How do you cope with the public loss of a close relation?
December 2, 2008 11:57 AM   Subscribe

I've been debating for two weeks now but this question finally made my decision for me. I finally got around to seeing The Bridge. Bonus points for anyone who's seen it. This is a little long...I am Very Much Not OK now.

[mods, if this is an inappropriate use of a question, feel free to delete, but I needed to at least try]

First off, I do have a therapist appointment. I'm not looking for a free therapy session, nor am I attempting to attention whore for condolences or sympathy. I Already Have My Own Fricking Blog.

Second, I am more than a little confused, so I am sorry if this rambles. I do have a point, and hopefully an answerable question.

OK. I grew up in and around San Francisco, and it's an unspoken fact of life that the bridge represents two things: tourists and suicides. That's just how it is.

Death and suicide don't bother me, actually they somewhat fascinate me. I was a psych major with an emphasis on thanatology. I knew about the film and had intended to see it for a long time but it was always in the list. A friend of mine had just happened to have rented it the day I went over so we watched.

It was pretty much what I expected. It seemed rather exploitative and I'm not sure they needed to show the actual deaths, but that's another topic. As I watched, something else was bothering me but I couldn't quite place it. A familiarity, an unease, something subtle and very uncomfortable. It wasn't until the very last scene, when the "star", if you like, made the final leap, and they listed the names of the dead. Then it hit me like a lead brick.

Gene Sprague.

They'd been showing him and talking about him throughout the entire film, but somehow I refused to make the connection. When I finally saw the name, yes, it really was him, it clicked.

For several years, Gene Sprague was my best friend.

We'd lost contact over the years, and hadn't been super-tight but every time I went back home he was at the usual haunts, we'd catch up and it was like nothing had changed.

It's a case of not knowing what you have until it's gone; I hadn't fully realised how much of an impact he had on me until I watched him die. It also didn't help that against my better judgment I later poked around the net and read message boards and posts about him and the film and was surprised at some of the reactions I found. 'Typical goth'? This guy, neither typical nor goth, is the only one out of a rather sizeable group of friends that took it upon themselves to take care of me when I had a breakdown. He was fucked up, obviously, but there was so much more to him than anyone who didn't know him could realise.

The reason for posting, I guess, is perspective. As I said, death and so forth does not bother me; it's a fact of life. I have watched more than a few people die. I have lost a fair number of close friends. A few to suicide. But this...this is different for some reason.

I can't describe what I'm feeling; it's all-encompassing anger and rage and pain and intense sadness and numbness and happiness and lots of other simultaneous things. I can't concentrate on much, it comes up roughly every ten minutes. I don't remember hurting quite like this ever before. At the same time, I am fascinated by my own reaction.

I'm able to function, of course, and I will be talking to a professional about this in the near future, but the statement that keeps popping up in the back of my head is this: I watched one of the best friends I ever had kill himself, and paid admission to see it.

I am autistic. Professionally diagnosed, not armchair, to spare that particular can of worms. Things don't affect me like they seem to do most other people. At the risk of getting all Star Trek "show me this Earth thing you call grief", is this what most people feel when confronted with a similar loss? Is this what the big deal is?
posted by geckoinpdx to Human Relations (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
"...all-encompassing anger and rage and pain and intense sadness and numbness and happiness and lots of other simultaneous things. I can't concentrate on much, it comes up roughly every ten minutes. I don't remember hurting quite like this ever before. At the same time, I am fascinated by my own reaction."

Yes. I can't speak for "most people," but that's exactly what I have experienced the (far too) many times I've lost someone close to me.
posted by Floydd at 12:09 PM on December 2, 2008


I've seen that film. Is Gene the man in the black jacket?

To answer (what I think is) your question, yes, many people feel this way when confronted with a similar loss.

