October 22, 2018
A letter to my younger self on life, loss and finding peace
by Lynn Keane
You will be blessed with a good marriage and three incredible children: a boy and two girls. The love within your family will stand as a testament to the raw beauty of the human experience. You will hold tight to this bond as it will provide solace during life’s most difficult times. As a young mother, nurturing your children’s unique strengths will be your most satisfying achievement. Watching them grow into independent compassionate adults will be your greatest joy.
You are a fighter. Your ability to see past roadblocks and your enthusiasm for life will support you as you deal with Ulcerative Colitis and Ankylosing Spondylitis. Your days of running high school track will eventually lead you to the marathon distance. The joy you discover in training and racing will create opportunities to qualify and compete in the Boston Marathon, five times.
Life holds no promises. On a spring day without warning your 23- year old son will die by suicide. The news will change your lives forever. In mourning you will slip into your own grief driven depression. The world without your son will be unfamiliar to you. It will be difficult for you and your family to see beyond the suffering. Only time and understanding will guide this journey. There are no words that will console or ease the pain. For a very long time you will feel isolated and without purpose:
The people who are suffering must be totally immersed in their sadness in order to be pulled into the joy. They must be so open and vulnerable and present to their pain, so removed in some ways from their regular sense of reality, that they are able to be pulled in and comforted by the force that is so much stronger than they are in that moment.
-Matthew D. Gewirtz, from The Gift of Grief
Months will go by before you begin to understand that your son was living with anxiety and depression. His inner world hidden from everyone. He felt that he’d become a burden to the people who loved him most. The undeniable bond you shared was no match for the shame he experienced.
Your son will be remembered for his kindness and humour. You’ll hear his voice in your head and be reminded of his broad smile. As the veil of shock lifts you will berate yourself for not being able to save your son. But you could not help what you could not see or understand. His absence will be a constant reminder of how quickly life can change. Your biggest regret will be that you had absolutely no understanding of youth depression and suicide. You will share his story so other families might be spared. Another young person might seek the help they so desperately need.
Time heals and grief remembers. At times, you will feel completely immobilized by sadness. I want you to know that the most difficult days will be followed by moments of grace. Every tear you shed for your son will be a healing act.
In time, you will begin to recognize that your pain has shifted. Everything you experience — the yearning and the questions surrounding your son’s suicide will support your search for understanding. There will be light. I promise. You will find an inner reservoir of strength, but what will matter most is your capacity to face this tragedy. The days and months spent in reflection and remembrance will eventually allow you to accept your loss.
You cannot change the past but you will find inspiration in accepting and understanding the woman you’ve become.
Life is for the living. In the years to come you will wake thinking about your son and not his suicide. In accepting loss, your mind will search for memories of life before depression and suicide became part of your lexicon. There will be much work to do in your son’s name and in support of youth suicide prevention. This will be the beginning of knowing that the mind can change — even when the heart cannot. Your son’s last written words and the research will be your guide to understanding contributing factors in his depression and suicide. Life will never be the same for your family but in sharing your son’s story you will change attitudes about youth mental illness.
You are stronger than you think. One day many years from now you will find yourself in front of a large group of students who have come to hear your story.
You will speak about life experiences, chronic health conditions, possible head injury, self-medicating behaviour and a sense of not belonging — all part of the litany of factors that led to your son’s depression. The students will be reminded throughout the presentation that there is never one reason in suicide.
You will develop a strong desire to impact young lives. Your passion will be evident every time you speak about your son. As a journalist, writing will be a healing outlet and provide a platform to educate others about the stigma that is mental illness. As a mourner, you will come to understand that even in tragedy there is hope.
The act of putting one foot in front of the other will eventually lead you back to running and triathlon. You will return to the hallowed finish line that is The Boston Marathon once again and in time you will complete a 70.3 Ironman race that you had first shared with your son. Finishing that triathlon will set you on a path towards fulfillment and joy. You will find courage and grace and seek peace in having your mind and body work in harmony once again.
On this new journey, you will begin a personal quest to complete a Full Ironman Race. The difficulty of training and completing a long-distance endurance race will be matched by a mental toughness that has grown out of a very deep, personal grief. Life experiences will sharpen your emotional resolve. At the age of 60 you will become an IRONMAN.
You will have the capacity to stay present and in the moment for the entire race. As you make your way through the finishing chute towards the ‘magic carpet’ finish line of the Lake Placid Ironman you’ll know that this day represents a turning point in your life.
Your family will be there supporting you- your commitment to achieve something so beyond the imagination. They will be there throughout the training process to buoy your flagging spirits and remind you constantly why you signed up for this adventure and who you shared your very first Iron Dream with.
The heart does heal but grief will never be far from the surface. Take comfort in knowing your memories will sustain you. Your commitment to youth suicide prevention and message of education and compassion will engage those who seek to better understand mental illness. Above everything, your courage in sharing your personal experience with the hope of changing outcomes for youth will be your son’s legacy.
When all is lost, you’ll start over.
You cannot change the past but you will find inspiration in accepting and understanding the woman you’ve become. Throughout all of your experiences- the overwhelming sorrow in losing your son and your autoimmune health conditions you will survive because you will always seek peace and purpose. And remember you are a fighter!
Wishing you much peace on your journey.
Lynn’s Ted Talk: