AUGUST 10, 2006 ? HEALING AFTER A LOVED ONE?S SUICIDE: BILL RITTER, whose first son, Bill Jr., died from suicide at the age of 27. An attorney, Bill Jr. was diagnosed with ADD, Adult Attention Deficit Disorder, and died at his own hand in 1994, only four months after diagnosis. His father, a now retired Methodist minister, wrote the book Take the Dimness of My Soul Away?Healing After a Loved One?s Suicide, which has received national recognition for its thoughtful and personal look into a very difficult subject.
Bill Ritter: I don?t think anybody realizes how numb you are. You?re in a state of absolute shock and putting a foot on the floor and then putting the second foot on the floor and moving through an hour, let alone a day, in those first days and weeks is really difficult.
Bill Ritter: I think work for me was therapy in one sense. Work was proving that I could carry on. I think everybody grieves differently. My daughter went back to Duke University for her junior year in September and proceeded to get all A?s her junior year, her best academic year at the University of the three she?d been there. Both my daughter and I had a harder time as time went by. My wife, Chris, by contrast, felt the emotions raw and early and often and she found that she worked went through a lot of this faster and when I began to tank in the second year, and people tell me that men are sometimes this way, that the second year is often harder than the first year because you put all this effort into proving that you can do it and that you can keep going and carry on and then you fall apart.
Bill Ritter: We certainly didn?t expect this for him, nor did we expect it for ourselves, and our lives have been changed forever. You don?t get your old self back. You get through it and beyond it but you don?t ever go over it. You?re not the same person ever again.
Bill Ritter: Well, at the end of the day, you listen empathetically, you share stories, but finally I tell somebody, look, I can?t tell you that it?s going to be better, that it?s going to be all right, that the world is going to turn more favorably. I think it will. But I can?t ask you to wear my glasses if you don?t see it that way. What I can tell you is not what it feels like to leave the world, but what it feels like to be the one who is left. And then I talk about what it felt like to be Bill?s father. Then I say, hey, if you can?t figure out one reason to stay alive someday, stay alive for somebody else just for a day, and if you can do that for one day as a gift to somebody else, then maybe you can do it for two days and maybe you can do it for three days and maybe you can do it for a week because many people who take their life think that they?re doing the world a favor, that everybody else will be better off as a result because they?re a burden and, of course, nobody will be better off. Everybody will be worse off and not just for a day or two. People will be in some sense worse off for a long, long time.
Bill Ritter: What did I feel like? I felt sad and empty and achy and lonely. I felt like it took twice as long to do anything and everything I did meant half as much. Above all else, grief feels laboriously like work except you don?t get any days off perhaps for a long, long time. I suppose after suicide, it also means to feel some degree of guilt. What didn?t I do that I should have? What did I do that I shouldn?t have? What signs did I miss? What warning symptoms did I overlook? And I suspect in some way when suicide is the issue, there?s also a sense of shame and embarrassment. We were very up front about what happened but an awful lot of people tend to hide it and cover it up and give other reasons for the death.
Bill Ritter: If rape is the crime that is never owned and admitted to by a good number of people because of the stigma involved in that, I think suicide is the social problem that is never owned up to because there?s some embarrassment and shame in that.
Bill Ritter: I was into the second year of the grief process. It was an evening I was sitting on my deck overlooking Grand Traverse Bay in Northern Michigan. I was reading and thinking and just kind of chilling out looking at the water, and I suddenly found myself thinking about little kids, mine, yours, anybody?s little kids, and how all little kids like to test themselves by jumping from high places. There they are. They?re standing on the edge of a sofa or a fence post or a stepladder, maybe even a garage roof. They?re knees are bent. They?re shoulders are harnessed. They?re poised and they?re ready to jump except they don?t jump or they don?t jump until they first capture your eye and your ear. Catch me Daddy is what they say. Come over here and catch me when I jump. And you move closer to them preparing to do just that so they do and you do. All things considered, it?s a rather remarkable arrangement, but what happens if some day they jump and you can?t catch them because your arms aren?t long enough, strong enough, quick enough, or near enough? And the reality is, I couldn?t catch Bill either. But then again, he didn?t tell me he was going to jump or wait for me to get my arms in position. When I thought about that on my deck at sunset, I cried. And then I looked down at the book I was reading and saw that the biblical verse that had triggered that line of thinking in the first place came from Deuteronomy. The eternal God is your dwelling place and underneath are the everlasting arms. And I realized that even though I missed Bill and that I failed to catch him and continue to miss Bill and that I no longer have him, my arms are not the only arms. My arms are not the final arms, which means that where Bill fell is not where he lays.