Monday, December 6, 2010

Spirituality and Suicide Bereavement Part II: Spiritual Signs from Loved Ones

Because I have walked the path with many survivors of suicide loss, I know that there is something survivors talk about all the time that is rarely, if ever, explored in scholarly publications, so I will open the door in the context of discovery here in the hopes that others will find ways to further its research. What I am referring to are the signs that many of us experience in the aftermath of our loved one’s death that in every cell of our bodies feels like a communication from our loved ones. On the eve of 6th anniversary of Carson's death, I share some of my experiences in the hopes of connecting those in the survivor community who have also experienced the unexplainable. I also hope that this sparks a conversation among those interested in suicide bereavement that leads the field of suicidology into further research on this topic.

During the first six months after Carson’s death, I had several spiritual experiences that to me felt like nothing I had ever experienced before. While I can believe, that perhaps these were the manifestations of a traumatized brain, I also hold open the possibility that they were more than that. While all of the experiences played important roles in my healing journey, I will share with you the last and most profound one – his “goodbye visit” to me while I was on my second honeymoon in Hawaii.

It was only six months after Carson’s suicide when my husband Randy and I gently opened the spring-loaded door that swung back upon us and entered this place of dreams: an old cottage on the beaches of Kauai. Bang, bang, bang the door retorted behind us as we eased onto the wise, creaky floors that carried the footsteps of history before us. This cozy plantation home had been relocated from the sugar fields of Kauai to its new resting place on the sometimes sandy, sometimes grassy Hawaiian shore near Wimaya Canyon. Its musty scent held the mystery of sun and sea as we tenderly placed our bags upon its well-worn wooden floor and set off to explore. On the back porch, the salty breeze was laced with the celebratory, syrupy scent of flowers just past their prime, and we slid into the oversized Adirondack chairs that engulfed us and whispered gently, “relax.” When started planning this trip to celebrate our 10-year anniversary well before my brother’s death, this was exactly what I had imagined. We leaned into the place, longing for the warmth of the sun, and delighting in the hoppy and deep-fried air wafting from the brewpub behind us, “Ah, peace.”

That night as we went to bed, the muffled murmurs of the other tourists returning from big adventures drew closer and then farther away as their sandals crunched the gravel of the path past our cottage to theirs. As I drifted off to sleep, Randy’s deep breathing rose like the comforting sweet steam from a home-cooked stew and lulled me into a vivid dream state.

In the dream Carson appears before me and I am once again instantly struck with a sucking feeling just below my sternum that radiates both terror and awe to my extremities like an electric shock. He is an adult this time, dressed simply in a “red dirt t-shirt” and jeans. The red dirt t-shirts were a touristy souvenir of the region where we were staying, dyed from the red tinted earth on the Wimaya land, so I knew this was his way of telling me he was here with me. His face expressed gently worn nuances of eyes that knew more and were both sad and reassuring and a mouth that raised tentatively on the edges. We found ourselves at the swimming pool that was built between the cottages and the ocean. On the day Randy and I had arrived at the plantation cottages, the water in this pool had been too cold to swim. In the dream the water was soothing and perfectly tepid. Carson approached this simple rectangular in-ground pool with blue water and wide edging, and slowly walked down its steps toward me. We met in the middle of the pool and he gave me an engulfing hug. In slow-motion, we sank into the viscous liquid, deeper and deeper as if being pulled by an anchor to the bottom of the pool. Then, thud. We landed on the gritty pool floor.

“This is the last time,” he whispered.

I felt his large, powerful body start to dissolve in my arms.

“No, no, no, no, no!” I screamed until I could feel him no more. And I woke up with a startle and the strange but familiar cocktail of fear and rage burning like acid in my esophagus. My thoughts were racing, “this may be the last visit in a plantation cottage in Kauai, but not the last time you will visit me!”

I bolted out of bed and shuffled my way through the darkness to the bathroom, where the grounding coolness of porcelain tile, started to erode my agitated state. I sat there, my head on the toilet cover, heart slowly returning to my chest, and relayed my latest dream to my husband who, as usual, listened politely, without comment.

The next day was our final day in this magical place, and we had decided to take a cruise around part of the island, but our boat did not leave the dock until much later that afternoon, so we decided to walk around the touristy shops of the town. And of course, we quickly ran into a store called the “Red Dirt T-Shirt Shop.”

I turned to Randy, “Let’s go in.”

On one level I was thinking I needed to get just one more present for our littlest boy, Jackson. I had bought our other two sons little Hawaiian shirts, but I had not found one small enough for our 8-month old. On another level, I was hoping for one more mystery to emerge. I turned to the back rack and flipped through the options until I found what I was looking for, and then I headed to the counter.

I stood in line behind a woman who was speaking with the clerk behind the counter loud enough for me to hear. She spoke of the clerk’s daughter who apparently had just died, and of the doctor who had taken his life, apparently out of remorse for not saving the girl.

Then it was my turn at the counter.

Before I had even put my purchase up, and with a line of people behind me, I said, “I had a dream last night. My brother who died by suicide was in it wearing a red dirt t-shirt, and now I am here, I just overheard your conversation, and I think I am supposed to talk to you.”

Without missing a beat she said, “Your brother is fine.”

I felt the air releasing from my lungs, like a balloon that has been untied.

“The man I was just speaking about…the doctor….He also visited me in my dreams after my daughter died, asking for my forgiveness. And I said, of course.”

I thanked her, paid for my little Hawaiian suit and as I walked out the door, I turned to Randy and said, “See! I just can’t make this stuff up!”

Since that dream, I have not had the same intensity of what I believe to be a connection with Carson. What those experiences gave me, however, was a belief that there is more than we can understand in the spiritual realm while we are in our current existence. I believe that my brother was doing his best to ask for forgiveness and say the goodbyes that he didn’t get to in life. I am reassured that his spirit is okay, that his soul has moved on to other things, and that I will be seeing him again when my life is over. Before my brother died, I did not have a spiritual framework that supported these beliefs, but now I do. This was his gift to me. Because of these experiences, I find myself talking to him often – asking him for clarity and courage, like others might talk to God. Like many others, I am learning to develop a new relationship with my loved one. He isn’t gone, our relationship has just changed.

For those of you bereaved by suicide – have you received signs from your loved ones? Please, share your stories here.

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