Barbara - 'The Gift'

by Barbara Rubel

As the doctor delivered our first born child, he whispered, "It's a Boy," and the room began to stir. A nurse whisked our son off to be weighed and measured, as everyone waited patiently for the doctor's next announcement. "It's a Boy" rang through the delivery room, a cold and unfriendly place, now filled with an abundance of love and warmth.  Only a moment passed, and the sounds of two little babies crying echoed. They were blessed with strong healthy lungs. Their voices were a precious gift. The room became still. The many doctors and nurses present that morning were eager to hear my doctor's announcement. My husband stood in awe as he watched his third born child being brought into our lives. The room filled with a sense of anticipation. "It's another Boy!" the doctor shouted, unaware of the intensity of his voice. It was an exciting moment for everyone involved in our miraculous event. Our third born son completed the set....TRIPLETS!!

On August 7, 1986, my husband and I were given a most precious gift. As I held My Three Sons, I told my doctor that Fred McMurray would be proud. I knew that my own father would also be proud, if only it were possible for him to be present during the most joyous day on my life. A few short weeks before their birth, on July 13, my father chose to end his life by a self inflicted gun shot wound to the head. At 67, he was experiencing deteriorating disk in his back. He believed that he could not live with this agony. Though the greatest gift would have been to hold his grandsons in his arms, the pain was just too great. My mother, a retired police officer, kept her pistol. My father used it to end his physical pain.

My triplets were too young to realize that their grandfather died. Yet, it was up to me to make sure they would understand the truth when the time came. Before they entered kindergarten, they understood that Grampa Alex was dead. They were confused, but every question was answered age appropriately. Whenever we spoke about their grandfather's death, I made sure that it was in a safe place to share. They believed that grandpa's death was final, but were unsure about where exactly he was living. I explained God and heaven, but their questions like, "Does grandpa watch T.V. in heaven?' only made me realize how my honest response to their questions should always be based on their own reality. I explained that grandpa did not fly up to heaven. Grandpa was not an angel. Grandpa was not lost and he did not expire. Grandpa died by suicide. I shared his death honestly, avoiding cliches. I supported them through their fears and confusion. Compassion was a comforting hand. Years will pass, and the memory of how I shared the suicide will become part of my children, a part of their own wound. It is a wound they will forever possess, which will be passed on as a legacy to their children and their grandchildren.

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The most important factor in talking to my children is not talking but listening. I learned a great deal by listening to my sons. At the age of eight, they asked for details explanations of how grandpa died. I told them that grandpa was sad and the bullet from the gun he was holding killed him. I did not elaborate, yet I did not lie. Third grade was a challenge. Grandpa Alex was very real to them, as I kept his memory alive with stories of being a W. W. II Army sergeant and a Coney Island Police Officer. They became interested in the details of death. "What was a funeral?" "How did you know he was really dead?" We always answered the questions honestly. I remember telling them that I knew grandpa was really dead because his body just did not work and longer.

The boys are now nine years old. Recently, a car struck a deer. It was an opportunity to explain their death further. Their questions were many. I listened and was surprised that the children began to answer each other. Their understanding was a special gift. They expressed their feelings about death openly and honestly. Their grandfather chose to die by suicide. This is not a family secret...I choose to talk about his life and his dreams, and my children choose to keep his memory alive. Love is a powerful gift and I believe that their wound, their grandfather's death, will become a gift in time.

Wounds heal. They form scars. As a survivor, the scar reminds me that my father's death is a part of me. Though it is not visible, it is a scar that I will carry with me for a lifetime. I explore the journey of grief holistically...through meditation, guided imagery, art music, and journal writing I now lead grief workshops, seminars, and lectures sharing my healing methods. I facilitate a suicide support group and have become active in AFSP.