Soraya lost her only brother, and then three years later, her son Prem, to suicide, both strangely on 10th September. Soraya was unaware at the time of World Suicide Prevention Day. However this date is now etched in her mind. Soraya has just published her memoir, ‘Shining Through from Grief to Gratitude’, and this article is based on her book.
Prem remained in a coma after being revived from a suicide attempt in an Australian hospital after voluntary admission for severe anxiety. After three days on life support in ICU, and many tests, it was suggested his support be switched off due to severe, irreversible brain impairment.
“We’ll never get to talk or laugh again. These are our last precious moments together as mother and son.”
It’s the 13th day of September, 2009, 16 days before Prem’s 18th birthday, and I’m waiting for his soul to fly to the light. It has been three days now. The doctors tell me Prem has no brain function, and his life support has been turned off.
I look out the window for a moment. The sky is fading and the glory of the day has become a muddied orange smudge on the horizon. It feels like the colours of our happier times have been smudged and soiled by this unimaginable ending. My son isn’t a little boy any more. He’s a handsome, perfect man. Could this really be the end? Can this really be happening to us? It all seems like a terrible dream.
I look out the window again attempting to ground myself. Yes, the unthinkable really is happening and I am exactly where I need to be, with my son. I take a deep breath to pull myself fully into the room, and I issue a silent prayer to the Divine. “Oh, God, please help me to be strong. Bless Prem. Bless my boy and help him to find peace.”
My brain is splitting with the pain of my inner resistance. My throat is hoarse and tight and my heart is breaking, but I need to talk to my boy. Through my tears I whisper, “Darling, it is okay. You can go to the light whenever you’re ready. I love you and I am here for you; I will always love you. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me, my darling. I should have been there for you that night.”
I scrawl words on bits of recycled paper supplied by the kind nurse. Writing has always helped me express my feelings. It lets me write the words I can’t say out loud; words that need a voice but get stuck in my heart and throat. In a choked, muffled voice I make Prem a fervent promise, “I will share your story, my darling. You will never be forgotten. I will love you forever. Your life matters, my darling, and you will make a difference.”
Night steals in
The sky is now deepening into a rich blue-black. The town lights have begun to sparkle. Night is stealing in. It will be the longest, darkest night of my life. As I stare out the window, the promise of our life together slips away. The world seems suddenly cruel. It moves on like a machine, uncaring and ignorant of our pain. I massage Prem’s beautiful body with scented oils, feeling him grow colder as his life ebbs away. Ever since they were babies, Prem and his brothers have always enjoyed receiving a massage. We were all so deeply bonded. Sadly, for the last couple of years, Prem has been too distant for me to touch. It’s a precious gift to be close with him now, giving me one last chance to touch his perfect body, albeit too late.
I write, I cry, I talk to my son. I run my fingers through his curly hair. As if in a dream, I stare blankly out at the dark night.
As any mother of teenagers knows, when puberty creeps into our children’s lives, they may begin to break away, become moody and often reject or challenge the parental love and authority they once accepted so freely. They begin to walk the challenging plank between childhood and adulthood, seeking their individual identities in the big world.
Crocodiles in these treacherous waters take the guise of drugs, alcohol, sex and fashion. Sadly, our teens may sacrifice their own morals and intuition in a bid for agreement with their chosen tribe or peer group. The desperate need to belong may separate them emotionally from their family. Extended family support, in the form of elders, is often far away or absent. Sadly, one of my four sons did just this, making some very destructive choices that alienated him from us, his family who loved him so much. Then when he reached out for help we were let down by a flawed system.
As parents of teens who make poor choices we can find ourselves on a lonely island, lacking support and understanding. Guilt and shame can creep in, taking us to the lowest point on the emotional scale. This is where I found myself as I sat by the bedside of my 17-year-old son, grief-struck and immobilised by shock and pain at his sudden unexpected suicide. Nothing prepared me for the loss of my boy. My journey from grief to gratitude has been one of mindful acceptance, forgiveness, loving kindness towards myself and in the releasing of any resistance to what IS NOW.
At first I was angry with the hospital and the psychiatrist that prescribed the drug I felt tipped my son over the edge. I was angry that they did not take his vulnerability and suicidal ideation seriously. Angry with myself that I did not stay in the hospital with my son that night. Angry that Prem’s father had died when he was only five leaving me a widow and my boys fatherless. I also realised I was blaming myself for Prem’s death. The truth was I had done everything in my power to keep my son safe, but a sense of failure was eating me up. I realised this toxic anger and blame churning my gut would devour me if I let it. I was in danger of becoming a hard, resentful, powerless victim unless I could embrace true forgiveness.
Forgiveness felt too hard at first – so I began with acceptance of the facts. From acceptance I began to slowly allow loving kindness toward myself, beginning with a morning gratitude prayer. At first, I was simply grateful for my pillow that absorbed the river of my tears and sobs each night when the terror of my boy’s dying face haunted me most. I was grateful I lived in the forest, away from people, for it was the sound of the birdsong in the mornings that called me back to life. Grateful for the flowers in the garden that continued to smile at me and for my loving husband, Prem’s stepdad, who had my back. I let him love me and take care of me when I felt weak with sadness.
I was grateful for my training and grounding in yoga and mindfulness, and focused on the simple things to ground me in my body; my morning yoga postures, the cool water on my skin in the shower, the sun and wind on my face. I forced myself to go for long walks and ride my bicycle up hills in an effort to get my happy hormones activated. After all, I had three other beautiful sons for whom I was deeply grateful.
Writing it all out
There were many powerful and often overwhelming emotions in those first months of bereavement that I could not articulate. So I would write, often with tears wetting the page, but they needed expression. It was these journals that would eventually be published as a book, a legacy for my family, one in which my son Prem would always be remembered with love – the book I promised my dying son I would write.
Prem is gone now and, although we still miss him and it hurts that he had to leave us so young, I feel stronger and more determined than ever to make every moment count. I live with gratitude for the time we did have together and for the person I have become.
Suicide rates are rising, with eight people taking their life every day in Australia. This is double the road toll but it gets little attention. It is a subject that needs our attention. Suicide is not a dirty word – it is a tragedy. With hope we can leap off the cliff of despair, find our wings to fly again, and remember that life is a blessing.
Soraya Saraswati is the author of ‘Shining Through from Grief to Gratitude’. She is an applied mindfulness and meditation teacher, naturopath and a ‘Lived Experience Speaker’ for suicide prevention. Soraya also performs music and songs for peace with composer and musician husband, Terry Oldfield, in Australia and Europe. www.sorayasaraswati.com
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