Last Saturday, my colleague/friend and I drove to Charlotte, NC to attend a statewide La Leche League conference. I have officially been a LLL leader for over 22 years but have been inactive for the last five or so.
My initial experience with LLL was in San Antonio, Texas in 1980. I was pregnant with my first child and have no earthly idea why I was even remotely curious about breastfeeding. I had never seen anyone breastfeed and God knows my mother was completely horrified by any and all body parts, so this was not an idea mentioned in my growing up years. But, something brought me to that Couples meeting that night and I became more and more interested. When I gave birth to my first son in 1981, I began attending meetings and the rest became my history. Suffice to say, my connections to LLL changed my whole paradigm of thinking, taught me loving and tender child rearing along in a nurturing style. In the end, it became my career choice, as I have been a board certifield lactation consultant for the last 14 years. The women in the LLL groups I belonged to in New York and in North Carolina have also become my life long friends with an attachment, like no other.
So, when I got to this Charlotte conference — I had that familiar feeling of connection that I miss so desperately. Being a lactation consultant in private practice is a lonely field. These were my friends, my cohorts and many of these women had been to hell and back with me when my two year old son died tragically in 1995. It felt so good to be amongst these women. As well, there is a sense of “normal” at a LLL event. These are happy mothers and content babies, many of whom have made mothering a profession. They practice attachment parenting snuggling their babies in slings who were born in a most natural style, use alternative vaccination schedules, and they think before they accept most things handed down to them in the health field. It is a lovely arena.
On Saturday morning, I cheerfully attended my first session which was on increasing breast milk supply. This is a subject that has no end, as it has become the holy grail of breastfeeding. When the session was over, I came out only to be met by the horror stricken, tearful faces of two old time leaders who I have known for years. They grabbed me by the arm and said they needed to tell me something. My heart sank below my knees, I was terrified — was it my husband? one of my sons? Which one? What? What? Jan said, “Karen’s 21 year old son killed himself on Thursday. I just got word.” I was horror stricken in every possible way and began crying uncontrollably. That was it. I wanted only to go home and see my own sons to be sure they were okay. I wanted to hold Karen, an old time LLL leader and lactation consultant, and rock her, knowing that her life would never be the same. I wanted to lay in the streets and sob for the agony of losing a child and the inability to ever comprehend the ache. The compounded horror of suicide is I feel, the worst of the worst. He had a gun, we came to find out, all the more horrible, I suppose. I cried on and off all day long and finally got home late that night, kissing and hugging those who were home and burying myself under many covers.
The funeral was a Catholic mass on Tuesday. This is the thing for me. Many said they could not attend because it would be “too hard” or “too upsetting” or too something. I feel this way. I do not have that choice. I am a fellow human being, a fellow traveler, if you wish. I am your friend. You are descending into hell and I have the responsibility to show up and to bear witness. Isn’t that the VERY LEAST I can do? I must steel myself and wade through the fire and the grit, but I must be there. It is torture for me to go to that place in my heart that still has an eternal flame or torch. But, I go anyway.
The mass was nice, with touching music, moving eulogies by a brother and a friend. The brother said two eloquent things that I have thought of many times since. One was that he felt that Jesus had to go through hell and so had his brother Ted. The other really got me. Ted was bipolar and apparently, he suffered terribly, unresolved by medication and/or treatment. His brother said, “It was often very difficult to live with Ted. But, in fact, it was much more difficult to live AS Ted.” It is so telling, that when one shoots themselves with the purpose of ending it all, one almost always chooses to blow their brains out. The pain of life seems much greater than this painful, instant death, at that moment.
And then, the receiving line, where this poor derailed family, stands receiving hugs and “I’m so sorries” while they barely have the strength to breathe in and out. There simply are NO words. I bring water to the mother. I bring a chair. It doesn’t matter. The dad mentions that it will be odd not getting emails from his son. Oh honey, that will be the least! I hug the mother, my colleague, and she says, “Oh those babies. We love them so.” Yes, indeed. I think to myself that they have no idea how long and rocky the road ahead is. On the phone she said to me, “He’s with Jesus. He is fine. I have my faith.” Yes, but hey, Jesus’ heart broke over this tragedy as well. This will do your for awhile, but not for long. The gnawing will come at 3 am and no loving arms of Jesus will take away the agony of loss. The other side of midnight awaits all surving parents with hell on earth.