understanding, lived experience, Scott, personal experience, stories, comforting words, Scott's room, suicide loss, experience, Mourning Rishel, autoethnography, Dearest Tony, personal experiences, qualitative research, son Scott, heart beating, family members, Tony Dear Tony, Creative Approaches, traumatic experience, head shaking
CREATIVE APPROACHES TO RESEARCH And Time Stood Still Healing from Suicide through Research Te re s a R i s h e l Abstract This narrative represents the autobiographic and lived experience
narrative research in suicide due to the loss of my oldest son at age 20 to suicide. As an educator, this traumatic experience spawned an intense desire to learn about suicide loss among youth and Young Adults
, to understand how suicide loss affects others, and to heal my own grief along the way. Over the span of 22 years since his death, sadly, this journey has provided more than enough "data" to understand suicide's impact on others. My autobiographic account provides the framework for representing the storied lives of others through autoethnography, bringing meaning and relevance to the often hidden culture of the suicide survival to those closest to the deceased. During my professional life, I have shared participants' stories, in context with mine, but never as a solitary contribution until now. Because suicide remains an often taboo and stigmatized topic, it requires continued understanding and research in this area, especially through the reflections, experiences and stories of the survivors. Keywords: Suicide, Lived Experience, Autobiography, Mourning Rishel, Teresa (2016). And Time Stood Still: Healing from Suicide through Research, Creative Approaches to Research, vol. 9. no. 1, pp. 39-56. © 2016 Creative Approaches to Research
40|Creative Approaches to Research | Vol. 9 No. 1, 2016 Life from Dark Darkness folds around the bleeding sun, Bringing streaks of light Against The black of night. The rising moon envelops our souls. Like a phoenix risen from the ashes, Hope brings about new life On a road... Travelled previously by Death. Your Friend Forever, Tracy (Poem left at gravestone, August 2002) Methodology My research began with an autobiographical examination of the suicide of my eldest son through the use of heuristic inquiry, a form of phenomenology, to construct the narrative of my lived experience (Moustakas, 1994; Merriam & Tisdell, 2016; Patton, 2015). The heuristic researcher "must have personal experience with and intense interest in the phenomenon under study" (Patton, 2015, p. 119). Probing into my own story allowed me to be more aware of--and thus more sensitive to--how I approached the stories of my participants. Through my self-story, I was able to clarify my understanding of the experience. Brock (1999) stated that in analyzing personal experiences
, they "are placed in context by looking backward and forward...not just taking a slice of my life without regard to past or future" (p. 48). Although the autobiographical account of my son's suicide was never part of published work other than one letter, it formed the context for understanding others' stories and a point from which to begin autoethnographic explorations and thus narratives of those whose lives have been touched by suicide. Autoethnography, a form of qualitative research, explores one's life experiences in order to relate them to larger cultural, social or political meanings, understandings or phenomena. In my case, the cultural and social phenomenon was suicide. Using the "self " as the mode of reflection, analysis and understanding, the discoveries frame a place from which to start. Ellis, 2004 and Holman Jones, 2005, as cited in Ellis, Adams, & Bochner (2010) define autoethnography as "an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze (graphy) personal experience (auto) in order to understand cultural experience (ethno)" (p.
And Time Stood Still | Rishel|41 1). Further, they explain autoethnography as a combination of autobiography and ethnography to form an ethnographic narrative. Because autoethnographic research
comes from personal experience and is an exploration of self, often the researched experience emanates from traumatic or highly painful events. van Manen (1990) writes that we have to know our own experience before we can ask others about theirs, which can cause a double dose of painful data collection
. van Manen describes human science research as that which "produces knowledge to disclose what it means to be human" (p. 12). In undertaking this task, "...the researcher may encounter difficult moments during the course of the research and writing. It is not an easy task." (Raab, 2013, p. 14). The story presented here set the stage for interviewing those who have experienced the death of a loved one by suicide, and specifically school personnel who experienced a student's suicide. As part of being in the midst of my own story, I wrote letters to Tony throughout the research and healing process. Understanding my own story prepared me for understanding theirs. As Phillion (2002) stated: In life, in research, in research-life, we are always in the midst of the story of our life and the stories of others' lives. What we write and what we know is conditional, temporal, situated, fragmented, in transition, in process, in the midst (p. 146).
