Excerpted from "Sanity and Grace: A Journey of Suicide, Survival, and Strength" by Judy Collins with permission of Tarcher/Penguin.

Journal Entry, February 10, 2000

I dreamed of my son three nights ago. He came to me at the age of twelve or thirteen, red-haired, sweet-faced, innocent. He was on his way to camp, all the name tags sewn into his clothes, his bags packed, and the schedule for his trip arranged. "When will I get to see you?" I said as I kissed his freckled nose, his smooth cheeks. "Mom," he said, wrinkling his nose and smiling at me with the indulgence of a ten-year-old for his mother's overindulgence, but with sympathy, "they really don't like the parents hanging around camp." So saying, he was off, the summer like a world of wonders laid out before him, parents' week circled on my calendar.

I live on one side of the veil, he lives on the other. He is with my father, Charlie; he is with Bill and Bob and Jim Henson, my old friend, with his grandfathers and grandmother, with Laurie, the Swedish farmer he never knew, and with Milton, the poet. He is here, I am here; he is there, and I am there. We are living in a forever time; I touch that feeling in dreams, in music, in the fullness that throbs in my heart when day breaks, when the sun shines on the snow, when the candles are extinguished and the light of the spirit shines in my darkened room.

I live in eternity's light with those I love, bound by the laws of heaven, the laws of Karma, the sense and beating of the heart. Thank God for the here, and the hereafter; I am part of them both.

* * *
At the beginning, the path before me opened like a cavern, howling with the cry of a dark, ghostly presence. How was I to make the journey into that dark cave, through the mysteries and past the nightmares? How would I travel such a great distance? How was I going to see the gift in suicide, in this tragedy? Where would I go to find answers to my questions and solace for my tears? I could not even imagine the answers to those questions. But I would have to, in order to live.

Stephen Levine, in "Who Dies," says, "Every one who dies leaves a skeleton in his closet; but the suicide leaves one in yours." I knew I couldn't ignore the skeleton, couldn't make the event of my son's suicide a secret that would bring its own torture and its own retribution. Facing my demons has meant refusing to remain silent, refusing to accept the shame of the last taboo, for today suicide is the last taboo. Facing suicide has meant weeping tears I didn't know I had to shed. Looking has meant testing my own faith and my own fear. Beautiful, terrible--surviving suicide has been another path from fear to faith.

How sharp the thorn, how bright the rose of memory, how piercing the pain, as though just today it had happened. Remembering is always like a cold shot of ice in my heart, like the first stab of the sword, deep, leaving its deadly wound. And how cold the winter was without him. I knew I could not go around the terrible place I now have come to know so very well. I had to go through it.

Though I had been on a journey of the spirit before my son died, and had meditated for many years, the death of my beloved son has been a powerful teacher. It is nearly ten years since he died, and in these past years, I have come to think of suicide and suicide survival, as spiritual issues, with spiritual answers that have come from the pain and the sorrow. Suicide has seemed always to do with the soul and with faith--a lack of faith or a deep sense of faith. Leonard Cohen says, "There is a hole in everything, that's how the light gets in." Without the wound there is no miracle. And I know these wounds are the entrance to a power greater than I am--an entrance to God, and, once more, to grace. Without it I am doomed.

Albert Camus describes suicide as the one truly serious philosophical problem in life: "Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest--whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories--comes afterwards." But reading about the philosophical questions that suicide brings up seems clean and crisp. Surviving suicide doesn't feel like that. Living through it is messy and emotionally as well as physically painful. Camus, and others, sound so academic, so clinical. Living through it feels like having your heart cut open with no anesthetic.

Faith has become my teacher, and death and loss and the sound of pounding waves and the pounding of blood in my own veins, singing to me that living fully and completely is the only way to travel from this darkness to the blazing light. I watch and listen as my daughter-in-law, and my granddaughter, and my loving and wounded family, find their way through this loss. My beloved husband Louis, with whom I have traveled this path, shares in every day and in every year, as Clark's death reaches the first decade of memory. My family, who loved him so, talks about Clark, about his laughter, his humor, his intensity, and his funny quirks. I have come to see that the laughter is so healing, and talking of my son's goodness and his foibles eases the pain and makes us all realize he is with us, forever, in spirit.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus