The Passing Years

purple flowersOver seven years have passed since that tragic day when I heard the words, “Barry is dead.”

How the years have flown by, yet at the same time dragged its weary feet. At times, I believed we wouldn’t make it through the turbulence. That was when the evil face of suicide tempted my elder son to join his brother; and later, it tried to seduce me. Yet, although the fight was sometimes hard, we stayed to live our lives.

Then there were the times when life almost felt normal — or as close as it was going to get to it, anyway. Smiles were easy to find, laughter was a second away. For those looking on, they would never guess our hearts were not quite as full as the smiles on our faces. But that’s okay. We have learned to carry on regardless. Only sharing our pain with each other.

And the pain is still there — buried beneath the surface.

As is the guilt!

For me, the only person who can relieve me of this burden is Barry. And Barry is not here to give me the answers I require.

Having said this, I do not dwell on it as often or as long as I once did. I have accepted that Barry is gone and no amount of wishing will bring him back. I also accept that we will never know, for sure, why he chose this path when other options did exist for him. To dwell on these things will only torture me further and will turn me into a bitter, old woman. I don’t want that.

Instead, I look at the photos I have of Barry and feel thankful that I knew him and loved him. Although I yearn to see him, to hear him, to hug him; I am grateful that our last words were “I love you”. And I cherish the memories we created together.

On bad days I will wonder what Barry would be doing right now, if he were still alive? Would he have a wife or children? Would he have joined the Army and made a career of it while seeing the world? But it is best not to dwell on these things for too long either. It only upsets me more. So I turn my thoughts to my older son who is a man in his own right now. He has a one-year-old daughter. She is a (good) reason why we must move onwards.

Time heals all wounds. And it does. There may be a scar, which will be a permanent reminder, but eventually the pain softens and the heart and mind allows us to live a life that is somewhat normal. And when the scar throbs more than usual, I find myself going back to the one thing that has always helped me through the grief — nature. I take long walks in parks, botanical gardens, animal parks, by the sea, in the mountains, beside rivers. Anywhere where I can see the sky, hear the birds, smell the flowers and feel relaxed.

I believe the worst is behind us. We cannot know what the future holds, but we intend to make it as good as we can … for us and for the new addition to the family.

Did He Truly Know What He Was Doing?

As the years roll away from that fatal moment that changed the lives of so many and as I witness the maturing of his friends, I often find myself wondering what a twenty-three year old Barry would think today.

Barry was not religious, yet he “believed” in life after death. He believed that he would be sitting in heaven watching over the people he loved, especially the girl he chose death for. He believed that he would be able to protect her forever. He said that.

I don’t know what happens after we die. People believe all sorts of things. My own belief is somewhat different to Barry’s, but how do we know for sure? I don’t think we can. Not until the time comes, and even then there’s no guarantee, because death could be everything and it could be the absolute end. Nothing. Zilch. The End. Our belief systems help us cope with the unknown. They help us face the inevitable. And Barry believed he was going to heaven.

So maybe he is sitting on a fluffy cloud watching us and if that is the case…what would he be thinking now?

He would have witnessed the grief he left behind and realised he had caused a pain and hurt that he had never imagined. Because it is not possible to imagine the grief of suicide survivors (meaning the people left behind). Not if you’ve never experienced it first hand. Also, he had never experienced the death of a close relative, so how was he to know what grief is, let alone how losing someone to suicide would make it so much worse? Watching his family and closest friends fall apart – mentally, physically and emotionally – would not have been part of his vision. I know that if he sat and witnessed all that, regret and sorrow would fill him and he would be sorry he caused that anguish.

But the thing I think of the most is, did he really think through his plan to protect the girl forever? Did he envision life moving on? Would he have realised that she would met someone else and fall in love? She was young. It is only natural and normal that this would happen. But, at the time he made the decision, did he realise that?

