This past Friday, my partner’s eldest daughter called to extend her condolences to me and my daughter for Marshall’s death. Of course, she previously had offered her condolences to us over two years ago when our family tragedy occurred. In fact, she was here every step of the way. When I mean “here,” Laura and her husband were “here” in our kitchen. They cooked, cleaned, enabling me to tend to other matters. I will be indebted to them forever.
Anyway, it took another tragedy for her to obtain a closer, bird’s eye perspective of our painful journey and the extent of what it means to be powerless.
During the telephone call, Laura explained that her dearest friend’s 14-year-old son died by suicide on December 1st. He was star athlete, well-liked at his high school and did not have any substance abuse issues or outward signs of mental health challenges or depression.
“One day you see them and then you don’t.”
I remember these words uttered by a young man and how he elucidated in a somber manner the death of his high school football teammate who had died by suicide. I met him in Norwalk, Connecticut in March 2020 while participating in one of the Out of the Darkness Campus Walks for Suicide Awareness, sponsored by the University of Southern Mississippi.
The man I met at the walk explained that he last saw his teammate cheerfully perched on the high school’s bleachers.
“One day you see them and then you don’t.”
As I spoke to Laura over the phone, I steered clear of the background details. Right now, though, as I write this blog post, the young man is brain-dead and his mom has spent every waking hour by his side at the hospital, squeezing the time-limited moments like membranes of an orange in a drought-riddled, barren land. Although I’ve never met them, mom and son have been ironed into my thoughts like starch since I heard the news.
For over 37 years, I have followed a program that teaches me that I am powerless over people, places, things and most situations. This means, although I was able to help many people, I could not help my own son at the end. (I was powerless over the situation — despite my ego reprimanding me repeatedly, shouting, “You could have saved him.”)
So, distraught after hearing Laura’s news, I revealed the situation to a close friend without breaking the 14-year-old’s anonymity. She said, “Well, you have walked in his mom’s shoes. You know how it feels.”
Right then and there, I responded, “No!” (Please note the exclamation point!)
I walk only in my shoes. I can’t fit my big clunkers and a partial bunion into anyone’s shoes no matter how I try. I might fall into the International Shoe Size Chart, but the whorls and ridges are unique in toe prints. Like hand prints, no two footprints are identical and neither are heartbreak, grief and pain. Everyone processes human emotions and feelings differently.
Mattie Jackson Selecman is point on in her new book, Lemons on Friday: Trusting God Through My Greatest Heartbreak, “Everyone’s grief is different. What is true for most grievers: the illusion of control over our lives — the tight, self-preserving grip we thought we held on our person and our plans — is now gone. What we thought was secure has been snatched away.”
The quote helps to elucidate what I believe I have in common with the grieving mom in the ICU. We realize what it means to be powerless — really, badass, fall-down-on-the-ground, kicking and screaming, dust-particles-flying everywhere powerless. In other words, I have no control over people, places, things and most situations. (I only have power over my own behavior.) Dictionary.com defines powerlessness as without ability, influence, or power.
The mom grieving over her brain-dead son and I undeniably understand what it is to be helpless in the face of a situation that is totally unjust, unfair and worse than cruel. There is nothing we can change about what has been thrust upon us. There are no miracles in our human eyes.
“Surrender to win!”
That is a familiar saying among my peers. When all else fails, life support is removed and there is no hope for recovery, we surrender to what is, not what was or could be.
In 2015, Writer Maria Popova wrote an excellent book review for H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. In her review, she poignantly captures the essence of surrender: “And yet somehow, Macdonald unboxes herself as she trains Mabel into control and Mabel trains her into the grace of surrender, of resting into life exactly as it is rather than striving for some continually unsatisfying and anguishing version of how it ought to be. “
My friend Brian A. used to say it best: “Accept everything all the time.”
“It is what it is,” my daughter constantly reminds me.
This also means, we do not seek answers, play the blame game or find cowardly tactics to bolster a lost cause that, in the end, causes us to seep further into despair, anguish and a meritless rabbit hole of a self-made hell. Instead, we stare at the raw reality in terror and plunge deeper into our souls and pan desperately for the gold that is our inner strength.
Yes, it is what it is and so it is.
“One day you see them and then you don’t.”
