Heartbreak Hill

It was called heartbreak hill for a reason, that stretch of road on the fringes of the university campus. For neophytes, the short steep uphill was a cardiovascular nightmare. Only pride and willpower could overcome the pounding of the heart and shortness of breath that initiate the novice runner into a route more challenging than the academic oval where most recreational runners can be found. It had been quite some time since I’ve last been here. And now that I am, my heart began to break for an entirely different reason. Heartbreak hill marks the beginning of a route my late husband Beau used to run with me. And now, a few weeks after his death, for the first time, I run the route without him.

It is the first training day of Team Beau, as we had taken to calling our motley crew. The jock that he was, his brothers and I, along with the rest of his family had committed to honor his memory by continuing his athletic pursuits. Now, it was the members of his family that flanked me.

Chey led the pack, being the most experienced and most consistent runner among us. He shared Beau’s love of the outdoors. In fact, it was through his influence that Beau found his greatest passion, rock climbing. With Beau gone I ran behind Chey now, allowing him to set the pace. I remembered it was my husband who had convinced his brother to start running. Chey reminds me the most of Beau because they really did enjoy the same things — climbing, running, boxing.  I can see my husband in his brother’s face, the same proud nose, the same lash-fringed eyes, the same rise and fall of mellow notes when they speak. Only a few weeks ago, Chey finished his first full marathon. In the agonizing last kilometers, when pushing to reach the finish line felt more torturous rather than victorious, Chey told me he remembered something Beau used to say: Pain is temporary. Quitting is forever. That buoyed him to the finish, a finish that made Beau inordinately proud. Beau had immediately sent a message to his eldest brother Mao, telling him to congratulate Chey for the accomplishment and pushing him to join next year’s race. Beau’s pain must have been unimaginable. It must have felt permanent. Otherwise, he would never have quit.

Through the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of Mao, now running beside me, training for that marathon he promised Beau he would finish. Despite Beau having lived with his eldest brother before we got married, I never really got to know Mao very well before all this happened. And by his own admission, there were many things about Beau that he didn’t know either. It must be the gaps in our knowledge that bonded us now, as we ran beside each other. In the days following Beau’s death I had always felt an urge to tell Mao about our marriage, about how much we loved each other, about the truth of the days preceding his death that led his baby brother back into the family home. I yearned to help him gain some understanding, a look into his brother’s psyche to help him accept the tragedy that happened a few steps away from the threshold of his home. His eyes remain haunted. It makes me shudder to think of the images permanently etched behind them. He carries the burden of being the first in the family to see Beau’s lynched body.

I could never have survived seeing him dead on that stairwell. If one believed in God, then perhaps that was the one favor that he gave me. His family, they share my pain. I feel guilty that they had to be the ones to find him, that my husband was not with me during his last moments. There are many things I regret, many things I wish I could have done or not have done that I know will haunt me for the rest of my life. Beau had chosen to stay away from me for the past few months. He needed to figure things out for himself he said. Chey thinks he did that to save me from the pain he knew he would cause, knowing even in his subconscious, that he was no longer in control of himself. I would never know, and that, adds to the torment.

Behind me I could hear the easy banter of Bunny and Bobby, cousin and friend respectively, but brothers to Beau all the same, bound not just by blood but by a guileless love forged by time. If there was one thing the two shared with my husband, it would be the easygoing sense of humor, the carefree air that made everyone around them feel at ease. I’ve known them just long enough to know that the smiles and indulgent jokes hide their own soap opera lives and yet there they are, alive and well, running behind me while my beloved Beau had thrown in the towel before any one of us were in on the game. It left a bitter taste in the mouth. The thought that it was not even really his choice made it even more acrid. My husband was murdered, forced to take his own life by a malevolent disease that came in the dark of night.

I’ve been hanging on to them for dear life the past few weeks. I suppose its because if there was anyone in this world who shared my pain it would be them. Without children there is nothing of flesh and blood that I had left of Beau, except for his family. His only sister Rona, whom I had seen for the first time a few weeks ago when she had flown back to Manila to pay her last respects to a long missed brother, has become a daily salve. Although geographically apart, I’ve survived my morning anxiety attacks by reading her morning online messages. Love offered to me, a sister she has never really known. Love offered to a sister, whose only remaining connection with a brother is in a few bags of clothes and a grieving widow’s tears.