FWIW, I felt dirty after watching that "documentary". It just seemed like a dressed up version of Faces of Death.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 12:09 PM on December 2, 2008


That's a heavy trip to have laid on you, even without all the unrequited aspects of your relationship with your friend. All I can offer you is a bit of my own experience and perspective. I haven't yet lost anyone I am truly emotionally attached to, but I've lost a lot of acquaintances or "unclose" relatives, whom people in my inner circle were attached to. I've also, thanks to the wonder of modern television, happened to see people die on live TV. The deaths that have affected me personally the most are the ones where some spectacle was involved. My brother's girlfriend's suicide was very public, and simply one of the most traumatic things I have ever had to work through. Much worse than my own acquaintances who have committed suicide or been killed. Living in L.A. and watching TV one day I watched police chase and later gun down a man in a "suicide by cop" incident. Dealing with death is sad for me. Dealing with the death of someone I know is particularly sad. Dealing with the public death/killing of someone I know (or even don't know) is excruciating. It brings forth a feeling of powerlessness unlike any other I have ever experienced and from that a whole mix of difficult to deal with emotions. By talking about it, and seeking qualified perspectives like a therapist, I think you are making the right first steps.
posted by mrmojoflying at 12:18 PM on December 2, 2008


that's definitely part or much of what i feel when i grieve.

i'm sorry you're having to deal with this.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:13 PM on December 2, 2008


When I lost my mother to suicide I really got to understand the concept of ambivalence. It doesn't mean wishy-washy. It's from the latin words for "both" and "strong." The suicide was over 15 yrs ago but I still feel contradictory emotions about it on pretty much a daily basis, and whatever the emotions happen to be that day, they're both strong.

I'm not sure what the point of this story is but I'll tell it anyway. One of the first signs I had that my mom's thinking was just not right was that her usually excellent fashion sense deteriorated into buying these bizarre tacky things, about 6 months before her death. When she died I was totally in shock and grief, and thinking about all of the unresolved emotional things in our relationship. And I walked by a store window where there was this godawful bedazzled sweater she'd been wearing the last time I'd seen her, and through the haze of grief and anguish and survivor's guilt, I thought, "I wonder how much she paid for that?" And I went in and checked. And I was standing there with the price tag in my hand and I was simultaneously thinking "This thing is not worth $60" and "I am fucking nuts."

So it's pretty normal to feel all kinds of things, even things that make you feel guilty or seem crazy to you. Survivors of suicide feel guilty all the time. It's really really common. You said that you watched one of your best friends die and paid admission to do it. You know what? It is perfectly possible to miss him and love him and mourn his loss... and at the same time think the rest of the movie was pretty good. A lot of people paid admission to see that movie. I wish that didn't have to be how you found out. I wish your friend hadn't committed suicide. I am so sorry for your loss. Mefi mail if you want to talk more.
posted by selfmedicating at 1:37 PM on December 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


What you are describing is right in line with a typical experience of intense grief for a painful loss. It doesn't really matter that it's a delayed reaction to the actual event, or the medium of your discovery, or even the comparison to other losses you've experienced. Guilt, anger, happiness, regret, all in repeating succession, an inability to concentrate, feeling almost like a spectator to your emotional journey: these are all quite normal--albeit difficult--responses to an emotional loss. You're not an aberration here, so don't worry about your 'sanity'.

It's good that you're going to see a therapist; he/she can help you navigate your personal journey, so that you can ultimately constructively make your peace and move on. In the meantime, don't beat yourself up on what you're feeling. It's natural. Acknowledge that you're having a rough time, and give yourself the leeway to feel what you're going to feel, to be what you're going to be. This is hard stuff. Let that be okay.

I'm very sorry for what you're going through. As far as my experience goes, this is what the big deal is. I've been through almost exactly the same circumstances, and know that it can knock you right out of the game. Hang in there.
posted by Brak at 1:55 PM on December 2, 2008


I can't describe what I'm feeling; it's all-encompassing anger and rage and pain and intense sadness and numbness and happiness and lots of other simultaneous things. I can't concentrate on much, it comes up roughly every ten minutes. I don't remember hurting quite like this ever before.

