Past, Present, and Future

I saw a Facebook post today from someone identified only as Amy, and I am marveling at the simple wisdom of it.  She says that to move on from emotional paralysis, “You have to give up your need for a different past. You have to allow yourself to grieve for what happened or a lot of times, what didn’t happen.”  She adds, “It doesn’t mean you’re okay with what happened or didn’t happen, it means that you are accepting life now and in the past for what it was and what it is.”

I look out this morning at a beautiful blue sea dotted with whitecaps lit by the sun, approaching Australia on the last day of a two-month assignment, and I know the answer to healing lies in what she says.

I learned that my son Ivan had taken his life, probably at midnight New Year’s Eve, as I sat waiting in the Vancouver airport for my flight to Singapore to begin this assignment. The news was not unexpected—he had been suicidal off and on for years, and almost constantly in 2022. Perhaps that helped buffer the moment in the airport, because as I asked myself, “what do I do now?” the answer was simple: Go on with your life. Get on that plane. 

I should clarify that I didn’t have family to support in their grief, nor did Ivan have possessions or affairs I needed to be physically present to deal with.  Everything that needed to be done could be done remotely, and many things didn’t really need to be done at all. His creditors and bank would figure out the situation eventually, and when his rent went unpaid, the complex could use his deposit to clear out his apartment. I wanted nothing except what a friend of Ivan’s was able to rescue, and that wouldn’t even fill a shopping bag. So I went to Singapore.

I don’t regret it at all.  Even when you feel as if you are only half in this world yourself, you need a place to be.  The somewhere I chose to be provided distractions, positive things to do and experience, and time the first month with travel companions who are wise women who knew the best way to show their love was to just let me be whatever I needed to be at any given moment. 

My grief has two distinct parts.  The first is that my son was so miserable in life.  It wasn’t going to get better, at least anywhere near enough to have a life he would consider successful or happy. I think about a line from a Jackson Browne song: “And though the future’s there for anyone to change, still you know it seems/ It would be easier sometimes to change the past.” I don’t think Ivan had the power to change his future. The past, and a present taken up with things he could not manage, were too strong. I had to let him go.  It was the best mothering I could give him in the end.  

From time to time I talk to both my children and tell them how sorry I am that things weren’t different. I am sure I will grieve that way for the rest of my life. All I can do, though, is shake it off and tell myself, “enough of that thinking. It does no good.”  Any lessons there were in all this, I have had plenty of time to struggle with over the years. I need to be kind to Laurel now.  

The second aspect of grief is that Ivan won’t be here ever again for anything.  I didn’t get to have the fun phone call where I listened to him praise and frequently trash the Oscar nominations.  I couldn’t send him photos from places I knew he would love seeing. I can’t share in his highly intelligent and knowledgeable rants about the day’s political headlines. He was always better informed than I am.  And the ambushes are frequent. The other day I saw a shirt I thought Ivan would like hanging in a market stall in Noumea, and I took a step or two in that direction before remembering there is no Ivan to buy it for. And there won’t be, ever again.  

Funny, how we say those who commit suicide have taken their life, when everyone else who dies loses theirs.  I do think in the end I can say that Ivan finally took charge of his life on his own terms.  I, on the other hand, like every survivor, lost a little of mine. I have to figure out how to get it back.  My life has changed, and I feel in my bones it will be different—still unknown and intangible but, as always, beautiful and abundant. Time to walk into my future, with my grief tucked into my heart. I’m ready. 

4 thoughts on “Past, Present, and Future”

  1. Peter says:

    Dear Laurel
    You must go on. Beautiful people like yourself waiting for you. They need you.
    Still a lot to see and to learn. Especially from each other.
    Kindest regards

  2. Jean Kuziw says:

    You express your feelings so clearly and beautifully and your strength is inspiring. Much love, carry on !

  3. Marilyn wolovick says:

    Oh Laurel. Your words make my heart ache for the losses I have experienced in my own life. Life is precious. Love and loss are an essential part of this mysterious journey.

  4. Carol Devisser says:

    You are a wonderful woman and I am so lucky to know you.

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