At times I feel overly assuming and am afraid that I might overstay my welcome. I’ve impinged on their lives, hanging over them like a black specter of death. This is the scarlet letter, the mark of Cain a widow carries. As much as I remind them of Beau, I also inadvertently, with my weeping and despair, remind them of his loss.

As I run I am acutely aware that my heart chooses this family, the same way my heart chose Beau. The future looms uncertain. I cannot even see past today. We pass over Heartbreak hill and pound our way through the route my husband used to run. I am not bound to them by law anymore. Death had released me from that. For now we are bound by tragedy, chained together by sorrow. We run together towards hope, towards love, towards a tomorrow we are forced to face because we continue to live.

They flank me as I run. Chey before me, Mao to my side, Bunny and Bob behind me. At the turnaround their wives and their kids wait for us with drinks to quench our thirst and cheers to appease parched spirits. This is the family that inherited me. And they are the shield I have around me.

I am reminded of St. Patrick’s breastplate. He declares: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

They say God sends angels to help us on our way. One only has to look with an open heart to see the magnificence of their wings.

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My argument with God: Where are you?

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I never really knew what loneliness meant until my husband Beau passed away.

I am luckier than most. Lost as I am in my grief I can feel the love and support around me. In many ways, one can say I am never really alone. But deep inside, in that place where blood, bone and sinew cease to define us; where time, space and matter cannot reach, there is an aching loneliness that is beyond our humanity to comfort. The loneliness is intangible, something that cannot be experienced through touch, sight, taste, sound or smell; and yet, it brings an almost physical pain. It is the pain of the spirit, as real yet as abstract as the soul. And yet I wonder, in that place that no human love could reach, where do we seek salvation? Where do we seek relief from our suffering?

Beau was a faithful, prayerful man. I am certain, that in those dark days in his life when nothing I said was enough to comfort him, when my love was not enough to heal his defeated spirit, he had turned to God. Is it not God whom we were taught loved us so much that His love humbles our human love? So, where was God when Beau needed him the most? My spiritual pain is irrefutable and proves that intangibility does not mean non-existence. But if God is as real as this pain then where was he?

In the weeks following Beau’s death I had parked my argument with God. I was too busy being human to deal with abstract realities. I felt almost ashamed to pray, knowing that in my heart I questioned. But pray I did… perhaps by rote. Perhaps by blind faith, imprinted as it was by my Catholic upbringing. In fact, I don’t think I have ever prayed so hard in my life. I prayed from a place of desperation rather than hope. I was told to keep my faith, to believe that God would help me through this, that Beau was in a better place right now because of God’s love. I would nod, smile, cry. Too tired to argue. Too confused to even know how to express my doubts. If I were to understand and accept God as real, then I needed to have something to anchor my belief. Something more than abstruse promises of a heaven too far removed from my present reality to appreciate. Something that makes sense within my human limitations.

I’ve been living like a robot, mechanically going through the motions of trying to understand suicide, poring through biological explanations on genetics and clinical depression, seeking counselors, doctors, priests… Even my tears feel automatic, with someone else playing with the switch. When my questions of science and biology have found answers somewhat I begin looking for something tangible in the intangible. I search for proof that there is something more than this life, something that continues more than his death, something that would give me a reason, a desire to survive. I’ve gotten absorbed in myself, looking inwardly to look for answers, summoning all my faculties of logic and intellect, following relationships of cause and effect. I am imploding with the burden of guilt, the burning need to answer why and the frustration coming from a helplessness I refuse to accept. I am exploding in desperation, reaching out to friends, strangers, anybody who would give me the time of day. I write without editing, words spilling out  like a fountain of blood from an artery severed over and over again, my thoughts running too fast to capture, keyboard a frantic clicking, as if a thought left unwritten would mean the loss of the opportunity for understanding. There is a mania about me.

I am in fear and I am running. I am running from the questions that hound me. No, not the questions brought about by the death of a beloved husband, but the questions I need to ask now that I am left behind.

Who am I if not a wife defined by the love of a man? Why does his loss destroy me?

Who am I if not a strong, intelligent woman defined by success in work? Why do I not allow myself to cry and heal today because I fear what my peers would say tomorrow?

Who am I if not the dutiful friend, sensitive and caring to others? Why am I ashamed to show weakness, to ask to be carried, to admit defeat?

WHO AM I? I asked the question. I had no choice. I’ve cycled and reached the end of my tether. I’ve run out of gas.

