Sobbing and Useless (Suicide, Part Two)

Naturally the first (and as yet only) chapter of Jennifer Michael Hecht’s “Stay” that I’ve read is “Suffering and Happiness.” Because as anyone who’s tried to delve into what they suffer knows, lots of people have lots of things to say about the suffering/joy thing. I will not ask the one question that haunts: why? I mean, why the fuck does one have to suffer to know joy? Hell, I can even answer that in my own way – but it doesn’t satisfy, not really. But suffering transmuted can liberate me from believing that I must suffer. Can show me, if I’m honest, what my part is in what I feel. Like everyone, I suffer within the context of my life, and Philip is now the focal point of that suffering. But as I’ve said, he’s told me not to make his death into something it isn’t. I have to get my head out my ass first.

And what I mean by “suffering in the context of my life” is that Philip’s death is of a part of the rest of it. A really simple way to understand that is if you’ve generally been okay with being alive you’ll probably wrestle with your child’s death differently than if you’ve spent most of your life thinking you and those around you would be better off with no-you. I mean, one of the reasons I used to think it’d better if I died was because my insurance policy would pay for my kids’ college.

Think I had some of those self-esteem issues we hear talk about?

My cousin Maria remembers that when I was a kid I always loved gray days. They make me feel safe, I told her. Nothing’s changed. I’m looking out my window now, where the sun’s breaking through the clouds that just yesterday were full of rain. I’ve a pit in my stomach; they always leave, the clouds. Always. There’s more sun-time than cloud-time and it doesn’t seem fair. What I feel good about is temporary, leaves too quickly. What keeps me twisted is reliable. And that’s pretty much how life’s felt.

I don’t much like Hecht’s poem, “No Hemlock Rock (don’t kill yourself); there’s a certain silliness to some of it and I’m not sure what she’s trying to do:

Don’t kill yourself. Don’t kill yourself.
Don’t. Eat a donut, be a blown nut.
That is, if you’re going to kill yourself,
stand on a street corner rhyming
seizure with Indonesia, and wreck it with
racket. Allow medical terms.
Rave and fail. Be an absurd living ghost,
if necessary, but don’t kill yourself.

I guess she’s saying be crazy, do anything, anything at all except kill yourself; but those words have nothing to do with me because I’m hurting and and it’s too much effort to go out and get a donut and I don’t even know what it means to be a blown nut.

But “Stay” is something else. When two of Hecht’s close friends killed themselves, she wrote an open essay letter on a blog that she writes for.  “Life has always been too hard to bear, for a lot of people, a lot of the time,” she wrote. “It’s awful. But it isn’t too hard to bear, it’s only almost too hard to bear.” She tells us to sob and be useless because “Sobbing and useless is million times better than dead. A billion times.” She calls those who want to kill themselves but don’t, heroes.

I’m no hero. I didn’t kill myself out of fear; nothing heroic about it. And before I start going on about how cowardly I am that I didn’t, I’m going to switch gears. I have to start seeing things differently. I’m not into heroics, so I’ll just say I have some level of sanity or I’d’ve thrown myself drunk in front of one of our Montclair rail crossings.

But how crazy am I to be touch with Philip daily and yet want to die because he did? What is it about the dark that attracts me? Philip told me that he is my teacher where he is, and Natalie’s my teacher where she is. He’s here to show me what death isn’t; she is showing me what life is. But it’s Philip I listen for and yearn for and learn from; I don’t learn from Natalie. She’s intense and blooming and instead of learning that from her, I sit on the sidelines because I can’t have that. Too late, don’t know how.

How complicated is this all? Philip was my first born, and extraordinary to me. The first thing I’d done right; and when I saw the beautiful child he grew into, all the more proof of what I was worth. He was my light. Funny thing is, there were times I thought I was paying way more attention to Natalie than to Philip; but my children needed what they needed, and Natalie needed more. Philip was my steady. Lights don’t go out, I said when he died; they just don’t. “I didn’t go out, mom,” he says. “Have a little faith.”

See, I can bow my head every day in gratitude when he lets me know he’s near. But what good is it if I don’t learn to live. If I want to work with what he’s trying to teach me, then I have to be willing to follow Natalie’s lead.

Hecht quotes Ann Sexton: “I don’t want to live…Now listen, life is lovely, but I Can’t Live It. I can’t even explain…if you knew how it Felt. To be alive, yes, alive, but not be able to live it…I am like a stone that lives…locked outside of all that’s real…I wish, or think I wish, that I were dying of something for then I could be brave…to [be] behind a wall watching everyone fit in where I can’t…to live but to not reach or to reach wrong…to do it all wrong…I’m not a part. I’m not a member. I’m frozen.”

