Posts tagged ‘loss’

Suicide Kills More than One

Last February marked 12 years of living with being the mother of a child no longer on this earth. You somehow get used to living with this pain. I imagine it’s somewhat similar to becoming disabled in some way that will never heal, but you learn to work around it. I still don’t know how to answer when asked how many children I have. I say five, but feel like I’m lying. But if I said anything else I’d be damned by the pity. So I say five.
  I try to believe that Jason is still with me like they say, but that seems poor compensation. What is a relationship without interaction? He may be at my side all the time, watching and listening, maybe trying to comfort me. But this scenario would only be frustrating to us both in my mind. He could be screaming and I’d never hear a sound. I could scream at him and never really know if he could hear it.
The senselessness of it never goes away. You can never forget – the most mundane things pop him right back into my head.
The guilt is the worst part I think. I am wrapped up in a cocoon of it. I am the judge and the jury and have sentenced myself to life.
  Not that I haven’t wanted to die many times. But 12 years ago when my oldest son took his life I still had had his sisters and brother aged 19,16,13, and 8. But I don’t think I did them any favors because my whole world was shattered, my spirituality was in tatters, and for a very long time the mother who was always there for them might as well have been dead.
  I had been a single mom for two years, going to college to become a nurse. After 20 years of being married to a jerk I finally felt happy and in control of my life.
  Most of the guilt I feel is from emotionally abandoning the rest of my kids. But if one of them could actually die, then couldn’t any of them? I could feel that truth so deeply that my formerly deeply felt connection with them snapped. I grieved that and felt the guilt eating at me from the inside out. I was completely alone. No one understood. I didn’t want them to anyway. It would hurt them too much.
  My memories are scrambled. I am a whole other woman from the naive one before 12 years ago. I barely remember her now. My kids unfortunately don’t remember her either. They only remember the one they met after.      When I was finally able to work on getting that precious connection back, the one that had previously meant the most in the world to me, it was too little too late. My oldest daughter doesn’t tolerate me. Although we live in the same town we don’t see each other much. She’s too busy. This year she was even too busy to do anything but text me on my birthday. No gift, no card. Just a text on my phone saying happy birthday. She won’t tell me why she wants nothing to do with me. But I know.
  My second daughter lives 6 hours away. She doesn’t speak to me anymore. I call her now and then to leave a message on her phone that I love her, but her heart has turned to ice. And not just towards me. The coldness she showed her two little ones broke my heart. Of course I feel responsible. I showed her the way. She also stopped speaking to her younger sister, her closest friend, because the man she lives with is a pathological rager who can only feel relief through control of everyone in his environment, especially my daughter and grandchildren.
  My youngest daughter talks to me on a regular basis. We are pretty close. But she suffers from acute anxiety. But I do too, so we have a lot in common. She came back home last summer, but I couldn’t make her and my two grandchildren stay. She moved back where her estranged sister lives only a few miles away. Their children, who were once very close don’t see each other. Her older sister’s husband has done what his kind do and isolated their family from anyone close enough to upset his home where there are holes in the wall from his outbursts and doors ripped from their hinges. Both of their children are on anxiety medications. 
  One Halloween I was walking a step behind this person and my grandson when out of the blue he pushed him down to the ground. I was so shocked I couldn’t speak until I brought it up to my daughter later. She tried to cover it up saying that’s how they played. Normally I’m pretty good at letting things go and not interfering, but not this time. I told her that was NOT playing. When I returned home from that visit she didn’t speak to me for months. I had gotten too close to the truth. I worked hard to get back into her good graces somehow and we were close once again for a while. But it didn’t last and I don’t know how to get there again with him still in the picture.
  My youngest son was still pretty young 12 years ago and very easy going. But he kept me grounded by getting into mischief constantly. He never speed moving when he was awake and I could never take my eyes off of him for a minute. It was a blessing that he seemed so unaffected by our family tragedy and brought life and light to us all with all his craziness.
  As he grew up he kept his sweet disposition, even through his teens. I could always trust him and he made great friends in high school, who always ended up at our house. None of them got into drinking or drugs, and I became their second mom. They’re awesome kids!
  But I had to quit the nursing program. Couldn’t do it. Couldn’t take care of myself or my kids properly, much less other people. Something good inside me was gone. I’d had depression my whole life, but kept it in check until that one day when the police officer called me and said the unthinkable. My son? Suicide? A garbage bag? Suffocated? No! Impossible! We just got back from visiting him. He was fine. I thought. Better than ever, or so he led me to believe. But before I drove away from him for the last time, something whispered in my ear. The other kids were eager to go, but I made time to sit in his room with him before I would leave so we could talk alone. It was my final gift from Jason.
  As I was about to pull out of the drive, I jumped out of the car and hugged and kissed him a second time. He knew I loved him. He was 23 years old and we understood each other like no one else. He took what I had taught him and flew so high with it. He amazed me. He was the most beautiful soul.
  I’ve been working so hard on myself lately. If I’m not gonna die then I need to live. The thought crossed my mind recently that I got to live 41 years before this changed everything. That’s something I want to be thankful for. A lot of people don’t even live that long. Jason didn’t.
  I used to feel guilty for any happiness I felt after he passed. It felt horribly wrong. But I can’t really live if I’m feeling sorry all the time. I have to change my way of looking at things. If he is around me I’m only making him miserable being sad. I just wish it hadn’t taken me so long to figure that out.