Letter to My Son: My Lived Experience with Suicide1
May 13, 2002
Son, how can I begin to tell you all that I want to say? I am in a hurry and must write my thoughts on paper quickly; otherwise, I feel as if they will vanish into the air like wisps of milkweed in the Indiana summer breeze. My urgency is partly the result of a fear that I will retreat from these words, these thoughts, and these tears and partly that of a belief that writing makes them real. I fear returning to the place where I have hidden since you went away. Keeping busy has always been my way of making things that irk me disappear. Why do I use the word irk? What word, I wonder, should I have chosen? I suppose I am treading lightly into this conversation by using words that have a sort of gentleness to them--or maybe a mom-ness? I use irk (instead of annoy) to describe the things that trouble me like your "going away"--OK, things that irk me like your SUICIDE. Why say going away when I could just as easily say
1. Excerpts from "Letter to my Son: My Lived Experience with Suicide" reprinted in a slightly different form than the original with permission from the Journal of Critical Inquiry Into Curriculum and Instruction, 5(1), 3235.
42|Creative Approaches to Research | Vol. 9 No. 1, 2016 SUICIDE? What irks me, Tony, is that I have to use the word SUICIDE when I write this, when I think of you--when I talk about you--when I do anything that involves you--or even anything that doesn't involve you. SUICIDE follows me every day. It is in my thoughts, my words, my heart, and my soul. Why do I capitalize the word? Well, you certainly capitalized on it; you didn't sort of die by SUICIDE any more that I sort of use the word. You didn't attempt SUICIDE anymore than I attempt to capitalize the word. You did it, so now I have to capitalize it. See, when it's in capitals, it is big and bold just like a SUICIDE. It makes people pay attention. They notice the word SUICIDE when it is in caps. I'm irked that I have to hurt like this and that your brother has to hurt the way he does. Do you realize how broken he is inside because of this? Do you realize how much healing has had to take place just to get him to where he is today? Do you realize how empty he is without you, how his life will never be the same now that you are gone? And for me, I have to decide between saying I have two sons and I had two sons. It goes against everything I stand for to have to decide between claiming and omitting your existence. It often happens when I wear the "#1 MOM" necklace that you gave me. When someone asks or remarks about the necklace, how do I define your existence? Or lack of it? Please help me understand how to do that. Something as beautiful and meaningful as that necklace can cause me such pain now. How do I deal with this broken heart and diminished spirit? It has been nearly eight years now, Tony, since you died and tears roll down my cheeks as I write you. Eight years! (I think to myself: How can this be? Eight years?) In the midst of laughter and fun, I am never whole. I am never who I was when you were in my life. My loves, my passions, my dreams are now punctuated by the stabbing pain of loneliness in my heart. Yes, I'm irked. I'm irked that I have to explore this miserable subject called SUICIDE. I'm the only person who talks about SUICIDE as if it were an ordinary event. SUICIDE slips from my mouth easily now; it is part of my daily vocabulary. Can you imagine telling people that my research is about SUICIDE-- writing the word, reading the word, thinking the word, and most of all, living the word every day? Tony, I'm irked that you left us and that I miss you so much. I'm irked that I can no longer say "I love you" as I did the last time I saw you. I'm thankful, Tony, that we always said those words to each other when parting, that our last words held so much meaning. But I'm irked that you're gone, that I can no longer buy you Levi's,® Pink Floyd® CDs, or Vans® skateboarding shoes. You would have turned 28 this year. The last time I saw you, you were 20 years old. I often imagine what you would look like and what you would be like as an adult. I wonder where life would have taken you. Speaking of age, guess how
