A Feeling Of Control

March 01, 2006

Recently I’ve been attending a support group for people who’ve lost someone to suicide. Group is an interesting experience; on one hand you are with people who’ve all have experiences similar to yours and have a better appreciation for what you are experiencing. On the other hand you are in a room full of a lot of pain. I’ve been to a total of three sessions at two different groups and last night’s was the most interesting by far.

One of the threads in our conversation was about the potential gift contained within the death of whomever. Having been a long time fan of Illusions by Richard Bach I’ve always understood that every situation bears a gift for us, and that we seek out those situations that contain the gifts we need. My relationship with Michele is filled with gifts. As hard as it seems to believe I am certain there is a gift contained in her death as well.

I think the gift may have something to do with control. I’ve already discovered that my grief, and the accompanying emotions, are triggered by changes in my perception of the amount of control I have in a given situation. Less control, or the feeling of less control, really sets me off these days. Whatever cushion I possessed for loss of control before her death is temporarily gone while I am overwhelmed by the flood of emotions grief has brought. In looking at the events leading up to Michele’s choice to end her own life I can see that she was feeling a loss of control as well.

Throughout her life there were situations beyond her control that she felt hugely threatened by: physical violence, the retrograde movement of our society due to neo-conservative/religious politics, the constant attack on women in the world, the financial chaos that follows me around like a puppy, and so on. When she learned that her cancer may have returned, that she might lose her leg, I think the loss of control was more than she could bear. Taking her own life was an emphatic retaking of control. It was a gesture of defiance in the face of insurmountable odds.

Through the comments of my fellow group members I saw for the first time that she was only reasserting herself to feel in control one last time. That she wanted to leave on her own terms, and not, out of control, on by another’s terms. I also see now that part of the gift of her death is that in my grief, in my desolation, I can feel the despair and helplessness that she felt. I can understand better how she arrived at a place where the only way forward was death by her own hand for, in my experience of the past four plus months, I too have struggled with a loss of control that makes everything around me see more dire and leaves me feeling out of control.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.