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It’s been another week where people I love have lost people they love and are feeling lost themselves, writes Liz Breslin.
Sometimes I’m clumsy and rush in with my own words even when mostly I don’t know what to say.
But/so/and this week the words I want to share belong to Iona Winter, a friend and East Otago writer, who is both generous and grieving.
Content warning: suicide bereavement
Five months since Reuben died - I have become the mother who counts weeks, moons and months.
On days like this, where I’ve had very little sleep, and there are demands upon me that feel irrelevant and unimportant in the face of my grief, I want to shout into the abyss of deafening silence. Because it’s almost like te kore, the way it stretches into infinity.
Ae, I know that I am loved.
The practical generosity from both my local and creative communities has been a huge support, and I am very grateful for it. The offers of "call me when you’re ready" or " let me know what you need" have also been overwhelming. And I am seriously blessed to have some ataahua people in my life, who can "be" with me, regardless of what I am feeling. But for the most part (and I’m being very honest here), out there in the world, it’s like I’ve become a tapu object sitting inside a fragile glass case, with a sign saying "Do Not Touch!".
The silence and avoidance is painful, curled up foetal on the inside of that case.
Mo taku he, apologies folks, I don’t have the capacity to tell you what I need. During times when I could do with somebody around/or on the end of the phone, I can’t pick anyone from the list because I’m too exhausted. So I deal with the tumult of emotions unique to the suicide bereaved. It’s true, we all grieve differently; but I think it’s fair to say that there are things we share. "The fog" as it is known, and then this silent freakin’ avoidance.
You’ve said there are no words (this is true), that it’s uncomfortable to be around me because you can’t make it better, and you don’t know what to do/say/how to act/respond/(insert other descriptors here). And I figure it might be hard for you to see me experiencing so much pain, and that is possibly why you’ve stayed away. There’s so much stigma around suicide.
But is your reticence to make contact because of how you imagine it might be for me or for you?
My truth? I’m not OK. I have no concept of what OK even looks like now.
Or maybe what you’re really afraid to ask is, "Are you suicidal too?". Go on, ask that unspeakable question — the answer for me is no. But my risk of doing the same has increased tenfold.
I won’t ever "get over" Reuben’s death. Frankly, I’m not sure why anyone would even ask that of me. So how come we expect each other to move on/get past it/look on the bright side? What have we become, when we can’t allow one another space and time to honour the experience of our emotions in their fullness? What’s with this time limit thing anyway?
For the record, I’m taking the best possible care of myself, and being real about how I’m doing (in the moment). It’s miharo when someone makes me a cuppa and asks, "How are you going today?" and then listens openly to my answers, without trying to make me feel better. And the relief, when I’m around people who get it is like a massive breath out. I’ve forgotten how to breathe deeply, it seems.
I have to go through this. If I don’t, then I’ll go mad. Reuben wouldn’t want that.
Don’t take it personally if I say no to your suggestions to catch up. Most of the time it’s impossible to be this raw, vulnerable and exhausted around other people — and I end up taking care of you, instead of me. Just know that one day I’ll say yes, or sometimes might say, I don’t know what you can do for me because I don’t have access to the answers. Offer me a hug instead. Use your intuition, say something, but please stop avoiding.
I. Am. Still. Here.
Korero with me (if you want to), or with each other — suicide leaves so many of us behind, and the ensuing silence can be dangerous and destructive. But it’s unavoidable, this messy, confusing and gut-wrenching grief.
So here I am, shouting into the abyss of deafening silence, "Kia ora, over here, it’s me, and I need you".
Reuben Winter committed suicide five months ago in Auckland, aged 26. A talented musician and producer, who recorded as Totems, Reuben suffered from the debilitating condition fibromyalgia. Iona Winter first posted this piece at https://ionawinter.wordpress.com/, under the headline "The abyss of deafening silence".
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