And Time Stood Still | Rishel|43 old Scottie is now? Oh, yeah, we call him Scottie again. We went through the "call me Scott" stage only to return to "call me Scottie." He will turn 23 this Friday. He was 15 the last time you saw him. What has he done since you left? He has changed in so many ways. An awkward, self-centered adolescent grew in a matter of months into a calm, reflective, serious young man. He lost a stage of growth that he can never reclaim; he lost an innocence that he can never regain. Catapulted into adult realities and situations, he had no choice. He woke up one day, and his life had changed forever. In less than the time it took to explain to him what you had done, you were gone. He was a teenager, trying to deal with teenage things. He no longer saw the world as he once did. Gone were the proverbial "rose-colored glasses" of adolescence, immortality, and invincibility. Instead, death had met him at his front door
, changing all that existed for him. Sadly, he didn't make the High School
basketball team when he returned to school the week after you died. He practiced with the team with final cuts at the end of the week. He couldn't put into the tryouts the heart and soul that was needed. He was preoccupied, depressed, and beaten down emotionally; and no one at school or basketball practice seemed to understand. Reluctantly, he walked in the door that afternoon with a vacant, emotionless look I will never forget. He shrugged his shoulders and said it wasn't that important. Not making the team, he believed, was nothing compared to his brother's death. He agonized over not making the team as I later learned from the poetry he wrote. While I am thinking of his poetry--he wrote the most beautiful poem about you the night you died. He crept quietly out of a room full of people, tears, and sadness; and when he returned, he announced, "I wrote a poem for Tony." He read it aloud and we were stunned. This kid had put into words his grief, his pain, and his love for you while the rest of us sat around and cried. He read it at your funeral, Tony. Can you believe that? He stood in front of all those people, full of his own immeasurable grief, and read that poem to us. I will never forget that moment. Never. My two sons were in the same "picture" for the last time. I had one living son reading to the other son in his casket. Scott graduated with honors from high school, was involved in activities, and is a really nice guy. You'd be so proud of him. West Point was his college choice. (I've never figured that one out, but I think your dad had a lot to do with it!) He graduated last year, and after he serves in the Army, he wants to write for a living. A lot of his interest in writing, I think, has to do with your death, the changes he experienced and the process of dealing with your being gone. I could go on, but he is going to put his feelings into his own words someday. He will write to you, so you can hear about them from him. I was going to tell you about the funeral and the few days afterwards, but right now I just don't feel like writing anymore. You know, actually Tony, I'm tired. I am caught in a heavy
44|Creative Approaches to Research | Vol. 9 No. 1, 2016 fog. My eyes hurt, too, from crying. Do you mind if I leave my words to you for a while? I promise I will get back to them, and it will be sooner than the last time I tried to write to you. I am ready now to write to you and share my thoughts. I've kept them inside for a long time now, and it is time to release them to you. I'm not irked anymore. Just sad. Until then, know that I love you and miss you. No words could tell you enough. With Unending and Unconditional Love, Ma One more day without you is too much for me Through the eyes of love, I see your face And in the words of love I call your name Through the eyes of love, I see your face And in these dreams I feel no pain. (Bloom, 1990) Watercolour Ponies The quiet sound of a car pulling into the driveway stirred me as I groggily sought to decipher the time: 6:00 a.m. I remember the soft whirr of the engine, noticeably loud during the early hours of this quiet Sunday morning, September 11, 1994. The light of the sun, held at bay by the blinds, filled the room with a warm morning glow. My lids were heavy and sore from the late hour of the previous night when Diane, a lifelong friend, stopped to visit before returning to Arizona. Although it was late and she had an early morning flight, she wanted to hear about Tony's wedding, which had occurred three months earlier. As we looked at the time on the VCR in deciding whether she should stay longer, it showed 10:40 p.m. Hardly what one would expect when describing a son's wedding, I played the song "Watercolour Ponies" (Watson, 1987) and explained how it haunted me throughout the weekend of the wedding. Familiar tears ran down my face as we listened. There are watercolor ponies On my refrigerator door And the shape of something I don't really recognize Brushed with careful little fingers And put proudly on display, A reminder to us all of how time flies.