Phyllis Schieber Tour – Sinners Guide to Confession and Willing Spirits

As the child of parents who survived the Holocaust, the notion of loss was integral to our family dynamic. I grew up without ever seeing a photograph of my maternal grandparents or of my mother’s oldest brother. After they survived the Transnistria Death March, they were taken to Obadovka, a ghetto in the Ukraine. Two-thirds of the Jews died en route. Most of those who survived ultimately died of disease and starvation; brutality was a constant presence. Early on, I knew that my mother’s losses defined her. My late father, a German Jew, lost his connection to the country and the culture he had loved and was forced to flee Leipzig, together with the rest of his family. His oldest brother died in concentration camp, unable to slip through the Nazi machine. My father managed to escape and fought with two different armies, Romania and Russia, eager to defeat the Nazis. My parents’ story is not uncommon among those who survived the Holocaust. However, what always caused me to marvel at them and at the countless other survivors was their will to live and their ability to still love and know joy. In many ways, I am also a survivor, a Second Generation survivor. It has shaped how I understand and handle loss.
Learning how to live with the absence of much loved people is analogous to a gaping hole that you learn to walk around, ever careful not to fall in and be swept away by the grief. I continue to be mindful of that hole when I miss the people I have lost. From time-to-time, that hole beckons, but I force myself not to yield. Everyone knows what happens if you are stranded in a snowstorm and fall asleep. We have to push on. Still, I hold the people I have lost close to my heart and speak of them often. I strive to keep them alive by recounting stories and sharing memories. As the years pass, I do not miss any of them any less, but I do not allow myself to fall asleep in a snowdrift.
Loss is invariably synonymous with death. We euphemistically murmur, “I’m so sorry for your loss” countless times as the years pass. And undoubtedly, death is always a loss even when the death is a blessing. I have known much loss through death, and even when I finally welcomed its arrival after my mother’s protracted illness, the loss was, and continues to be, profound. My father died when I was twenty-six. His death was sudden and traumatic. My family was irrevocably devastated, and almost thirty years later, we continue to recover. I have also lost dear friends, most notably my friend Bette. I dedicated my novel Willing Spirits to her, as well as to her daughter Polly, who died several years later at the impossibly young age of twenty-three when she succumbed to an asthma attack. These losses were particularly hard for me. Bette was only fifty when she died. She was my self-appointed older sister. I was sixteen to her thirty when we met, and I consistently deferred to her wisdom without question. Of course, as the years passed and the age difference narrowed, I periodically doubted her, but invariably she was always right. The loss of her presence in my life left me adrift for a long while. Polly’s death was unspeakably tragic, one that continues to plague me, making me wonder if there was anything I could have done to prevent her untimely end. That loss was especially life altering, as it always is when someone so young dies.

There are, however, other losses that can be as harrowing as death—betrayal and divorce come to mind, though there are others. I have written a great deal about the consequences of betrayal. In the aftermath of a betrayal, the sense of loss can be overwhelming. When the person we love and trust betrays us, the grief is incomprehensible. Some of the characters in my novels, Willing Spirits and The Sinner’s Guide to Confession have been betrayed by men they loved, and others have betrayed men they loved. Some of these women have gone through the anguish that comes with a divorce.
The losses incurred by divorce and betrayal are not easily surmountable, but I believe that the way we meet the challenges of these losses shapes how we move through the rest of our lives.
Loss and change—we can count on both. They are certainties that demand our attention, but not our preoccupation. And while there is no right way to grieve, and no time limit on how long we should grieve after the loss of a loved one or the humiliation of a betrayal, the key is to move on. The women in my novels know many types of losses. Some have been widowed; others abandoned, and still others have lost parents. However, perhaps the most overwhelming loss belongs to Ellen in A Sinner’s Guide to Confession. At fifteen, she is forced to give up her baby girl. Ellen spends her entire life grieving the loss of her baby, a loss that is compounded by her inability to conceive again and her beloved husband’s betrayal. Yet, Ellen moves forward, and the novel’s conclusion reaffirms that nothing is stronger than the human spirit, not even loss.

Sinners Guide to Confession – Kaye and Barbara are longtime friends, now in their fifties. Ellen, who is several years younger, develops a friendship with the other two women years later, solidifying this close-knit group. The three women are inseparable, yet each nurtures a secret that she keeps from the others.
Willing Spirits – Jane Hoffman and Gwen Baker, both teachers and in their forties, have a friendship that helps them endure. Years after Gwen is abandoned and left to raise two sons alone, she finds herself in love with a married man. After Jane is humiliated by her husband’s infidelity and Gwen must face her own uncertain path, the two women turn to each other. Now, as each is tested by personal crisis; Jane and Gwen face new challenges—as mothers, as daughters, as lovers. And in the process, they will learn unexpected truths about their friendship—and themselves.
Phyllis Schieber The first great irony of my life was that I was born in a Catholic hospital. My parents, survivors of the Holocaust, had settled in the South Bronx among other new immigrants. .In the mid-fifties, my family moved to Washington Heights. The area offered scenic views of the Hudson River and the Palisades, as well as access to Fort Tryon Park and the mysteries of the Cloisters. Her first novel, Strictly Personal, for young adults, was published by Fawcett-Juniper. The Sinner’s Guide to Confession, was released by Berkley Putnam and in March 2008, Berkley Putnam issued the first paperback publication of Willing Spirits.

Join us on the Sinners Guide to Confession and Willing Spirits virtual tour. To learn more about the tour, visit You can also learn more about Phyllis Schieber and her books at

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