Shuck and Jive

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Four Months

Tomorrow is the 28th of the month.  It has been four months since Zach took his life on June 28th.  Tomorrow is All Saints' Sunday.  Or maybe it is the next Sunday.   In either case, we will honor the saints tomorrow.   In church we will pass the microphone around the sanctuary so people can name those who have died this past year and we will ring the singing bowl when each name is mentioned.    

In the afternoon, Lovely, Daughter, and I will sprinkle some of his ashes around a tree planted in his memory at Holston Camp.  Then on Monday I leave for Montana to visit my parents and extended family.  I haven't seen my parents since Zach died.   And yes, I will take the bus.  It's what I do.

I have been reading, My Son, My Son:  A Guide to Healing After Death, Loss, or Suicide by Iris Bolton.  She lost her son to suicide.  She was a counselor at a counseling center, "The Link."   A couple of board members had said after her son's death:
"If she couldn't help her own son, how can she expect to help anyone else?"
She goes on to say:
The funny thing is that I agreed.  So paralyzing is the combination of depression, guilt, and shock, that its victim is mentally reduced to a jackstraw, a hollow man, a cipher.  p. 36
I know that feeling.  How could/can I be a minister, preaching, teaching, and counseling when I failed my most important assignment?   Who in their right minds would listen to anything I have to say when in my primary role as a father I delivered to the world a corpse rather than a living, productive man? 

Iris Bolton faces the goblins and continues as a counselor.  She writes:
Some persons had declared openly that The Link was finished if I were to return.  But we continued to be busy.  Parents began to refer teenagers to me for help in preventing their suicides, and I was overwhelmed with the wonder of it.  How could they think that I might help them when I had failed to save my own son?  I was in awe of what seemed to be a miracle.  More than anything else, it helped me to begin to find some meaning in the meaninglessness of Mitch's death.  p. 40
At some point she decided to disagree with the voices outside (and more importantly inside) of her that said she was a failure.   She stuck it out.   I hope I can be that strong.

It isn't even so much "the job" as it is the existential feeling of failing.  I failed to give my son whatever it was he needed to keep going.   I also know that I did what I could given my human fallibility.   I know that if I were responsible for this death it wouldn't have happened.   But I don't know if that feeling of failure will ever go away.


  1. My heart hurts... we all want to be God of all that we think we can change or fix.... we.only get to make our own life the best we.can and enough for me. I recently read.that all advise to another is really what I would say to my younger self.. that makes sense to me... please know that sharing your truth of all the conflict gives me and others.courage to grapple with our own. peace to you as you continue your journey. Kathy Plourde

  2. Every garage mechanic has car trouble. I know plenty of psychologists who are "screwed up". I cook amazingly healthy and nutritious meals, yet I am fat. Doctors lose patients - some even die of heart disease, themselves. And of course, preachers "sin."

    How could any single one of us function, much less society as a whole, if we had to be perfect at what we do?

    I am sure the mechanic with the shit-box car questions his or her ability, as does the psychologist, the doctor,the preacher, and the cook. Asking that question does not signify failure. It is part of the path - the "where am I?" that helps plot the course we are all on.

    None of that helps ease your pain, I know. I'm sorry.

  3. Iris Bolton's book really helped me on the issue of: Was there any point in thinking about ministry again?

    As far as the feeling of failure: four years and two months later, I spent nearly an hour this afternoon talking to a priest about my own feelings of failure, among other things. He suggested that I pray for the grace to desire to desire to be compassionate toward myself.

    I suppose I should have told him that it's hard to be compassionate toward myself when I blame myself for not seeing, not knowing. But maybe I did -- we spent a lot of time talking about our inherent powerlessness as human beings. We cannot manage the lives of our adult children, even though those lives are the most precious things in ours.

  4. Look John, you didn't fail. Zach's death was something that happened that you had no control over.

  5. I never met Zach, but I have been reading many descriptions and accounts from people who did; I think the one thing he would not want is for you (or anyone he loved) to think that you had let him down.

  6. A bus trip to Montana sounds like just the ticket. It's a monastic retreat. Be well

  7. Holding you and your family up to the light as you mark this "anniversary" and all to come.
    Thank you for sharing your story.