And Time Stood Still | Rishel|45 Seems an endless mound of laundry And a stairway laced with toys, Gives a blow by blow reminder of the war That we fight for their well being For their greater understanding To impart a holy reverence for the Lord. But baby what will we do When it comes back to me and you? They look a little less Like little boys every day Oh, the pleasure of Watching the children growing Is mixed with a bitter cup Of knowing the watercolour ponies Will one day ride away. And the vision can get so narrow As you view through your tiny world, And little victories can Go by with no applause. But in the greater evaluation As they fly from your nest of love, May they mount up with wings As eagles for His cause. Still I wonder baby what will we do When it comes back to me and you? They look a little less Like little boys every day Oh the pleasure of Watching the children growing Is mixed with a bitter cup of knowing the Watercolour ponies will one day ride away (Watson, 1987) Almost as an eerie and foreboding warning, and gripped within the apprehension of my son's wedding that weekend, I played the song numerous times prior to my arrival at the event. At the time, I thought it was my dismay that he was marrying too quickly and without adequate time for a traditional engagement
46|Creative Approaches to Research | Vol. 9 No. 1, 2016 period. I felt he was "riding away" too soon. Little did I know, the song would represent an entirely different meaning for the future. And Time Stood Still: September 11, 1994 "The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal." --(Attenborough & Ivory, 1993) The phone rang as I lay in bed, wrestling with the thought of ignoring the car that I heard pull in the driveway. I answered the phone to hear Tony's father, Jon, say, "Teresa, get up and answer your door. I need to talk to you"2 in a voice that sent a chill through my body. My thoughts stirred in my slowly awakening brain. I stumbled out of bed, making my way toward the back door, trying to figure out why he was here so early in the morning. The number of thoughts that raced through my mind in a 20-step journey to answer the door astonished me. What caused him to make the 45-minute drive at such an early hour? Couldn't it wait? Fear gripped my stomach, tying it in knots before I could understand why. Seeing Jon standing outside, I reached for the door handle and felt the cool, hard metal of the sliding bolt. I noticed how the pressure felt against my thumb as I held it for what seemed like an eternity almost as if I were willing it not to open. I do not remember unlocking the door; I remember seeing only Jon's face. My thoughts were on Tony. The hollow look on Jon's face told me more than I wanted to know, setting my mind into motion to determine the "what" that awaited me. Opening the door, before Jon could speak, I quickly asked, "What has happened to Tony? Where is he?" I do not recall the the way my voice sounded as my words hit the air, but I clearly remember that on the inside, my voice felt desperate. With an eerie hesitancy and anxiety that frightened me, Jon stepped into the house and told me to sit on the sofa. Tony is gone, Teresa. [Long pause, catch breath, retreat. Gone? How could he be gone? Where did he go?] He died last night. He is dead. [I am not hearing this.] He took his own life-- [What?] with his gun. [What? Slow down.] 2. The conversations are exactly as I remember them and represent moments in life when it is easy to recall not only feelings but also specific words and phrases.
And Time Stood Still | Rishel|47 He shot himself. [What?] The police came to my house about 4:00 this morning. [Sigh--gasp--sigh--thinking, mind racing, heart beating, head shaking, eyes searching, head shaking, head shaking, tears--inhale, inhale, inhale] No. Jumping to my feet in a frenzy of emotion, I screamed, pausing between each sound long enough to realize that my screams are what I had just heard. I clutched the fireplace mantel with my right hand as my screaming slowly turned into moaning. The painting of a harbor done by my father and hung above the fireplace had somehow caught my attention, and I continued to moan to the painting-- somehow expecting it to respond with reassurance that this was not true. Silence. And time stood still. I have no idea how long I stood there moaning and sobbing but remember that I felt totally alone, unaware of Jon still sitting on the sofa or of our son Scott asleep in his room. These were moments of total and complete isolation as the harsh and bitter realities slammed at my heart. No words could console me, no one could whisk away the dark feelings, and no one could dispel the certainty of what I had just heard. Jon's voice brought me back to reality. Teresa, we need to tell to Scott. We have to, you know. [Tell Scott? Why would we need to do that?] The slowed pounding of my heart regained its momentum as I realized it was time to face the next wave in this turbulent sea of emotion. Questions, questions, and more questions ran rapidly through my head as I relinquished my feelings and grief to grasp what lay ahead--telling Scott. How could we tell him? How could he possibly handle this when I could not? Should we tell him the truth? How could I stand to see his hurt and pain when I could not handle my own? Things seemed to be moving too quickly. My memory of what occurred next is vague. Who awakened Scott? When did I leave the room? What words were used? I have little recall other than that I was not present in the room when Scott was told but can remember hearing his scream. I remember seeing his distorted face and the arms of his father wrapped around him as I peered through the sliding door
s of the sunroom into the room
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where I had sat earlier. I remember feeling that I could not go to him or comfort him at that moment. I could not bear his pain. My mind then flashes to me sitting beside Scott on the sofa, holding him tightly as we both cried. Jon's wife Terry had appeared at some point during these moments, yet I do not recall anything she said or did. Terry's presence was reassuring; she understood quietly and accepted unconditionally. At some point it occurred to me that I had to tell my husband, Mike. I do not remember who called him at his father's house or how soon he came home. (His father was very ill, requiring Mike to stay with him.) I remember his face as he walked through the door, bearing a look of recognition of this type of pain because of his best friend's suicide two years earlier. He had a helpless look in his eyes. His demeanor both calmed and alarmed me because he did not convey his usual "everything will be all right" look. Mike always found a way to press on through a situation, finding the good in the bad, offering the reassurance that everything will work out fine. I saw none of that in his eyes, my ears heard no such comfort and his embrace seemed hesitant; however, his presence provided me some grounding in reality. Racked with sadness, the protocol of the day was to tell other family members
, a day that is totally unimaginable to most, and one from which there is never resolution.
