“Maybe now you will pay attention to me,” read the suicide note.
Grief never goes away. Significant losses come to mind throughout a lifetime.
I have often said we all grieve in different ways. Some may cry a lot after the death of their person, others very little. Some can’t part with the clothes of the departed, others clean out the house within weeks of the death. Grief expresses itself in a wide range of actions, thoughts, and feelings that would be considered “normal grieving.”
I had a brother who died a week after being born when I was six years old. It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I asked my mother about Randy’s death. When I did, she burst into tears and said, “My father wouldn’t let me go to his graveside burial service.” I never knew she kept such grief just below the surface. I told this story in more detail in a previous blog.
Although my mother carried that grief all those years, she functioned fully engaged in our family’s life. She had found a new normal as a mother who lost a child. She was in this range of “normal grieving.”
But there are ways of grieving that could be considered abnormal – check out the podcast titled, “Prolonged Grief Disorder.” You can listen to it or read the transcript at Geripal.org. In the podcast Holly Prigerson, Ph.D., describes prolonged grief disorder:
“So those symptoms were symptoms of yearning after 12 months post-loss and or preoccupation with thoughts of the deceased, but it’s really yearning.… You feel like you don’t know who you are anymore, where you fit in to the world. You feel disbelief. You feel a sense of meaninglessness. You feel extreme loneliness. You feel bitter and pangs of sorrow, emotional pain is how they they’ve phrased it.… It’s mostly meaninglessness, purposelessness, disbelief, yearning, loneliness. These symptoms in and of themselves are very distressing. They feel detached from others. The only person they felt they really could connect with is the dead.… So, they have to have these distressing symptoms and they have to be significantly impaired by those symptoms. So, by definition, their dysfunctional symptoms, this isn’t normal level grief.”
I’ve witnessed this type of grief firsthand. I was a nursing home chaplain; a co-worker lost a teenage son to a hit-and-run accident. She believed it was murder, but the driver was acquitted at trial. She, understandably, became obsessed with this loss. She even bought a house next to the cemetery so she could always look out on her son’s grave.
Tragically, after some time passed, her younger teenage son died by suicide. He left a note, “Maybe now you will pay attention to me.”
Chaplain Hank Dunn is the author of Hard Choices for Loving People: CPR, Feeding Tubes, Palliative Care, Comfort Measures and the Patient with a Serious Illness and Light in the Shadows. Together they have sold over 4 million copies. You can purchase his books at hankdunn.com or on Amazon.