helped me get through this is my faith, and knowing that I will see him again.
From my daughter Sarah’s perspective I’ve been the stoic rock of Gibraltar that she classifies as a hard case. But as I’ve told her, usually with a smirk, “I have feelings too… just not for publication.”