Letter to Tony Dear Tony,
May 27, 2002
Hello, my son. I've returned to talk with you more. I just wrote about the day you had died. I just realized I don't write or say that sentence much. It sounds horrible and final. I was surprised at the details I remembered. I couldn't include them all, but they are here in my memory. That day really cannot be described by words anyway. On the morning that you died, I was so tired because I had stayed up late talking to Diane, telling her about my angst, fear, and dread of your marriage three months earlier in June. I told her about Scott and Benjamin being groomsmen, and how Scott always looked up to you as if you were larger than life. I still display the picture of you, Scott, and Benjamin from your wedding day. I know I told her a lot of good things about the weekend, so please do not think it was only focused on my sadness. I had told you I didn't want you to get married and you accepted my honesty. Somewhere, hidden inside of me, was fear for you, which ultimately came to fruition. Back to the day you died--I keep regressing to your wedding. I played "Watercolor Ponies" for Diane, and we both cried as we listened to the words. I had no
And Time Stood Still | Rishel|49 idea at that time how those words would come back to haunt me, especially the significance of the time--10:40 p.m. I used to believe in coincidences, but since your death, I believe things happen for a reason and purpose, not by accident. The grief and pain, Tony, were unbelievable. I now understand that you felt incredible pain in your heart when you decided to take your life. You saw no other way out of your troubles and sorrow. You probably thought your pain was as deep as pain could go. I believe you could not imagine the pain losing you, especially to suicide, would cause. Those two are so often inseparable; I usually cannot talk about your death without bridging my thoughts to the way you died. Sometimes it is impossible for me. [Now, 22 years later, I no longer think of Tony and suicide together in my first few moments of reminiscing about him.] I need to say goodbye for now. Remembering the day that you died takes me back to my helplessness. I wonder--if I say goodbye for now, will I return to this place to finish this story? Or is it already finished? Oh, I almost forgot. Do you want to know the importance of Diane's and my decision to start talking about you and the wedding at 10:40 p.m.? Weeks after your death, when your dad and I received the case report from the police department, I noticed something alarming: Time of death: 10:41 pm. My watercolor pony rode away during the exact time I was playing the song. Tell me, how that can be possible? Until later. I love you. Ma Coping with the Aftermath: Life Goes On "When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight." (Gibran, 1923, p. 29) Although losing a child to death is one of the greatest losses a family suffers (Jacques, 2000; Lukas & Seiden, 2007; Rosof, 1994; Wiersbe, 1992), a child's suicide is considered the most difficult death to endure (Lukas & Seiden, 2007; Schiff, 1977; Wrobleski, 2002). Parents, siblings and other family members experience excruciating grief and pain beyond the actual death, which compound the process of healing. "The guilt and depression among parental survivors seem to be more intense and longer lasting than among others" (Lukas & Seiden, 2007, p. 127) perhaps because in most deaths, such as those by natural causes, severe illness, or accidents, a network of consolation and support from others exists and acceptance of the death occurs naturally (Bramblett, 1991; Jacques, 2000; Rosof,
50|Creative Approaches to Research | Vol. 9 No. 1, 2016 1994). In suicide, however, this support, consolation, and acceptance are not typically available to the members of a grieving family, who often become forgotten mourners (Jacques, 2000; Rosof, 1994). "The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent Suicide" (U.S. Public Health Service, 1999) stated: Compounding the tragedy of loss of life, suicide evokes complicated and uncomfortable reactions in most of us. Too often, we blame the victim and stigmatize the surviving family members and friends. These reactions add to the survivors' burden of hurt, intensify their isolation, and shroud suicide in secrecy. (p. 6) We experienced this in the aftermath of Tony's death. We felt forgotten; others seemed distant. We noticed a difference in the ways that people talked about his death to us. I vividly remember the day that some well-meaning friends talked to me about the religious aspects of suicide. I had already experienced the deaths of several close family members. Most of the talk during these deaths was centered around thoughts that the loved one was in heaven or that they "were called" too soon and other sorts of religious statements. It was apparent, obvious and acceptable to speak of the deceased in this manner. However, when Tony died by suicide, not once did anyone speak to me about the afterlife in terms of "acceptance into heaven" or religious connotations to the death. I found it odd--and hurtful. Unlike most situations in which a death has