Then there I found myself. In that dark place where no man can comfort me, where I am helpless as a babe in the womb, where my spirit is stripped naked and cold. Where I can only assume my Beau was, desperately praying for salvation. And again I ask, where are you God? Beau was here and now I am, and still where are you?

There was nothing else to do but surrender. I threw in the towel and stopped fighting. I let the wings of sadness embrace me. I wept and still weep like there is no tomorrow. I am helpless. I cannot see beyond today. All I could do was ask my questions and pray… pray to an absent God for answers.

I questioned if Beau was at peace, if he was able to leave behind the suffering for which he took his life in order to escape. I questioned if there was truly life after death or if all consciousness ceased the moment he took his last breath. But if there is no life after death then he is now simply gone. And there can be no suffering when one is non-existent. If there is, then he would be in the hands of God. And if God is real, as we have been taught, then he is an ever loving God, as we had been taught; with a love far greater than mine can ever be. If so, then either way Beau would be okay. There is no certainty, none at all. But it offers sense and that offers peace.

I questioned why I had to go through this suffering? Why me? But then again, why NOT me?  If there was no God, no consequences, if everything were random then what is the point of living? So if one is to continue living, as I do, then we need to believe that there is a purpose for everything. That somehow, things happen for a reason, that there is such a thing as cause and effect. There is no certainty, none at all. But it offers sense and that offers peace.

I questioned why I continued to pray, despite my lack of proof, despite my anger, despite my doubts. My answer sounded shallow and embarrassing, even to myself. I prayed for Beau and his soul, I prayed for peace and strength just in case there was a God. I realize now that it was then, when I had thrown all logic and sense to the wind, when my only answer was JUST IN CASE, that what I believed in my heart to be true had begun to show. And in those prayers, left undefended and without explanation, I had exhibited a glimmer of hope — not from my mind but from somewhere deeper, from something intangible, from an indefatigable spirit.

I questioned who I am, when I am stripped naked of everything I use to define myself to be. I questioned who I am if not a wife, a daughter, an employee, a friend. I am soul. I am spirit. And from where do souls come from? Where do spirits begin their existence? Not from an egg, a sperm or any biological process we have come to know. If we humans then are not our creators, then who is? Perhaps God exists after all. There is no certainty, none at all. But it makes sense and that offers peace.

Where are you God? Perhaps, it is exactly there, in the gaps of our lives that you are. It is in this moment of absolute emptiness that i had begun to talk to you more, holding on to nothing more than hopeful faith. Faith that you exist. Faith that my beloved is safe and happy and alive with you. Faith that the promise of your love, your existence, your protection is more than just something imagined to give purpose to an otherwise meaningless existence.

In the end the answers to my questions lie in the reality of the pain in my soul. It is not a physical pain but a pain in the core of my being that no human love can reach. The loneliness in my soul is real. It is a certainty it exists, as surely as God must exist. It makes sense, and that offers peace.

They say it is through suffering that we experience God. I now know why. Dear God, HELP ME THROUGH.

What Happens to People Who Commit Suicide

Below is an excerpt from the book Nothing Better than Death, copyright Kevin Williams, 2007.

Kevin Williams is the owner and webmaster of near-death.com, which is a tremendous internet resource for information on the near death experience. In addition to many fascinating personal accounts of NDE’s, it offers numerous studies and articles that synthesize these accounts and weigh the evidence they present against various spiritual teachings and scientific theories.

What Happens to People Who Commit Suicide
by Kevin Williams

NDEs suggest the quality of our lives after death is not necessarily determined by how we died, but by how we lived. Unfortunately, life can be extremely difficult at times – so difficult that many people choose to end their own lives.

This raises some important questions that need to be answered. Is suicide justifiable if a person is terminally ill and suffering unnecessarily? Should we help those who are suffering from a terminal illness die with dignity if they choose to do so? Don’t physicians often extend a terminal patient’s suffering rather than extend their quality of life? Isn’t it a basic human right to be able to control one’s own death and destiny as one sees fit? Is falling on a grenade to save the lives of others an act of suicide? Is constantly feeding a junk food habit an act of suicide? Wasn’t Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem an act of suicide due to the fact he knew this action would result in his death? If it is our choice to be born, as many NDEs suggest, isn’t this choice an act of suicide considering the choice results in our deaths?

