Learning From Loss

Doris Palumbo

My own story is that of an infant daughter found dead in her crib. With a diagnosis of acute leptomeningitis and probably died of SIDS. That was in 1956 so who knows for sure?

My 19 year old son was a completed suicide in 1983. He was picked up for DUI and hanged himself in a jail cell. The story is very sad and was unusual. The keys were lost to the cell when they found him approxximatly 20 minutes after they had placed him in the cell. They dropped him when they took him down and his head hit the metal bed frame. His skull was damaged, but after the delay in opening the cell it was already too late. Who really knows if he was dead prior to the opening of the cell.

This is not what I am writing about. It is a very sad story, but what I want to share is the recovery, the joy and glory in sharing the story of my survival. What good can come from such a tragedy and how we can help others to survive. To face our own mortality and to remove the mystery and fear from aging, death and dying.

I am 62 years old now and Johnny died when I was 48 years old. Johnny was a wonderful baby. He was good and gentle and grew up to be a fine young man. He had to deal with the divorce of his mother and father and his mother moving 1200 miles away with her new husband. His girlfriend had gone to college out of state and he was hounded by his fathers creditors. Were these the reasons he chose to die? He was intelligent and talented, but haunted by who knows what?

My personal belief was that something good would come from this devastating loss.

I am willing to share what has happened to me since my son died. To show how my life has changed and how I now try to help others remove the mystery and fear of aging, death and dying. I have been honored by being asked to teach a class on these subjects to Lay Eucharistic Ministers (LEMS) in the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida. I have done research on the subject of suicide and have worked with youth groups. I have one more year to teach this class, ( the last of a three year topic) but I believe the importance of the understanding and knowledge of aging, dying and death can help to remove the mystery and fear so many people have of death.

This is 0ne of the subjects that families deny, even when a member of the family is terminal. Nobody wants to talk about mortality. Our society has changed over the years what with the separation of families by distance and understanding of the natural progression of life. So often when our LEMS visit a terminal person we are the only ones who are willing to listen to the individual who is dying.

In a recent article in the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel there was a plan to teach doctors to talk to their patients about dying and death. It is a sad comment. So often doctors are commited to save lives. Dying with dignity and at the appropriate time is important to all of us. There should be no sense of failure for the physician. Why not let some of our lay people who deal with these issues speak to the doctors? I believe we can teach them something rather than a text book style of teaching. You have to be there, to read the signals from the patient and to accept their thoughts and feelings. Sometimes people think they are dying when they are not, but others are really in their last days.

From my tragedy has come an awareness of life and death. What it is to survive and the length of time it may take for each person. Grieving and mourning is universal. It has been written that to survive the suicide of a loved one is the most difficult grief to live through. I believe this is so. When you survive a suicide there is nothing worse that can happen to you. This helps us to live through all that life can throw at us.

How grateful some of the people I visit each week are to speak with me about their future. You see most of them are terminal for one reason or another e.g., illness or old age. Grief is unique to each individual as to the length of time, thoughts and feelings, no two people including husband and wife, siblings react in the same way. We must respect anothers time and manner of recovery from a loss in our lives.

I hope I have not been rambling too much but this is a subject dear to my heart. No one should die alone but have someone with them when they leave this world.

Doris Palumbo

You can send email to Doris at: [email protected]
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anniversary date
date of post 04-05-97

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Crisis, Grief, and Healing: Tom Golden LCSW