occurred, suicide elicits a different type of mourning and process of acceptance. Instead of discussing the good life the deceased led, how she or he battled bravely to the end, or how unfortunate it was to be "called" too soon, the focus in suicide is on the act of death, that final decision. The emphasis is placed on the details of where, when, how, what, and why, instead of simple acceptance that a life ended. The usual support and comfort are replaced by comfort at arm's length--an incomplete, distant gesture of sorrow. I was torn between wanting people on one hand to acknowledge that Tony's death occurred by suicide and thus to realize that healing would be unbearable, and simply wanting them on the other hand to acknowledge he had died. Period. In a family in which a child dies by suicide, surviving siblings attempting to deal with the death often suffer as a result of the disconnection from the relationship that had once existed between them and their parents. In fact, siblings "suffer more when a brother or sister has committed suicide than from any other death because they too feel guilt and personal failure" (Schiff, 1977, p. 42). Similarly, according to the American Association
of Suicidology [AAS] (2010), "Surviving family members not only suffer the loss of a loved one to suicide, but are also themselves at higher risk of suicide and emotional problems" (p. 2). When the foundation of the family is rocked in this manner, siblings are more fearful and more insecure; they develop feelings of abandonment, the "sense that their parents are unreachable" (Jacques, 2000, p. 377), and find "their place in the family
And Time Stood Still | Rishel|51 is forever changed" (Rosof, 1994, p. 21). The foundation of our family was fractured, and as we attempted to deal with the fallout after Tony's death, Scott tried to balance what he needed from us with what we could offer. I am sure he felt that I, in particular, was at times unreachable--and regrettably, I agree. Transitioning Back to the Real World "The person who completes suicide dies once. Those left behind die a thousand deaths, trying to relive those terrible moments and understand why." (Clark, 2001, p. 1) As time slowly passed, the gap between "us," the survivors, and "them," the others, became more obvious. We were told, "You need to move on," "Take one day at a time," (which is truly all that can be done) "This too shall pass," and other clichйs. My translation of their needing us to move on was "I need you to not talk about this anymore; it makes me uncomfortable. I do not know what to say to you or how to help you." Perhaps I merely imagined that people felt grieving over someone's decision to die by suicide is not as worthy as grieving for other deaths, but those thoughts lingered throughout the process of grieving. Unfortunately, contemporary customs no longer allow, honor, or respect the grieving process, especially in one's own time and at one's own pace; one who grieves appears weak, self-pitying, self-indulgent, or possibly even mentally unstable. I grew angered that bridging the narrow gap between a loved one's life and death should be considered so simple, straightforward, and time-specific. I felt frustrated that grieving and healing must be defended, protected, or hidden, making the already unbearable even more so. After what seemed an eternity but was in reality the passing of only a week, we had to transition back into the "normal" world. Reflecting on that week, I realized we had no idea how scarred and scathed we were. Enduring the unexpected news of Tony's suicide was only the beginning. During the week that followed, we witnessed much that did not make sense. We endured a continuous series of hurtful, heartbreaking and hated incidents. We had watched at the funeral as Scott read his poem, tears streaming down his face, his body bent in pain. We had survived the burial which brought its own set of emotionality, and now we faced the transition that would take us back into a world where we knew few understood. One evening, about a week after the funeral, I wandered into Scott's room and sat on the bed beside him, hoping to offer comforting words to which he could cling. Instead, he shared a recent dream that haunted him. He had dreamed of climbing a tree positioned next to a rushing river, where the water was loud and moving rapidly past him as he hung onto a branch over the water. Below, he