I know this. I know every word of this. I’ve said it all, down to wishing I was dying so I could be brave. So I am not alone. But this is what else I know: It does not have to be this way. I don’t have to be this way. I haven’t figured out what that means yet. But this is only part two.

Next: Suicide, Part Three

© 2014 Denise Smyth


17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kathy Knechtges
    Jan 13, 2014 @ 21:43:03

    you have many friends here rooting for you on the journey.


    • Denise
      Jan 13, 2014 @ 22:00:02

      Thank you Kathy; there’s so much I never understood – like how someone reaching out can make it all better, even just for a bit.


  2. Harriet Halpern
    Jan 13, 2014 @ 22:19:02

    When are we going to meet for dinner + long chat out on my porch? Huh? Give me a couple of choices (Fri night still is best but for you I’ll be flexible) and we’ll set the date. Yes!!! Love you, –Harriet


  3. jmgoyder
    Jan 13, 2014 @ 22:21:19

    I’m glad you are writing about this – I look for your posts, Denise. I wish I could help so much. Juliexxx


  4. Denise
    Jan 15, 2014 @ 12:13:05

    You know, you do help. It always startles me how far you are, yet how much you care. One thing Philip’s trying to teach me is what connection really is, which has nothing to do with anything physical.


  5. Greet Grief
    Jan 16, 2014 @ 21:12:15

    I did a presentation yesterday where I read a quote from Mark Nepo’s book entitled The Book of Awakening where he talks about the power of telling our stories. He says “stories carry pieces of truth and meaning over time…it is the sweat and tears of the telling that bring the meaning out of its sleep as if no time has passed. It is the telling that heals.” Keep writing Denise, keep your story coming!


  6. Denise
    Jan 17, 2014 @ 08:54:52

    Well how interesting – yesterday, for the first time in months and months (if not longer), I picked up Nepo’s book, which I’d quite forgotten I had.

    Thank you – Philip’s birthday is Monday, and I thought I was okay until last night…


  7. SusanB
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 17:40:03

    It’s easier on the dark days to stay inside your own head where it’s overcast and sad. On the bright days the contrast between your grief and the world out there without Philip is to horrifying. Year two is worse than year one. You are absofreakinglutely correct. Years three to … well, I’m not sure when I started to think I might be able to live my life without my son in it, but it happened. Keep breathing. One breath at at time.


  8. Denise
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 19:05:44

    Okay – one breath at a time, and I need to remember that because I am sliding into February, when he died. Then spring, which offers no comfort because everything will bloom even though Philip’s dead. He’s not gone, but he’s dead. And it’s so hard to live with this; I want him here, with me. I want his midnight texts and sense of humor and the way he loved me. People die, relationships don’t. But to live without the physical…I’m tired today. I’m just tired.


  9. tersiaburger
    Jan 23, 2014 @ 16:22:58

    Oh my dear friend how my heart breaks for you. These special days are so friggin hard. Be gentle with yourself. Sending you hugs and gentle thoughts. Much love. xx


  10. Denise
    Jan 23, 2014 @ 19:01:19

    Thank you, dear Tersia. For all you’ve shared, and how much you care. Much love back.


  11. Lucia Maya
    Jan 27, 2014 @ 01:19:22

    wondering how you are now. I’m behind in reading, caught up in my own small world…Thank you for this. I don’t have anything else to say, but thank you. And I’m glad you’re here. And I love you.


  12. Denise
    Jan 27, 2014 @ 10:30:24

    I’m so grateful for you, Lucia; love you so.


  13. lensgirl53
    Feb 01, 2014 @ 01:43:25

    Sometimes I don’t know what to say when others are battling with suicidal ideation because there is a fine line between explaining what science knows and giving permission to go ahead. It is too complex and one answer will not suffice. I so understand the struggle you are having. I read Anne Sexton’s biography and know that she had severe mental health issues. Even though she was ill she was tragically aware of it and powerless to help it. To me, grief can summon that same awareness. You are definitely not alone. I have had those same grandiose ideas about dying….my death scene…the brave face. My prayers are fervently about the end here and my continuation….there. xoxo dale


  14. Denise
    Feb 02, 2014 @ 01:22:23

    You know, Dale – excuse me for repeating myself, but much as I’ve said I want to die, if Death came and beckoned I would surely wonder where the hell my life went. It’s not the end, but faced with the death of my son, “it’s not the end” is cold comfort. For now.

    And I know you’re with me, I do.


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