Most readers of this blog will have noticed the many posts I credit to The Passive Guy (aka PG) and his excellent, free newsletter, which is chock-full of information regarding the publishing industry.
Not so many will be aware that my family includes members who are suffering from mental illness: one cousin who suffered from schizophrenia and one with a bipolar disorder. Also, one of my mother’s sisters was stabbed to death by a schizophrenic at the age of 5. The man claimed the voices in his head had urged him to kill the child.
I am mentioning this to make it clear why PG’s latest post resonated with me and why I felt I had to share it here. PG is very bravely sharing some lessons he has learned from his painful recent experience of losing his son. Lessons that may be helpful to anyone else who knows people who are suffering from mental illness or who have lost a loved one.
PG usually doesn’t share much in the way of personal information on TPV, but felt it might be beneficial to some visitors if he shared a few of the recent experiences he and Mrs. PG had experienced along with some lessons he learned.
About 2:30 AM on April 29,2017, two police officers knocked on the door of our home. They brought news that our 32-year-old son had committed suicide.
Our son had experienced mental illness, at first diagnosed as depression and later bipolar disorder, for about twenty years. Suicidal thoughts were part of his illness from the time he was twelve. He was extraordinarily intelligent and achieved some amazing accomplishments, but his illness seemed to intrude whenever things were looking the brightest for him.
Since that early morning visit, PG has learned that grieving has a physical as well as an emotional impact on him. Physically, he’s been getting sick with every virus or bacterium that comes around and feeling chronically exhausted. Generally speaking, PG is a bounce-back-from-problems kind of guy, but there was no bounce for several days. He is definitely improving, as is Mrs. PG, but still has a distance to go.
Two weeks after our son’s death, PG’s younger brother died in a distant state following an eight-month battle with brain cancer. PG made travel arrangements, but decided he just couldn’t make the trip at that particular time, something that’s never happened to him before.
A few lessons PG has learned:
– PG’s personal religious beliefs and Mrs. PG’s similar beliefs have been extraordinarily important to both of us during these experiences.
– Few people know what to say after a death, particularly a suicide, but saying exactly the right thing doesn’t matter as much as PG had previously believed.
– The support of others, expressed during visits and phone calls or via email, condolence cards or flowers, has been very important for both of us. The ability to articulate detailed comforting thoughts or theology is less important than simply letting someone know you’re sorry they’ve had a death in their family or among their friends and offering to help them in any way you can.
– PG is never going to decide he doesn’t know an acquaintance or friend well enough to avoid some sort of an engagement with that person after a death in their family. The kindness of others, expressed in any manner, is enormously important to the surviving family and friends.
– A great many decisions must be made quickly following the death of a family member – funeral arrangements (casket selection, services the funeral home will provide, embalming or not, etc., etc.), funeral service arrangements, selection of a burial location, notification of the date and location of the funeral communicated to family members and friends, etc. PG hadn’t gone through this process before and was not in the best condition to make such decisions in a hurry. A neighbor who had worked in a funeral home on a part-time basis while he was in college provided important counsel that made the process easier.
– PG and Mrs. PG have decided they will make each of these choices for themselves ahead of time, including selecting a funeral director, casket, gravesite, paying for it all, etc., so their family members won’t have to deal with this upon their deaths. Many of these decisions will affect the cost of these services and, PG believes, are better made before the emotions are at their height.
– PG forgot to notify a couple of relatives who should have received notifications in time to attend the funeral, so he’s putting together an email/phone list for future use.
– PG’s surviving son is handling the property, debts, etc., of his deceased brother with the assistance of a competent probate attorney. This is his way of serving his deceased brother and PG is extremely grateful for that assistance.
– Basically, once a probate case is opened with the appropriate court, you instruct all creditors to file their claims in probate court. Final tax returns will need to be filed. A leased vehicle is involved, so you tell the leasing company where the car is located so they can pick it up.
– You don’t want to start dividing property among the survivors until the creditors have filed their claims and you know whether the estate will have enough cash to pay all debts. It will take time, often several months, but the process is one that probate courts and probate attorneys do all the time so no one has to invent anything new.
– PG had forgotten that thieves sometimes visit the homes of surviving family members during the funeral, so he appreciated the offer of a neighbor to house-sit Casa PG while PG was attending the funeral.
– Some people don’t understand how mental illness can be a deadly disease. While most people don’t die from mental illness, unfortunately, suicide is the way mental illness usually claims its victims.
– While the various treatments PG’s son underwent ultimately were not effective in saving his life, the treatment of mental illness has improved immensely over the many years PG has dealt with the disease in his family. Many people who might have died twenty-five years ago are alive and well today because they received proper treatment. If you wish to support further research into more and better treatments for these diseases, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is one organization that does very good work.
Being the recipient of the many and varied kindnesses of others during the most difficult time of his life has made a deep and lasting impression upon PG. He will never see or speak with those people again without remembering what they did to help him during this time.