Yesterday was International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. I noted it on this site, but other than that, I let the day sit quietly. What I did do yesterday, was head for the ocean.
I went surfing and I was riding a board that was given to me by a friend. The gift was lovely, kind, and very generous. It was also particularly poignant.
Twenty years ago, when my mother died by suicide, this same friend encouraged me to begin my healing journey by getting into the ocean. She taught me to surf, and this was the board she used while she taught me. A few days ago, my friend put this same board into my hands and said to me me, "This is yours now."
When I received the board, the deck was covered in thick dark grey bumps. My son looked at it and cringed. "What are those?" he asked. You see, my son doesn't surf. Fellow surfers would know what the bumps were, immediately. Wax.
Surfers put wax on the deck so that they don't slide off the board in the water. It is ironic in some ways, that without the thing that keeps you where you are, you can not move forward.
Wax, when applied, is clean and white. But, each time the board heads into the ocean, sand begins to embed itself into the wax. After a while, the white turns to grey, and as time goes by, the grey becomes darker and more evident. In order for the wax on the base to be effective, it has to be applied again and again. The bumps become larger and darker every time we do this. Wax buildup on a board means that it will be even less slippery. And that's the entire goal. So, when I saw the bumpy grey wax on the board that was given to me, I didn't see a board that was ugly, I saw a board that was well loved.
Still my friend pointed out that I might want to scrape the old wax off. I agreed. I wanted to give the deck a fresh start. So I headed to my favorite surf shop. They had a little kit that included a special comb to scrape the wax, and a small cloth bag to polish the board after. They too suggested I wait for warmer weather.
But when would the weather be warmer? In the spring? Next summer? Five months from now? Six? I didn't want to wait. So, I was determined. I knew, things can be done. Even hard things. Even things that you don't believe you will get through. I knew.
So, on Tuesday night I took that board into my house. I set it down on my living room floor, sat beside it, and got to work.
It took me five hours to scrape the hardened wax off. At the end of the night both my fingers and my back were cramping. When I was done, there was one part of the board that remained a little grainy. It was at the very tip. I don't know the reasons, but the wax on the tip was harder and more embedded. I scraped at the wax for as long as I could, and then I decided to let the minor grey discoloration remain. If I scraped at it any more, I ran the risk of damaging the top of the board itself. Still, overall, the board was shiny and beautiful, all around. Even I was amazed when I sat back and looked at what my work produced.
And then, I took a deep breath and did the thing that was necessary so the board could carry me into the water. I applied new wax.
When I did this, the shine I worked so hard to uncover was clouded once again. The lovely colors were muted, and the scribbles of new wax were visible everywhere.
In other words, the board was absolutely perfect.
It's true, yesterday was International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. But, instead of making a big fuss over it, I headed to the ocean and got in the water. At first I carried my new board. When the water became too deep, I put it down and hopped on, so that the board would carry me, instead.
Here is the thing. Other people might deem grief ugly or upsetting, but I see something different. I look at my fellow survivors of suicide loss and I see people who loved someone so much that the loss has broken their heart. That broken heart is evidence of love, not something ugly.
Some of us sit with grief that all can see, for years. Sometimes even, we sit with overwhelming grief for a lifetime. Still, the grief is proof of love. Those who don't understand how grief works, may never understand that prolonged grieving is not a sign of weakness. In truth, this kind of grieving requires a lot of strength.
But some survivors make a decision to move forward. This is not the better thing or the stronger thing, it is just a different thing. And it takes so much effort. Loss does not gently fall away, it is processed and chipped at and allowed to be for as long as needed. That's how it works. Grief makes the rules, not us.
And still, as shiny and new as we seem - there is almost always a vestige of the visible grief that remains. Let that be. If we try to scrape from ourselves every last inch of grief, we are more likely to do damage than to somehow improve.
To my fellow survivors of suicide loss, I offer this reminder: In the end, it is not the shine of having 'moved on' that makes us lovely. Grief can be purposeful. What I want for all of us, is that we learn that grief is not dirty or bad.
Allow your grief to be here, even if others don't understand.
Know this, your grief is the thing that makes you strong, and beautiful, and ready. You don't have to start over entirely in order to heal. Wherever you are in your journey, let it be ok for today. For survivors of suicide loss, we can not change the past. This one thing remains the same for all of us:
There are no start-overs, there are only start-from-heres.