In all honesty, I don’t think he did. I don’t think he thought things through properly. If life after death is what Barry believed it to be, then he is sitting up there watching the girl he loved move forward in life. Watching her smile and laugh and be happy. Watching her planning a future. Watching her in the arms of another man. Was that in his plan? Of course it wasn’t! Did he think she would be immobilised by his actions? Did he think she would love no other because of his final pledge to her? I have no idea what was really going through his mind, but I think he must have thought something along those lines. Because why would anyone take their own life just to sit in heaven and watch their loved one move on…with someone else? It would be pure torture!

So, yes, I find myself wondering what Barry would think of his actions now. I wonder if he would regret the biggest decision he made in his life. I wonder if it was worth it (to him) because suicide is final, there’s no going back or changing your mind once it’s done. I wonder if he truly knew these things.

Happy Birthday, Barry

A field of daffodilsDear Barry,

It’s your birthday. You would have turned 23 today. I can’t help but wonder what you would have been, where you would have lived, and who you would have been with…if you were still with us. I can only imagine the job you would have been doing and the children you may have had in the future.

There was a time when I wanted to be with you so badly, more than anyone could have known. I could never have taken my own life, but if something else had happened to end it…I would have been keen to join you. But that was then. It’s not how I feel now. Today, I want to live my life and see where it takes me. For good or for bad.

There are times I understand what you did and then there are times when I need an explanation. Still. I may never fully understand your decision, but I accept it and I respect it. But as the months turn into years, all I really want is to hug you. I want to put my arms around you and tell you that my love will never die. If a single petal represented a life time of love, then a whole field of petals would symbolise the true love I feel for you. This is how it was when you were alive and this is how it will remain always.

I don’t know where you are. I don’t know if you have regrets. I don’t know if you are happy. I don’t know if you are watching over us. All I know for sure is that you are no longer here. I wish you were. I wish we could celebrate your birthday together, with the rest of your family. I wish you could then go and celebrate your birthday with your friends. I wish so many things but I will have to be content with sending my birthday greeting in writing and hoping you can hear my words and feel my love for you.

“Happy birthday, Barry. May you have a glorious day and know you are missed everyday.”

Love always,
Mum
xx

Mother’s Day Memories will Last a Lifetime

Mother’s Day is especially hard for me because it was on the day that my family celebrated the occasion in 2006 that I last saw Barry alive. It was a Saturday, the day before the real Mother’s Day.

Every year I try to smile and join the celebrations for the sake of the other mothers in my family and life, but the images I see are of my youngest son weaving through tables with his brother with a big smile on his face, of the two of them sitting and laughing while eating lunch in the restaurant, of watching them fill their plates for a second helping, of Barry walking up the drive towards his friend’s place and that last turn to wave goodbye just before he disappeared.

That’s my last memory of seeing him…four years ago. I’ll never forget it.

We spoke on the phone three times afterwards. On Mother’s Day he phoned me and gave me his best wishes, a little bit of cheek and the magic words “I love you”. On the Monday, Gary and I went on holiday for five days, but I spoke to Barry twice more, so I have the comfort of hearing him laugh again, of hearing him tell me he loved me again. I’ll never forget that either.

I still miss him like you wouldn’t believe. I still wonder what if…

My dearest Barry,

It’s been a while, four long years, and I often wonder if things might have been different if we hadn’t gone away. Yet deep in my heart I know it wouldn’t have changed a thing. In hindsight, I see the truth, but at the time I didn’t know. I was blind and unaware and now I am full of regrets and pain because of that. I wish so many things, but mainly I wish I could have done something. I still do.

I’m sorry for not seeing. I hope you can forgive me, because I can’t quite forgive myself.

I love and miss you so very much.

Forever,
Muza
xx

Book Review: Perfect Victim

perfect-victimPerfect Victim by Elizabeth Southall and Megan Norris

This book is a true story about the disappearance and murder of 15 year old Rachel Barber in March 1999 in Victoria, Australia. There are two “stories” running parallel – the story of Rachel’s family’s anguish and grief as told by her mother, Elizabeth Barber (using the pen name of Elizabeth Southall), and, an account of the investigation and court case by criminal court reporter, Megan Norris.