My own personal tragedy aside, I know almost everyone has experienced some sort of loss and pain. Regardless of the circumstances, I am one of the fortunate ones. I was able to uncover a priceless reserve of peace that I first started panning for — about the same time I began to comprehend the word powerless — over 37 years ago. What this essentially means is that I can extend a listening ear and a safe place of my heart to a fellow sufferer, an empowering space amid the turmoil of the world to which we retreat, surrender our egos, rest into life, press through the hard and hold tight to faith, hope and each other.
Powerlessness,…what poignant and passionate words my friend. It touched me when you shared about how your “big clunkers” would NOT fit in another’s shoe. I remember you and send prayers just as I will the Mom sitting with her son. One of my dearest friends (who was also my M.S. Secretary for 8 years) lost her son to suicide the week before Christmas one year ago. About a month ago I was attending the funeral of a mutual friend and stopped by her house to check on her. When she opened the door and saw me, she just stood and cried. Her son was my age. He was a school superintendent in a local district. The school has begun many mental health awareness programs. Stacy, I’m so thankful to God that you have a reserve of peace. I can’t imagine your depth of the sorrow journeys you travel. But I can attest to the fact that you bring us hope and peace here. Your heart and wisdom are special. There’s only one you. I’m sending you love, hugs, and prayers, as always. Thank you for sharing your faith and hope with us.
You are amazing! I’m so happy to hear you checked in on your friend. Not many, if any at all, think of doing that and the act of kindness means far more than just words! AND your comments – like so many -made ME cry too!! Ty!!
How kind to say 😭 Stacy, I had been at the bottom and didn’t want to go on. Everything in my life was failing ~my job, relationships, my health~we should all be lifting one another up as we never know what someone goes through. And the comfort I have is knowing my loved ones and friends are in the loving arms of God. I think of you daily. Daily. I pray for you daily. Just as Linda. Through your loss, you have shared with rawness and vulnerability. I will forever remember you. ❤️
I will forever remember you too! 🤍
I get this from close up Stacy yet have also seen and taken part in up ending systemic and institutionally condoned abuse where suicide is an all too common outcome
I dare to say that anger was and remains a source energy for me and I’m glad of it too… sure, all energy transforms and this has been rather unanticipated learning as my inner light was activated … but often I find that the very notion of suicide is so loaded, it is an industry in its own right having a murky historical lineage embedded in all major organisations as a statecraft and religious dogma for the control and manipulation of others… I do get the deep meaning that you convey on the matter of acceptance and genuinely respect this inner knowing but I feel strongly that this is only temporary respite from the turmoil… arisings be they peaceful or otherwise are, I find, couplings…openness and closedness of the heart a quite ordinary phenomena too… ps I naturally push and wriggle about when what I read is so well formed it’s too good to be true 😊💞😊
Alec! Your insights are truly amazing! You always help me stretch my vision and imagination!!
I am finding that having my own light all along truly awakening… it does not matter what I have to face up to inside or outside… it’s turned on and it’s mine…. thing is we’ve all got one, a natural light that is, and we’re all part of the same rainbow… The Colours in Madness knows this too… as you do too… big hugs Stacy 😊💪😊
Very true Stacy. It is this powerlessness that evokes surrender and empathy
Stacy, The irony is I saved so many people from suicide as a counsellor but I could not save my son Shyam. But I learnt a valuable lesson from the divine. There is only justice& compassion in cosmic design. Time & mode of death is based on earlier karma of the soul. Do you think human being is more powerful than the divine? A man jumped from a height 100 times but survived! It removed my guilt completely and the divine has chosen me as an instrument to heal parents who met with the similar fate. My pain has not gone in vain, making my life more meaningful. Life is too short to regret, we will surrender to the lord, holding each other’s hands. Your post always heals me and push me towards the lord with POWER!
Your compassion, wisdom and strength always helps to heal me too, karmic sister Prema!!!
So sad. Suicide is so devastating, and heartbreaking.
My manager’s favorite quote is “It is what it is”, there’s so much truth in those simple words.
As always, I am profoundly touched here by your words. My ex-husband told me, “You get what you get from people.” Kind of along the lines of “It is what it is,” I suppose. I remember being so hurt and angry by his words, but in the long years since I have come to think that he was correct.
Sending lots of love and light…and healing…always!