Making Meaning of the Madness
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
As I reflect on the time since Jeff died, I recall feeling possessed by circumstances. I recall it took time before I could hand control to people there to help, but once I allowed that to happen, my life gradually regained balance. In the interim, my journal, just paper and pencil—nothing planned or elaborate—was salvation. It provided an opportunity to work through problems and to learn. By defacto, the journal became the yardstick by which I could gauge my progress and that of my wife and children. It became a window into our lives. It allowed me to stand back from my grief and to learn from myself.
In retrospect, I often gave myself good advice. Many, many times I returned to the journal for it gave me checks and balances. It reminded me of necessary things and courses of action I wanted to take. By keeping track, by working out some of my deepest feelings, I gained a clearer understanding of what was going on. I had some measure of where I had been and what I had travelled through.
One of the lessons best learned from the journal was the understanding that my healing ultimately had to come from within. Help came from many sources, but until I realized I was the only one actually able to effect change, I spent quite a bit of time in frustration. I learned what a prominent Canadian author meant when he spoke in one of his novels about the need for white mankind to work with nature rather than continue butting heads against it. I learned to work with grief rather than resist. Of course, I have my scars, but scars close the wound. They are agents of healing.
This book is intended to help men understand grief and to let them know they are not alone in their misery. They need to understand that the feelings of insanity they are experiencing are normal. Death does tough things to people.
For that audience I have included much of the raw emotion I experienced, because some men need to deal with the guts of an issue. I certainly needed to. But I didn't find any books that spoke to me, so I wrote my own. In writing, I learned much about Jeff and about myself, some of it surprising. One of the biggest surprises was the degree and quantity of my anger. It grew rather than diminished.
Eventually, however, I found that meaning does come out of the madness. Events such as the one that involved the young woman whose baby set my wife crying in the gift shop are case in point. She has since told the owner what an impact that day had on her life. She said, "I cherish this child more than I could have if I had not met the lady who cried that day. I was never comfortable with my pregnancy. She changed my life. Please thank her and let her know this child is the centre of my universe." Carol helped change the lives of that mother and her child. So did Jeff.
A situation involving a student is very important to me. About two years after Jeff died I learned about a girl experiencing great difficullty. She had made an attempt on her life. I visited her at the hospital on a number of occasions and we shared some very deep emotions. I know my support helped that young person; what she doesn't know is how much her struggle to regain stability helped me. My being able to make a difference brings some meaning to Jeff's death. It doesn't provide a rationale, but it does lighten the load.
Jeff cared about people, especially his friends, and he knew how much my students meant to me. He would be happy to know that through him, I could assist one in a time of crisis.
Enlightenment and new perspective do arrive to bring some peace. Of course I want my son and my old life back, but history is not mutable, so my challenge is to find ways to build a life compatible with my new reality. I have found if we allow them to, rawness and gut-searing pain soften and give way to acceptance, even understanding.
There was no "reason" to what Jeff did. It just happened. I don't believe for a moment he planned to take his life. He was a victim of circumstance, as are we. Jeff acted on impulse, but none of that alters our situation. He is gone. For what seemed a very long time, I stumbled, I ranted and I groped. Gradually, however, I am discovering ways to carry on without him. Thirty or forty years is not really such a long time, especially when life in the meantime is rich with my wife and remaining children.
At Jeff's memorial we included Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" because Jeff particularly enjoyed it. Including it seemed fitting as we said goodbye. One evening some months later I was at a friend's house in the country, and as I admired the sky and its cloud patterns, I asked Jeff where he was. I think I got an answer. I think he's on his road, the one he loved. The one less traveled by.
That turn you made
In the yellow wood—
Choose, Jeff, again
Oh, that you could