I recently read an account of an old Taoist tale. An old peasant had only one son and one fine stallion with which to farm his land. All of the other farmers in the valley had pity for his poverty but the old man says of his situation simply, “Bad event, good event, who knows?” Then, one day, the farmer’s only stallion bolts from his hitching post and thunders up into the mountains leaving the farmer and his son to do all of the sod-breaking work by themselves. His neighbors commiserate but the old man simply says, ”Bad event, good event, who knows?” Suddenly, the next morning, the stallion races back down from the mountain and into the corral, followed by a whole herd of wild horses. The neighbors are astounded by the man’s new wealth and congratulate him but the old man says simply, “Good event, bad event, who knows?” Soon after, one of the wild stallions throws the son, falls on him and breaks his legs, crippling him for life. The other peasants grieve such a loss but the old man says simply, “Bad event, good event, who knows?” Then, one day in the fall, just at the beginning of the harvest, the local warlord rides into the valley and conscripts into his army every young man there with one exception: the crippled, limping, apparently useless son of the farmer. The other farmers in the valley wail in despair at their misfortune and the old man’s luck but he says simply, “Good event, bad event, who knows?” Despair oftentimes results in the loss of a loved one from suicide. This is a very normal consequence in such a tragic loss. There are also opportunities in the lives of survivors.
As survivors pursue these opportunities and if these opportunities prove to be successful survivors would give these new opportunities back only to have their loved ones back in their lives. No matter what the future holds in store for survivors they would never rejoice that a loved one took their life. Survivors would literally do anything to have this loved one back among the living.
The challenge that survivors have in their lives is to seek these new opportunities. Survivors long for the way that life was prior to the loss of their loved ones. That is one of the steps in the grieving process. Life was going along quite well with all of the ups and downs that are part of everyone’s life. No one has the fairy tale type of life that is found in movies or novels. Every person has challenges to master and disappointments to struggle with. There are also many good times and fruitful times that bring much joy and happiness. People’s lives are a mixture of challenge and disappointment.
At some point in the grieving process there will be opportunities for growth and change in the life of a survivor. Sometimes the opportunities are going to be very apparent and sometimes they are going to be quite subtle. At this point the survivor is met with the question: Do I make use of this opportunity or do I let this pass me by? Sometimes these opportunities mean taking a risk. Risks always make people vulnerable and survivors might be afraid of more pain if the opportunity fails. The opposite can also be true. The opportunity might bring some joy and pleasure into the life of a survivor who up until now has known only the devastating pain of losing a loved from suicide. There is no way of predetermining the outcome of such an opportunity. Survivors have to be very cautious in pursuing such opportunities and very judicious in their decision making. The point is not to become frozen in one’s grief that all opportunities for change and pleasure and joy are rejected and the fear of change paralyzes the survivor. I often say that in my estimation survivors are among the bravest people that I know because their lives have been devastated by the loss of a loved from suicide and yet they carry on with their lives.
Is it possible for joy and pleasure to reenter the life of someone who has lost a loved from suicide? The answer is categorically and emphatically yes. There is no doubt that survivors can and will experience joy and pleasure in the future. That joy and pleasure will be different from the way that it was experienced prior to the suicide. Everything is different in life once someone has lost a loved from suicide. That is because this is a pivotal event and pivotal events change the course of one’s life. Nothing is ever the same after the suicide as before the suicide. Survivors will always be frustrated if they attempt to have the same kind of life after the suicide as before. That life died with that loved one and was buried forever. If survivors want to live that life as it was before the suicide then they will always be living in the past and will forego any life in the future and will be too afraid to seek opportunities that can bring joy and pleasure. Surviving a suicide is not for the weak hearted.
Sometimes survivors can be gripped with the idea that they are being disloyal to their loved one if they seek pleasure or joy in the aftermath of this loved one’s suicide. This loved one found this life too painful to endure and sought relief and the relief came in the taking of their life. This left the survivor with the challenge to remain in this life and to try to recreate a life without this much loved person. In the recreating of a life come opportunities that have the potential of bringing a modicum of pleasure and joy. There is no disloyalty towards this dearly departed loved one. This loved one died but the survivors did not die. They continue to live and have the same needs of pleasure and joy that all humans seek. One can only imagine the departed loved one encouraging the survivors to “go for it”. These departed loved ones left this world not to punish survivors but to end the pain that had engulfed their lives. They would never want to be a barrier or an obstacle to prevent survivors from pursuing opportunities that might bring pleasure and joy back to lives that have been so disrupted from suicide.
As always, I want to assure each and every member of the LOSS family of my daily thoughts and prayers during my quiet time. I encourage all members of the LOSS family to do the same for each other –especially for those survivors who have recently joined our family.
Keep On Keepin’ On,