This month my son’s best friend would have turned eighteen. He would have been enjoying his senior year and applying to colleges. He might have had his first job and first girlfriend. Instead, we are honoring his birthday while our hearts continue to mourn his loss. Two-and-a-half years have passed since his suicide, yet the grief is still fresh.
After Carter’s death, I found myself hovering over my sons, experiencing periods of anxiety, and weeping often. Because of a history of depression, I didn’t hesitate to reach out to a local counselor for help. This wasn’t my first experience working with a counselor. I value the wisdom and discernment of skilled therapists, and I know that their expertise can be extremely helpful and deeply healing.
Sitting on my counselor’s couch, I learned an important lesson I will never forget: trauma, grief, and depression are not the same thing. Until this point, I designated any severe or long-lasting negative emotion as depression; I had no other category. However, what I was feeling was not depression. From that starting place, I learned how to differentiate trauma and grief, and it made a huge difference in my emotional life.
When anxiety struck, I would find myself experiencing extreme worry and panic. The words of my counselor would come, reminding me that I had been triggered, and it would take time for the flood of chemicals surging through my brain to dissipate. This logical thought would enable me to breathe slowly, steadily, and deeply until feelings of calm returned.
In times when my tears fell fast and thick, I acknowledged that I was feeling grief, and I allowed myself to weep. I no longer worried about the tears, and I no longer wondered when they would cease. Giving myself permission to grieve was extending grace to myself. The tears don’t come as often now; yet, when they do, I acknowledge that they are honoring Carter and the deep loss of his death.
Two-and-a-half years have passed since his suicide, yet the grief is still fresh.
Over the years I’ve talked with many people who are skeptical of counseling or reluctant to enter therapy. Perhaps it’s a stigma passed on from previous generations that causes this reaction, or perhaps it is the fear of the unknown. It does require immense courage to enter a counselor’s office, to be open and honest, to be vulnerable and exposed. It’s not easy. However, the reward is deeper understanding, freedom, and healing.
Victor Hugo wrote, “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” Experiencing the suicide of someone we loved dearly brought a deep darkness into our lives. The trauma and grief settled around us like a heavy shadow. Now, the shadow has retreated and sunshine has returned. This is largely due to God’s goodness and grace in directing me to a wise counselor for that season. For that, I am grateful.