I personally believe the answer to all these questions is yes. Although suicide may be justifiable in some cases, it does not give us the right to hurt other people by doing it. A suicide can leave a gigantic hole in a family – one that can never again be filled. The emotional damage inflicted on families by suicide is often the real tragedy. It has been said a suicide dies only once, but those left behind die a thousand deaths trying to understand why. NDEs reveal there are serious karmic penalties for hurting others. However, not all suicides result in hurting others, nor do all suicides have negative consequences.

While there are documented accounts of very beautiful NDEs resulting from suicide, there are also hellish accounts. This suggests the act of suicide itself is not a factor in determining whether a person has a beautiful NDE or a hellish NDE. However, it is possible for a hellish spiritual condition already existing within a person to be carried over and continue after death. Many suicides happen by people already experiencing a hell on earth for one reason or another. In this respect, death does not remove a pre-existing hellish spiritual condition unless the brain caused this condition. Many people who commit suicide are mentally ill. Because mental illness is a physical disorder of the brain, the mental illness ends with brain death and does not continue after death. This is true because people born blind have gained their sight during an NDE. Other handicaps have reportedly been removed from experiencers upon death.

Religious leaders sometimes warn people that suicide is an unforgivable sin leading to eternal damnation in hell. This is not what the NDE reveals. NDEs do describe life as being an inescapable learning experience. Suicide has the ability to postpone this learning experience from being completed. NDEs describe hell as being a temporary spiritual condition rather than a permanent place of torture.

Dr. George Ritchie learned during his NDE what happens to some people who commit suicide. According to Ritchie, the quality of life a person initially finds after suicide is influenced by their motive for committing it. He classifies suicide in the following three ways.

(A) The first classification are those who kill themselves in order to hurt someone, get revenge, or to kill themselves out of hatred for someone else. According to Ritchie, these people haunt the living by being aware of every horrible consequence their suicide had on others.

(B) The second classification are those who, because of mental illness, confusion, or a terminal illness, take their own life. Ritchie states these people are allowed many opportunities from God to grow in love just as any other person would who had not committed suicide. In other words, there are no negative consequences for them.

(C) The third classification are those who kill themselves from drug, alcohol, or any other addiction. According to Ritchie, these people can become stuck in limbo, trying in vain to satisfy their addiction until eventually something frees them. This condition is often called an earthbound condition.

NDEs reveal there is no condemnation from God for our actions. The problem many suicides face after death is the difficulty of forgiving themselves for the horror they put people through by taking their own life. One remedy for helping a suicide cope with this predicament comes from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, an ancient Buddhist book of the afterlife. The Book of the Dead is one of the oldest books on earth documenting NDEs. In my view, this source should be given great respect.

The Book of the Dead mentions people who succeed in committing suicide and become imprisoned in the experience of their suicide. Accordingly, they can be freed from this condition through the prayers of the living and by them imagining streams of light pouring on them. Such actions free the person from the pain and confusion of their suicide. The Book of the Dead also mentions that people have no choice but to follow any negative karma resulting from their suicide.

NDEs report people choosing their own destiny in life before they are born. While this may be true, it may also be true that we change this destiny by committing suicide. This is assuming nobody is predestined to commit suicide. NDEs reveal a perfect universal plan being worked out by God. Perhaps this perfect plan is not thwarted by suicide. There is no reason to believe it is. But if a person cuts short their destined time for life because of problems coping, these problems may not necessarily go away. These problems may also be complicated by the added burden of knowing the full horrible consequences of their action on others.

People who are thinking of killing themselves can learn a great deal from NDEs. Some NDEs suggest there may be nothing worse than rejecting God’s gift of life, thereby destroying an opportunity for spiritual advancement. Not only that, some experiencers have observed suicides existing in an earthbound condition of temporarily beingslaves to every consequence of their act of suicide. Such souls have been observed hounding and hovering around living family members and friends, trying in vain to seek forgiveness. Some of them have been observed existing in a grayish fog and shuffling around slowly with their heads down. Perhaps these earthbound souls become freed from this condition when their natural destined time for death occurs. This condition is very likely only temporary. Some experiencers have even observed such souls being helped in the afterlife.

Sandra Rogers’ NDE is a good example of what can happen when a person unjustifiably cuts short their life. When she committed suicide, she was given only two choices by the being of light. One choice involved being revived and living out the rest of her days. (This was the choice she chose.) The other choice involved remaining in the light with the condition of having to reincarnate at a future time to re-experience everything that led her to commit suicide in the first place. Sandra’s NDE demonstrates how people must overcome their problems in this life or else face them again in a future life. In Sandra’s case, committing suicide did not solve anything.