Because of the nature of the book, I do not feel it’s relevant to dissect the book as I usually do and talk about characters, plot, setting and voice. These things are what they are…true, disturbing, heartfelt and a complete waste of a young life. It would be wrong for me to “critique” a book which has been written out of love, need and pain, so I am going to talk about this book in relation to the loss of my son in 2006.

The loss of a child by murder and the loss of a child by suicide are two completely different things, yet they are so similar as well. The loved ones of each are left with unending questions that may never be answered. The deep feelings of guilt are overwhelming, although usually unwarranted. The grief is never ending. The lives of everyone close to the person who has gone forever are never the same.

Reading Elizabeth’s words made me cry…not only for her and her daughter, but for me and my son. As I read the Barber family struggles with accepting what had happened and their feelings of isolation, distress and frustration, I thought of my own family facing those same issues.

And then, when Elizabeth spoke directly to her daughter through the book, my heart broke. In her words I heard echoes of my own thoughts and feelings. It was like Rachel’s mother had crawled into my mind and plucked secret thoughts from my head.

Finally, Elizabeth mentioned that she wrote the book not only for herself or for Rachel…she wrote it to make the appropriate authorities – such as the police and the court system – aware of how the family of someone who has gone missing and murdered are feeling, how stressed they are. She needed them to know the anguish, frustration and total devastation felt by Rachel’s family and closest friends. It was important to her to inform and educate them of these things because she didn’t want another family having to deal with the lack of communication and isolation she experienced during the disappearance and then the murder investigation of her daughter. I could relate to the reasons, although in this regard my reasons are quite different. For me, I want to raise suicide awareness in others and I feel the need to educate people about grief.

In conclusion, Elizabeth said that at the time the book was published, it had been three years since her daughter’s death. It has been three years now since my son’s death. She said that her family were trying to move forward, although Rachel’s memory would never be forgotten. My family feels the same way. She mentioned the pain she still felt and the tears still shed on an everyday basis, but especially on “important” dates. I can attest to that as I’m the same. She also said how difficult it was to face everyday questions from strangers, such as “do you have children?” and then the inevitable questions that follow, like “how many?” and “what are their ages?”. For most people, these are easy questions and they eagerly reply. For a parent who has lost a child these questions are difficult and bring a lump to their throat because it’s hard to know how the questions should be answered as we are fully aware that whatever we say someone will feel uncomfortable.

The End of the Road

In three months it will be two years since Barry decided to end his time on Earth and move into the great unknown. For the family and friends he left behind, we grieved in many ways, for many months. In fact, the process continues for most of us, to varying degrees.

However, I have reached the end of the road when it comes to sharing that grief in public. The words on this website were necessary and they were put here for other people as much as for me. The words are private, yet it was my choice to make them public. I wanted, needed, to tell people what it’s like to lose a son to suicide and how a family suffers. It was important to me. In fact, it was the only thing that kept me going at one stage. It was therapy. I also wanted to raise people’s awareness because I couldn’t stand the thought of another mother having to go through to agony I’ve been through. I thought if I could inform people of the risks, then maybe – just maybe – it might make a difference to another family.

It was my choice to share, and now it is my choice to stop sharing. I feel sad that I never did write about Barry’s life in the way I really wanted to, but grief plays tricks on the mind and I couldn’t write about something that I couldn’t really remember. Now, nearly two years down the track, I realise it doesn’t matter. My son is in my heart and he is in the hearts of everyone who loved him. I will write Barry’s life story in private and I realise now that’s how it should be.

This morning, I wrote the following in an email to a grieving aunt:

I feel happy and content…and so peaceful. It’s a wonderful feeling. I don’t know what the future holds, and I may or may not decide to write again, but I know I can face whatever is thrown at me. I guess in some ways I feel cleansed.