That's the textbook grief part.

At the same time, I am fascinated by my own reaction.

That may be your autism showing itself. Also nothing to be ashamed of.


I don't know if this is of any use at all, but this stranger over here is not only sorry for your loss, but feels empathy (and shared horror) with you over how you found this out. Take gentle care of yourself.
posted by availablelight at 2:13 PM on December 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


I just had a very palpable wave of sadness crash over me this morning about my own best friend jumping off that very bridge 2 1/2 years ago. The feelings you have are raw and intense right now - and that will mellow. In my experience thus far, though, they don't ever vanish. Be good to yourself. It's a hard thing to live with.
posted by Wolfie at 2:13 PM on December 2, 2008


To answer specifically:

all-encompassing anger and rage and pain and intense sadness and numbness and happiness and lots of other simultaneous things. I can't concentrate on much....
...is this what most people feel when confronted with a similar loss? Is this what the big deal is?


In my experience, yes. You've hit the nail on the head.
posted by pompomtom at 2:23 PM on December 2, 2008


I can't describe what I'm feeling; it's all-encompassing anger and rage and pain and intense sadness and numbness and happiness and lots of other simultaneous things. I can't concentrate on much, it comes up roughly every ten minutes. I don't remember hurting quite like this ever before. At the same time, I am fascinated by my own reaction.

I lost a good friend last week, quite suddenly, to what was either suicide or an accident.

I've felt all of those things and more. And sometimes less. And then more again. Sometimes every ten minutes, sometimes for hours on end, sometimes not for hours at a time.

Except I'm not fascinated by my reaction, because I've been here before. You won't be fascinated next time - you'll just be sad in new ways you didn't know you could be.

Have some comfort food. Cry if you can. Do something nice for someone who is still around for you to be kind to. As I once told my friend before I lost her, many years after the loss (of another loved one in my life), I can now cherish the memories I have of her more fully because the grief was so intense. They say you remember things better when you have an emotional experience to attach to that memory - I suppose this is the rawest manifestation of that effect.

You should print this thread out and take it to your therapy session.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:05 PM on December 2, 2008


At the risk of getting all Star Trek "show me this Earth thing you call grief", is this what most people feel when confronted with a similar loss? Is this what the big deal is?

I'm not being snarky, I'm being totally 100% sincere when I say that yes, it sounds to me like you're dealing with what we neuro-typicals call "grief."

And you have all of my sympathies. It's a horrible, horrible thing and it's especially awful to encounter the death of a loved one in such a public and unexpected way.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:06 PM on December 2, 2008


Response by poster: My heartfelt thanks to all who've commented, those who will, and to those who just read.

One thing is that I'm not inhuman. I've obviously felt grief before, and loss, just nothing ever hit me like this. I was in pieces when I lost my cat 20 years ago, and when a good friend boarded a plane after a very intense but short visit, but that soon subsided as I assimilated the new situation. But to have it stretch on into weeks, and so all-over-the-charts, it's ...alien. I would have expected either guarded indifference, complete despair, minor ache, but to go through all of the above in regular or simultaneous rotation, I've no frame of reference.

Particularly because we weren't that close. I mean he died four years ago, I only found out about it now (that could be part of it, though, that nobody told me directly). He played an instrumental role in making me into who I am today, and I owe him much more than I had realised, but it's not like we were blood brothers or anything.

Anyway, thanks again for taking the time out of your collective day to add your perspective and support. It is deeply appreciated.
posted by geckoinpdx at 4:52 PM on December 2, 2008


Particularly because we weren't that close. I mean he died four years ago, I only found out about it now (that could be part of it, though, that nobody told me directly). He played an instrumental role in making me into who I am today, and I owe him much more than I had realised, but it's not like we were blood brothers or anything.

