Monday, March 25, 2019

Grief sucks

A friend of mine who lost his son to suicide posted a single sentence on social media recently: "Grief is a motherfucker."

This is a not a fun post, it's something I'm writing to get some of this hurt out of my system, because it keeps rolling around in my head.

As many of you know, I work for a mental health advocacy organization. This legislative session is the busiest one we've had since I started working there, and it's also been the one I've been the most involved with (my boss is our policy guy. I'm still learning.)

Over the past few weeks, I've helped people draft written and oral testimony about, essentially, how our current mental health system sucks. (Note: no one disagrees with this. No one is boasting about the system we have now; but in true advocacy fashion, no one can agree on where to go from here.)

And as I've been talking to people who want to make things better -  essentially by sharing the very worst things that have happened to them or their loved ones - it isn't lost on me that these people either are or have the family support they need. And I wonder how many people we aren't hearing from, and am all too sure of what can happen to them in a system that sets us up for failure even when we're seeking help.

My mood crashed a few days into this project and I finally realized it was because 9 months later, I am acutely missing and mourning my friend. I'll call her Leah.

Like me, Leah was an assault survivor who had PTSD. Unlike me, she had a series of hospitalizations, abusive relationships, and no support to speak of outside of her network of friends.

If anyone knew how to get help, she did. She was a mental health first aid trainer. She was a peer support specialist. At one time, she worked for me. She was one of the kindest, most selfless people I have ever known.

Last summer, I sent her and two other friends a group text, telling them I was going to be in their area for work and that we should meet up. Then one of the other two friends called and said he had some bad news.

Leah died of suicide. We had a safety plan, she had promised to call, text, anytime if she started going into a bad place. The last time she called and left a message - and I will always regret this - I texted her asking if we could touch base another time, since this huge event I was in charge of was happening the next day.

Me, via text: Is everything ok?
Leah, in response: Yes, everything is great. I'm doing great.

And a month later, she proved very definitively that things had been anything but that.

What I'm discovering is that this is an entirely different form of grief than I've ever experienced. My grandmother died last year; nothing could have prevented her death from a brain tumor. My friend Lynne died of cancer that had spread to her bones; same story.

But I'm convinced that Leah died not because she didn't know how to get help, but because she knew the system so well that she knew exactly what kind of "help" she would get. And she knew it wasn't going to be any help at all.

I'm told it's irresponsible to write about how people take their own lives, in case someone on the edge gets ideas about how they can try to do that. So let's just say this was not a spur of the moment action. It was well-planned. She left no note, no message, gave no clue anything was not, in fact, great.

Sometimes you think, working in this field, that you're somehow insulated. Then mental illness takes one of your own and you realize how very helpless things can look.

All I can think of is that she had no faith that things would ever get better. And that thought was apparently so unbearable that she couldn't find her way past it to the next day, the next month, the next year.

So grief sucks, but this kind of grief feels like a wound that will never heal. Every time I think I'm as ok as I will ever be, it's like a bandage gets ripped off and I'm bleeding all over the place, needing a tourniquet.

I read Kim Gordon's book, Girl In A Band (which is excellent by the way), and she was friends with Kurt Cobain from before Nirvana became big. Writing 20 years after his death by suicide, she says, There is no closure, and there never will be. Because someone died young, and violently.

So I think that's what, after months of grieving, I need to learn to accept. That really, I have to accept something just won't heal.


LL Cool Joe said...

I'm really sorry for your loss. Time doesn't heal all wounds, we just have to learn to live with them.

Jono said...

I could write to you for days about this stuff. Mental health, death, suicide of friends, my own struggles, all of it. Help is not very available for victims, survivors, or anyone touched by grief other than a personal network of friends and family and not everyone has those things standing by. It is sad as it is something everyone has to face at some time. Email me if you want to. We can talk about it.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Sending you hugs today, Riot Kitty.

Abby said...

Wow, that is terrible. I'm so sorry, RK

Blue Grumpster said...

I don't know what to say, Kitty, except that read your post twice shaking my head. Helplessness sucks. Grief sucks, and I'm sorry for your loss.

Lee said...

I don't believe in the over-used word - "closure". Some not-so-bright-spark came up with the idea of using it in completely the wrong context. And "closure" has become one of the words of "The Noughties"...and the use of it that way annoys the hell out of me. And, I don't believe it brings anyone who is hurting any form of relief...of peace.

In my opinion, for what it's worth...there is no time line on grief/grieving. There is no such thing as "closure" when it is placed on the loss of a loved one...on the loss of a dear friend...when it refers to grief.

Take good care, are a good person...and I am not the only one who believes this to be so. :)

Riot Kitty said...

Thank you, can't find your email though?

Riot Kitty said...

Thanks so much everyone, for your kind words and good advice.

G. B. Miller said...

My sincerest condolences for your loss.

Snaggle Tooth said...

I think we all take that suicide kinda as a personal insult. "If I this or that- "but you can't change what you could do then. Determined is probably un-stoppable. I have many times of thinking it can't get better from here but I never stop hoping for that lottery jackpot!

Over 30 years ago my boyfriend did it. Last year 2 I know did. My daughter's grow-up with friend, who had kids, plus a 25 year old at work. She was harassed like they do to me- It can be seen as a solution to stopping it, but suicide always unfairly punishes who we love.

The system will never work for everyone. But for some it will help.
Grief is like a wheel of ocean waves. Some gentle, some to surf. The wheel keeps the waves coming back again. The lessons n love felt from people in your life never go away either.

I also have times of delayed reaction. I have been talking to the pic of my daughter's friend just this week. I hope her spirit can feel the love I still have for her. I think she can.

Sorry you lost your friend that way. No one should.

Riot Kitty said...

I am so sorry! That's just awful. Harassed how? I'm pissed on your and her behalf already.

Granny Annie said...

So sad and so sorry. It is a terrible thing for those of us left behind but who knows what a good thing it is for the one who is gone. "No more sadness, no sorrow, trouble they see...only peace in the valley..."

Unknown said...

I try to remind myself that our ability to feel grief provides the opportunity for us to do better by our loved ones while they are alive. the experience of it directly, though, is beyond the capacity for rational evaluation

jono said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Snaggle Tooth said...

RK, there are many at work from other countries who do not treat others as they want to be treated. We are bullied out of supplies and space needed for our job, out of racks we had to work to empty to use, then there are a ton of "shut up" commanders who get to complain but don't think you should speak at all for any reason, and are not the boss! I could do a civil rights lawsuit if I wanted to be a trouble-maker, but wound have to quit. One particular person ruins every day I work by getting me angry with that.

Sybil said...

I stumbled onto your blog via Debra at "She who seeks".

My child (age 30) has attempted suicide and struggles with mental health issues.

This is such a sad issue. There isn't enough help. My daughter is in an intensive BPD course at the moment. She waited years to get in.

I tell friends that it's like living with Schrodinger's cat. There have been days when I didn't know if the darkness in the house was coz she was sleeping or ...

I have no magic words.

Be kind to yourself.

Consider yourself hugged.

Riot Kitty said...

You are so kind, thank you. Your daughter is lucky to have you.

Riot Kitty said...

And thank you everyone for your kindness. It's been busy AF but I will write something funny soon!

Riot Kitty said...

Ugh, I am so sorry. Document, document, document. I've had to do this unfortunately in the past.