52|Creative Approaches to Research | Vol. 9 No. 1, 2016 saw Tony being pushed downstream by the water's force. As Tony neared the tree, Scott reached out to grab Tony's hand to save him from the swirling depths of the river. As hard as he tried, he could not reach Tony: "I tried and I tried. I couldn't get him. I had to decide whether to join him in the water, knowing that I would die, too, or to stay in the tree and let him go. It was awful." "What happened?" I asked, shaken by the story and the suicidal implications of what I had just heard. "This time I let him go, but I'm not sure I will the next time," he answered with a hollow look in his eyes. After sharing the dream, Scott told me of his wish to die, to be with Tony; although he knew it was very wrong, he, too, wanted to die by suicide so he could go to him. As he spoke the words, I felt absolute panic; I was afraid to move, to speak, or to think. What began as an attempt to provide comforting words to my son resulted in more worry in addition to the struggle that already gripped me. For the next two weeks, I crept into Scott's room after he had fallen asleep and slept on the floor beside his bed. I feared that he would awaken in the night, possibly after another dream, and in his depressed and drowsy state, decide that he would rather die than to live with the pain of surviving. At that point in the drama of Tony's death, I trusted only my instincts to protect him, regardless of the rationality. I was not going to take chances. I confessed to Scott my nightly journeys to his room during those weeks only three years ago. At first, he laughed, and said, "Oh, mom," but after a moment of reflection, he said, "That was probably a good idea. I was very down--very, very down. I didn't even trust myself." Although difficult to express now in writing, to think of what might have happened is far more difficult. Suicide research directs our attention to the well-being of those who live through a loved one's suicide. According to the Survivors of Suicide Handbook, "The risk of committing suicide is far greater for those who come from a family in which suicide has been attempted, . . . making it very common for survivors to have suicidal thoughts themselves" (Jackson, 2003, p. 5). Unaware of this phenomenon, I made the decision to sleep on Scott's floor based on a mother's intuition, the knowledge of which now frightens me. Large numbers of suicide mourners are completely unaware of the severity of the aftermath for family and friends. During the transition from mourning to healing, guilt is omnipresent. According to Kushner (1996) guilt is "feeling bad for what you have done or not
And Time Stood Still | Rishel|53 done" (p. 35). In my case, it was for both what I had done and not done as a parent. I wore guilt like the proverbial scarlet letter; guilt wrapped tightly around me, choking me at every turn. One has to think only of a child taking his or her own life to understand how quickly a parent can become enveloped in guilt, sinking slowly into the self-recrimination which surfaces quickly after a suicide. Guilt took its place front and center, intruding into even the quietest and seemingly normal moments. Making it through just one hour was difficult without beating myself up for something I should or should not have done, real or imagined. I watched other family members do the same and constantly reassured them there was "nothing we could do" and to "let it go," inwardly feeling the mounting pressure that I should have prevented this from happening. During those days I suffered two particular forms of guilt that continued to haunt me for many years and still do on occasion. The first grew from my realization that Tony could have, but did not, call me for help, advice, direction, or merely to unburden his feelings. Rationalizing, I believed that if had he called me, I could have talked him out of it; however, in that mode of thinking, a twofold problem arises. On one hand, he may not have told me he was contemplating suicide, an omission that would have later haunted me, causing me greater pain, knowing we had talked but he had hidden his intentions from me. On the other, had he divulged his thoughts of suicide, I may not have been able to dissuade or help him. I have often wondered how I would have felt had either of those scenarios taken place. I also came to understand that "suicidal people truly can't think about how anyone else feels or might feel. All they know is how they feel" (Nelson & Galas, 2008, p. 114). The reader may note that in my early letters to Tony, I did not recognize that he was unable to understand how any of us would feel about his suicide or how it would affect us. Suicide researchers have posited that those contemplating suicide focus on their own pain, not necessarily on dying but on stopping inner, emotional pain. Nevertheless, for years and until I understood the possible ramifications (and finally gave up the "what ifs"), guilt hung around my neck like a medallion inscribed with the words "He didn't call me." My journey has taken many years--from September 11, 1994, until now-- April 2016. During this time, I rode the roller coaster of doubt, apprehension, and jubilation at even the smallest successes and gains. I recognize that although one journey ends and another begins, I still have much to discover about suicide. I am sure I will continue to make meaning of suicide, to ponder Tony's death and to understand. I realize that there are few answers to the questions that surround a suicide. Guesses can be made, suppositions imposed, and reflections retraced and repainted. Moments of clarity and understanding may occur, followed by the deep unknown and fear that first surrounds the death. Sometimes guilt is the catalyst for further recovery; at others times guilt remains at bay, held in a place where acceptance resides. I hurt for all of it. The pain now is part of the happiness then.