Four years ago a...I guess you might call him an acquaintance of mine, he committed suicide. He was in my brother's high school class and had moved to the area after I graduated. So I only saw him a handful of times when I was on break from college. But meeting him was truly like I'd met an old friend. I think that's the only time in my life I've had that feeling, right off the bat. Most every other friendship took time to really develop and feel comfortable.

His suicide is the thing in my life that has hurt the most, by far, more than any other death (grandparents, aunt, cousin, etc). And sometimes it sneaks up on me and feels all new and raw all over again, like when I was at a party and saw a guy that looked vaguely similar. Or when I realize it's Easter and that was the weekend he hung himself.

I even felt guilty, almost; I wasn't his family. I wasn't even a close friend. I hadn't seen or spoken to him in a few years. But I realized there's no metric to grieving, no "you must have been this close to hurt that much." No grief contest. And for me it hasn't healed with time; it's just more and more removed from the every day. But it still hurts.

My heart goes out to you, and for finding out how you did.

It fucking sucks.
posted by 6550 at 6:34 PM on December 2, 2008


My mother was very close to Malachi Ritscher years ago -- he was the best man at her wedding -- and only learned of his self-immolation a year after it had happened, by way of a phone call from her ex-husband. A few weeks later, she read another reference to Malachi in an interview with musician Devendra Banhart. It was the latter incident, I think, that really sickened her. Not so much that the event had happened (as devastating as it was) but that suddenly he had become some kind of cultural touchstone, a symbol of (not that this is how he was used in the interview) "those insane anti-war activists." I'm not sure how long her grieving period lasted - I was afraid to bring it up afterward. But I would imagine that your situation is certainly not out of the ordinary.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 7:02 PM on December 2, 2008


Your effort to describe what you're feeling rang so true. Long story short: Knew someone for more than 20 years, didn't see each other frequently, at times for more than a year when I was overseas, but definitely a closeness. Last time I was overseas (and hating it), I was so happy to be back, went to see my friend where I "knew" he would be--It's a sunny day, I'm home, in a city/part of a city I really like, I'd done fun things that morning and the days before--and I learned from a mutual friend he had taken his life.

Yeah, massive feelings all over the place, most of them sad, frustrated, angry and bits of smiling when I'd think of something really funny he'd said or done.
posted by ambient2 at 9:57 PM on December 2, 2008


"It is the neverness that is so painful. Will the pain of the no more always outweigh the gratitude for the once was? Is such shattering of love beyond meaning for us, the breaking of meaning - mystery, terrible mystery? Can sadness be relieved, or can one only pass it by, very slowly? Is there no music which fits our brokenness? How am I to sing in this desolate land, where there is always one too few? What do I do with my God-forgiven regrets? Will my eyes adjust to this darkness? In the dark, is it best to wait in silence?"
-- Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son

So sorry for your loss. There's no way around raw pain like that. You just have to walk through it and allow yourself to experience it. All of it.

And I hate to say this, but this is not something you can walk through quickly. You just can't hurry grief. Again, I'm really sorry you're having to go through this.
posted by hydrate at 5:24 AM on December 3, 2008


Even though he died four years ago, you learned of it now, and thus the grief is fresh and raw.

What hydrate says is true: take the time to notice what you're feeling. If it helps you to frame it as a Star Trek anthropological exercise (which I mention because you say you're fascinated by your reaction), then sit with your feelings and study them. I think that's valuable for people however they're wired; in this culture, we are encouraged to "get over it" so quickly that grief keeps popping up in strange places, years later.

In my youth, I learned from the newspaper that a girl I'd known in high school had been murdered by a stalker. I hadn't seen her in several years, but each time her death inspired new legislation or I ran into her parents, there was a little bubble of grief. Perhaps it was because I felt guilty for feeling loss over someone that distant from my current life, but I denied the grief for a good while until it burbled up while I was grieving someone else and I finally sat with it to work it through.

I am sorry for your loss, not least because of the way you learned of it.
posted by catlet at 8:53 AM on December 3, 2008


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