If we delay dealing with these problems by committing suicide, we may only compound them. Perhaps the greatest enemy we face is ourselves. Our problems may never go away unless we conquer them. NDEs reveal people carrying their non-physical problems with them after death. Perhaps one of the reasons we are born into this world is to overcome such problems. If don’t overcome them, we may have to reincarnate until we do.

Another interesting NDE resulting from suicide is the NDE of Angie Fenimore. After committing suicide, Angie found herself in a hellish realm of psychic disconnection and torment. The anguish she experienced within herself in life had manifested itself in the spirit after death. A being of light, whom she identified as God, asked her, Is this what you really want? Angie realized none of the other suicides in this hellish condition were aware of God’s presence. God told her, Don’t you know that this is the worst thing you could have done? She realized then she had thrown in the towel and because of it, she had cut herself off from God and His guidance. She felt trapped. She told God, But my life is so hard. God’s reply was, You think that was hard? It is nothing compared to what awaits you if you take your life. Life’s supposed to be hard. You can’t skip over parts. We have all done it. You must earn what you receive.

Angie’s NDE gives us a unique insight into unjustifiable suicide. It suggests that one of life’s purposes is to grow through suffering. It validates the truthfulness of the phrase No pain. No gain. This principle is also found in the Bible where it describes how suffering creates character, wisdom, perseverance and stronger faith. NDEs reveal the fact that everyone has a destiny to fulfill and a mission to complete. Part of this destiny may include suffering for the purpose of learning and growing. It probably also includes learning from past-life mistakes, paying back karmic debts and receiving karmic rewards. The fact that near death experiencers are often told their time to die is not yet here suggests our time of death is predetermined. Suicide can possibly prevent a person’s mission from being fulfilled. Sandra Rogers’ NDE suggests the remedy for this is reincarnation.

Many people commit suicide due to mental illness. One of life’s lessons may be to learn how to cope with depression and overcome it. An overwhelming desire to commit suicide is one of the biggest indicators of clinical depression. There are many medications available that can help clinical depression. If a person is thinking of committing suicide because of depression, seeking medical help may be one of the smartest decisions of their life. Nevertheless, NDEs such as Dr. George Ritchie’s indicate that mentally ill people who commit suicide are given the same opportunities after death as those who die naturally.

No one ever told me that …

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No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. . . .It feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. . . . And grief still feels like fear. Perhaps, more strictly, like suspense. Or like waiting; just hanging about waiting for something to happen. It gives life a permanently provisional feeling. It doesn’t seem worth starting anything. I can’t settle down. I yawn. I fidget, I
smoke too much. Up till this I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness. . . . How often – will it be for always? –- how often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, ‘I never realized my loss till this moment?’ The same leg is cut off time after time, The first
plunge of the knife into the flesh is felt again and again.
~~C.S. Lewis~~

The Wailing Psalm by Edward Hays

The Wailing Psalm

“I want to wail and scream in pain,
and not wash my face or comb my hair.
I want to fast from food and drink,
to abstain from music and fun.
I want to kick the walls and beat my breast, and even tear out the telephone.
I’d throw away my mail and speak to no one. but I am ashamed to grieve.

O God, how can I ever be the same again or feel the earth solidly beneath my feet, for ripped to shreds are my daily rituals, my patterns of living, loving and sharing. My heart feels full not of blood but of pain, my lungs filled with screams, not breath. My eyes are blinded to all by my bitter tears, but I am ashamed of my lack of Easter hope.

O God, I know how you felt
on that terrible Good Friday.
So I ask you to say nothing to me now, for nothing can be said.
Only hold me in your love, O God, till the pain passes, if it ever will. And pardon, I pray, my feeble faith

as I mourn like one without hope.”

SOS: A handbook for Survivors of Suicide

Sharing with everyone, Jeffrey Jackson’s entire booklet. It is a concise but rich source of information –practical and realistic, written from a place of sympathy, borne out of a shared experience and spilling with the promise of hope that the pain won’t last forever.

“This book is dedicated to the life of immeasurable value that was lived by Gail Beth Levine Jackson.
May you have found the peace that eluded you when you were here.” – Jeffrey Jackson


If you are a suicide survivor, this is worth your time. Please click on link: SOS_handbook