54|Creative Approaches to Research | Vol. 9 No. 1, 2016 In the words of Bob Dylan
(1989), if I do nothing about suicide, "What Good Am I?" What Good Am I? What good am I If I'm like all the rest, If I just turn away When I see how you're dressed, If I shut myself off So I can't hear you cry, What good am I? What good am I If I know and don't do, If I see and don't say If I look right through you, If I turn a deaf ear To the thunder in the sky, What good am I? What good am I While you softly weep, And I hear in my head What you say in your sleep, And I freeze in the moment Like the rest who don't try, What good am I? What good am I then To others and me, If I've had every chance And yet still fail to see, If my hands are tied Must I not wonder within, Who tied them and why And where must I have been? What good am I If I say foolish things, And I laugh in the face of What sorrow brings,
And Time Stood Still | Rishel|55 An' I just turn my back While you silently die, What good am I? (Bob Dylan, 1989, track 7) There is never an end-- just new beginnings and journeys awaiting. References Attenborough, R. (Producer), & Ivory, J. (Director). (1993). Shadowlands [Motion picture]. USA: Price Entertainment. Bloom, L. (1990). Dreams in America. On Riverside [CD]. Track 2, Newton, NJ: Shanachie Entertainment Corp. Bramblett, J. (1991). When good-bye is forever: Learning to live again after the loss of a child. New York: Ballantine Books
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, State College, PA. Clark. (2001). 10 Powerful suicide prevention quotes and sayings. Retrieved from http:// mentalhealthdaily.com/2014/09/24/10-powerful-suicide-prevention-quotes-sayings/ Dylan, B. (1989). What good am I? On Oh Mercy [record]. New York: Columbia Records. Ellis, Carolyn (2004). The ethnographic I: A methodological novel about autoethnography. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press. Ellis, C., Adams, T. E., & Bochner, A. P. (2010). Autoethnography: An overview. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research
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, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Nelson, R. E., & Galas, J. C. (2008). The power to prevent suicide: A guide for teens helping teens. Clermont, FL: Paw Prints
/Baker Taylor. Patton, M. Q. (2015). Qualitative evaluation and research methods (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Phillion, J. (2008). Narrative inquiry in a multicultural landscape: Multicultural teaching and learning
(Original work published 2002). Westport, Canada: Ablex. Raab, D. (2013). Transpersonal approaches to autoethnographic research and writing. The Qualitative Report, 18(42), 1-19. Retrieved from http://www.nova.edu/ssss/QR/QR18/ raab42.pdf.
56|Creative Approaches to Research | Vol. 9 No. 1, 2016 Rosof, B. D. (1994). The worst loss: How families heal from the death of a child. New York: Holt and Company. Schiff, H. S. (1977). The bereaved parent. New York: Crown Publishers
. United States Public Health Service. (1999). The surgeon general's call to action to prevent suicide. mental health
: A report of the Surgeon General. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http:// profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/retrieve/ResourceMetadata/NNBBHS. van Manen, M. (1990). Researching lived experience: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. New York: State University of New York
Press. Watson, W. (1987). Watercolour ponies. On Watercolour ponies. Track 9. [CD]. Nashville, TN: Word Records. Wiersbe, D. W. (1992). Gone but not lost: Grieving the death of a child. Grand Rapids
: Baker Book House. Wrobleski, A. (2002). Suicide: A survivor's guide for those left behind (3rd ed). Minneapolis, MN: Afterwords. Dr. Teresa Rishel is an Associate Professor in Teachers College
, Department of Elementary Education at Ball State University
. Teresa researches child and adolescent suicide in terms of sociocultural relationships, student alienation, power issues, hidden curriculum and leadership roles
in schools. Teresa's research explores and focuses on critical theory/pedagogy, reflective thinking, curriculum theory, multiculturalism and social justice