Serenity through the Winters of Grief

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Photo and graphic by Micaela Adams

Photo and graphic by Micaela Adams

By Toni Ann DeNoble

Throughout most of my life, my grandfather and his brother took me and my cousin to dinner every week. My cousin Dean suffers from severe paranoid schizophrenia. We constantly struggled to get him to take his meds. When my cousin spoke to his imaginary friend Karen, or wondered why the waiter looked at him funny, or told us the woman on the other side of the restaurant said she wants to punch him in the face, the two men responded by saying “Karen jumped out the window,” or “that’s it we’re leaving,” or “I’m take this bowl of spaghetti and whack you in the head with it,” (we’re very passionate people), or just a plain old “Knock it Off!”

Please do not get me wrong, they acted out in the name of love. They truly did not know another way and my uncle, Dean’s father, was truly heartbroken because he could not accept the incurable nature of his son’s disease. I also recall Dean enjoying himself at the simplest stuff, with full body laughter commenting on how I would make him laugh because I did something “cute,” or dancing his butt off at my graduation parties, or lip synching with perfect precision to Elvis. He always let us know that he loved us and that he appreciated the time we spent together.

I recall one evening at the table; Dean repeatedly said “I’m tired.” Somehow I understood that he was not talking about a lack of sleep or that he ate too much. No, he was tired of life … truly exhausted. It made perfect sense; his mind must be so overworked! I worried so much for him after that, afraid that he would hurt himself in order to free himself from this burden. I began to understand the power of the mind.

When I decided to write about freedom I thought about those of us who get tired. Not just triggered by mental illness, but because we find it exhausting to muster up the energy to live another day.

The suicide note left by actress Phyllis Hyman said: “I’m tired. I’m tired. Those of you that I love know who you are. May God bless you.”

We all search for freedom; a stronger sense of self, a freer soul and spirit. What happens when we lose hope or our sense of self?

Getting through the holiday season can be a real feat for some of us. Our actions throughout the year get put to the test. You can’t escape the prompt to reflect. What do we have, what don’t we have? No matter how many positive things come to mind, I feel an ever-present sadness in my gut … in my very soul.

My spirit remains intact—reminding me of my life’s purpose. I do not live my life in vain. The joy in my life comes from what I give to others.

A broken soul and spirit does not know freedom. It locks you in a dungeon of despair. Broken bones heal, but a broken spirit never does.

Frida Kahlo suffered from chronic physical and emotional ailments. Through it all, her spirit remained as strong as an ox. I admire it. Her artwork reflects an unfiltered expression of self.

Some consider suicide to be a crime or labeled or the ultimate act of selfishness. When you take your own life, you abandon all hope for the future holds. Death become preferable to enduring another moment of life.

Such thoughts are far more common than we may admit. So let’s strive for more empathy in this New Year, without judgment or comparison. Take a breath, give thanks, open your heart. To those who suffer with depression and cannot find hope I offer the following quote. My own pain runs deep and can be debilitating at times, but I am fortunate to carry on.

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.—Kahlil Gibran