I’m telling you this because I want you to know that it will get easier. You just have to give yourself lots of time. The healing stops and starts unexpectedly, but you do heal.

I don’t know why you came to this website. Are you curious about suicide? Are you a grieving parent/sibling/child/grandparent? Or was it just a complete accident that brought you here? It really doesn’t matter how or why you are here. I just hope you leave feeling some form of comfort or more suicide aware after reading my words.

Kindred Spirit

Two weeks ago I found a long, lost aunt. I had been searching for her for some time and was overjoyed when I saw her photo on a company website along with her contact details. I have since reunited her and my mum and it made me feel proud that I succeeded in doing that.

However, my efforts provided a reward for me that I never envisioned. You see, my aunt is only five years older than me and she lost a fifteen year old son to a drunk driver fifteen years ago.

I have mentioned him a couple of times on this website as his death was needless and a shock to the family. At the time of the accident, as a mother, I looked at my two young sons and thought I understood my aunt’s anguish. I felt for her and thought I could imagine what she was going through. It wasn’t until after 18 May 2006 that I realised I had no idea how she felt. No idea whatsoever. My imagination didn’t stretch far enough. How could it? Only those who have experienced the tragedy of losing a child could understand. I didn’t know that then and that’s why I can excuse those who think they understand now, when I know they don’t.

My aunt has walked the path I’m on now. In fact, she’s still on the path except much further along and I now have the benefit of her knowledge. She can tell me what to expect. She has already assured me that I’m not insane and that my thoughts and moods are normal. She said she still cries, she still gets angry, she still wonders what his life would have been like if he were still here, but she has mainly accepted what happened and moved on.

The one thing she said to me that I found incredible is…she claims that one day I’ll climb into bed and suddenly think to myself, “oh, I haven’t thought about Barry all day” and then another night I’ll think, “I haven’t thought of Barry for a few days” and then it will be a few months. She made it sound so natural, but I’m not at a stage where I can imagine that happening…but I guess it will sometime in the future.

Since Barry’s death I have been in contact with many people who are in a similar situation to me. Without even knowing those people personally, I felt a certain closeness with them that I wouldn’t normally feel. However, this contact is different. This woman is family. And she stood where I stand now. This makes that closeness more concrete. I started looking for her because I wanted to reunite sisters who had lost contact, but I found so much more than I expected. The search was definitely worth the time and effort.

Looking Back at Christmas Day 2007

My family has experienced a second Christmas without Barry. From my point of view, and that’s all I can really comment on, we did extremely well.

I deliberately changed the ways we do things this year. I invested in a new tree and decorations. I invited the family to join us for Christmas lunch – I haven’t done that in a decade. I purposefully didn’t leave the wrapping of Christmas presents until Christmas Eve as that would have tormented me and this time of year is meant to be happy.

This year, I did things differently, but I still included Barry in my own little ways. On Christmas Eve, Gary and I visited the cemetery. We removed the flowers in the tiny vase (which we will return in the New Year) and placed a festive decoration in there instead. We spent some time walking around the cemetery and then we wished Barry a merry Christmas and left.

Christmas Eve 2007

On Christmas day I had intended to light a “flame of life” while everyone opened their presents, but in the chaos I forgot. I did feel guilty about this later, but quickly told myself that it was OK. Not lighting a candle isn’t like forgetting Barry. He was with me all day. I wore a locket with his photo inside. I looked at the photos we have on the walls and shelves numerous times. Barry’s name came up in conversation several times too. Life goes on.

Gary’s grandson (aged 3) asked his mum who the drawing was of and I heard her say, “That’s your Uncle Barry.” She didn’t know I saw or heard this, but it felt good to know that Barry has not been forgotten or overlooked.

I feel we have made progress. We are mending. We are moving on. Barry would have wanted it this way. Barry would be pleased that we managed to enjoy Christmas.