My son was one of the people who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and who did not make it as he was medication resistant. My son, David, wanted to get well, he wanted to love and be loved, but most of all, he needed the peace of mind that the rest of us take for granted and which eluded him. When he threw himself to what I can only hope is a place of calm, peace and endless waves fit for a surfer, our family was left to cope with our grief, each in his/her own way.
I often think back to the first 18 years of my son’s life, before he was drafted into the military. In those days, he was perceived as being normal. During the following 16 years, people referred to him as mentally ill, but our family always addressed him as David. (I have changed his name to make this easier for me to write about.)
We were left with little or no guidance on how to survive our terrible loss. My immediate family had the usual coping mechanisms used to dealing with regular stress. But these mechanisms were insufficient in the face of David’s suicide. As a result, we cycled subconsciously through various ways of coping in order to find the best way for each of us. I remember the disruption and pain we each experienced – deep, forceful pain that has never completely healed, but somehow, we got by even though it took many years. I was fortunate to have a supportive, loving husband who knew how to give unconditional love to us all. We had good relationships with our other children and were there for one another.
In the past, during the 16 years of David’s illness, I carried a lot of anger around in me; Illogical anger at him for contracting this terrible illness, anger at the medical profession for their inability to cure him or even give us the kind of support we desperately needed. I often though of fleeing but of course I remained. I wanted to tell my son’s friends that if I could have fled, I would have done so. I was never angry with them. I was angry at the world and understood that they had to get on with their lives. They gave David as much support as they possibly could.
How did I cope? I coped by keeping busy. I swept, and dusted, washed the floors, shone the beautiful silver candlesticks on our sideboard. I dug in the garden, knowing just how useless and tiring this activity would be, but, it stopped me from thinking about David all the time.
After his death, someone told me that my son was in a better place. What I should have told her was that grief is permanent and that all I wanted was my son at home with us and not in a better place. I was told; “Time heals.” True, but it was far, far too early to say that to a newly bereaved mother whose son had taken his life. “Find something to take your mind off it,” I was told by another well-meaning person.
None of this made any sense to me. It was a time when G-d did not make sense, so I left it at that and concentrated on trying to cope.