This article is copyright protected and is being used with permission of the TPN Magazine and TPN, Inc
No part of this article may be reproduced or retransmitted in any manner and/or for any reason without the express permission of TPN, Inc. You may contact them at: TPN@tbi.org for further information.)
Bad News on a Cold Day
I really like winter days .. those cold, rainy days that everyone else hates. I like to put on my warmest robe, my old fuzzy slippers and, with cup of cocoa in hand, sit and watch the fire. Yes, I know it sounds cliche but I like those days. The cold seems to dampen the sounds and even the sun is misted behind clouds so my world is much more muted and calmer. Today is one of those winter days that I should love but I don't. Today's cold and dampness and gray color seem to be underscoring the pain I'm feeling right now. I sit in front of the fire and, instead of enjoying the flame, I want to throw the letters in my hand into it. I want Spring to arrive with its obnoxious overabundance of light and color. I want birds singing. I want clear skies. I want this hand crushing my chest and my throat to go away. Instead, I find myself drawn to rereading the letters again .. one just received and one from last week retrieved off my desk. Again, I read them and, again, I cry.
The first letter didn't start out ominously. The contents were shared in a casual way, not necessarily callously but offhandedly the way families often communicate with each other .. The weather is fine. Grandpa has a cold. Gypsy had puppies. Sam Johnson is running for mayor. Those little snippets of information passed back of forth with occasional tidbits of gossip and scandal thrown in to see if you're paying attention. This letter was from a casual acquaintance and it talked about a recent phone call between the two of us. It included some commentary on the magazine and my editorial as well as general pleasantries. There sandwiched in between was notice of a fellow survivor's suicide. Apparently, a survivor of some time, finally got tired enough that he walked off a ledge into obscurity.
How sad I felt for that survivor! Not angry, not judging, not anything but sad that a life just hitting its stride was interrupted by a brain injury and that, after holding on for so long, this survivor lost that hold. The letter prompted a phone call. I wanted to know what the writer felt and I wanted to know how the other members of his support group where feeling. I was expecting a lot of things but not the apathy. Apparently the loss of this survivor had little or no effect so I pushed trying to understand. It seems that this survivor had some irritating habits that had kept him alienated from the group. Nothing I heard about seemed so bad, not even the fact that he would continually rub his hands together. Granted I didn't have to interact with him but nothing I heard would have kept me from being impacted by the loss of this one person .. this member of my community. So, I kept the letter on my desk along with the notes I had scribbled after the phone call. I looked at it and felt helpless. What do I do with it? File it away and forget it? What? Indecision left that letter on my desk for a week. It was still sitting there when the next letter came.
There are some letters that simply seeing the postmark make you eager to tear open the envelope. You suspect there might be treasures .. good information, a joke, a word of encouragement .. inside. You get settle down in your favorite spot and get comfortable because you want to savor the experience. I was decked out in warm robe and fuzzy slippers and ready to enjoy this letter. And I did until I reach the midpoint. There was another one of those casual bombs. This time all the more unexpected because the writer didn't know that I knew this survivor. We had written back and forth for a long time then circumstances finally allowed us to meet at a conference. We sat and swapped laughter during a rainy afternoon ride down a river. We tweeked an article he wanted to share with our readers. He counted as a member of my community as do all survivors but he had a face and a voice. I had seem his smile and heard his laugh and that made him real to me. I had grown to count on him as one of the long-term survivors who share their light so that my road didn't seem quite so dark and unending. And there, in that letter, was that little bomb. Apparently, he got too tired to hang on and he let go.
I know the devastation of suicide. In elementary school, a classmate's mother committed suicide. I went to school with her daughters through junior high and high school and watched the changes. Another friend watched as her mother's boyfriend shot himself and I know what the impact was on her. I am sorry for the families and the friends but I can't ignore those who are gone. Suicide is never something done casually and without thought. It is also never done without pain .. so very much pain.
I can't help being shaken by these two suicides. One was seven years into post-injury life; the other was 20 years post-injury. I look at them and I see myself. I know the weariness of struggling so hard with the residual deficits. I know the grief and the occasional despair over the lost dreams and goals. I know the frustration of wondering if my life will ever become productive enough to be satisfying. I know the fear of wondering what my life will be like as I deal with the realities of age in addition to the deficits of my brain injury. I have always looked to long-term survivors and thought .. if they can do it so can I. So, these suicides have not only shaken me but frightened me.
I understand much of the reasoning behind survivor suicide. Maybe my reaction to suicide is different because my husband and I have had to deal with my own suicidal depression ever since the accident. In the last seven years, I've learned that the system is letting many of us down. Families and friends unable to deal with the suicidal depression tell us to 'straighten' out our attitudes and to 'stop feeling sorry for ourselves.' We're often sent to professionals who often don't understand that there is more to our depression than depression .. there is brain injury and all that it brings, physically - cognitively - emotionally.
I'm not justifying suicide. I am not endorsing or glorifying it. I'm not even trying to explain it. I am simply trying to tell you that it is real and that we are losing far too many members of our community because of it. We shouldn't be sweeping its existence under the carpet or locking it away in a cupboard. We shouldn't be overwhelming each other with platitudes and casually dispersed bits of advice. We should be talking. We should be developing ways of helping survivors handle these issues. We should be communicating and finding ways of sharing ourselves without trivializing each other's experiences.
Like you, I am only one person and feel over-whelmed by a need that I'm so ill equipped to meet but I cannot stand by and do nothing so I will continue to share myself as openly as possible .. the good and the bad, the negatives and the positives. I can only hope that I can let one person know that they aren't by themselves in their struggle and, in turn, find courage and companionship in my own.
Survive with Pride!
Maintained by: Webmaster