As some of our readers may know, my son Eric, z”l, took his own life less than four years ago, after suffering from mental health challenges for 14 years, since he was 14 years old. While I know this column is usually dedicated to issues around recovery—usually referring to recovery from addictions—I am taking the liberty of discussing a different kind of recovery—that of recovering from a personal trauma.
The upshot is you never “recover”—you just move along, as opposed to “moving on.” Losing a child is like losing a limb—you may learn to function without it, but it’s lost for good and you mourn that loss.
For the last three years, Thanksgiving has been a difficult day for our nuclear family. Actually, so is July 4 (Eric’s birthday), Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Chanukah, all of February and Pesach. In point of fact, all those holidays where families typically get together and celebrate… we dread! Sometimes, we get out of town—hence our annual flight to Boston for July 4, where only good memories abound; Miami Beach for Pesach, although not in the same hotel we were all in together; Forest Hills at our daughter’s apartment for Yom Kippur—in short, leaving home is usually the way we celebrate so many of these holidays.
So when Thanksgiving comes around—the time of year where we are supposed to say “Thanks” (to God) for all He has given us—I get stuck. I’m not exactly sure why I am thanking Him. It’s more like what He’s taken from me—Eric 3-plus years ago, my mother this past September… What exactly am I thankful for?
Ok – there are some good things in my life. I have a husband who loves and supports me, and two daughters who don’t just love me, but actually like me! Two sons-in-law who loves our daughters, and appreciate us as parents and in-laws (love comes later, I hope). Four brothers who support me in their own way (well, most of them, anyway). Six sisters-in-law who truly care about me (well most of them, anyway).
What about friends? I still have my four girlfriends from college who have stuck with me through thick and thin—not many people can say that in their 60s, their closest friends are from college. And a few very good friends from the neighborhood—who have really been with us through these last terrible years. And supportive rabbis (actually three of them, which is impressive since I only go to one shul!).
And the most recent group of friends? The too-many parents who have also lost children to suicide, who have reached out to me, or whom I have reached out to, and are there to support each other through these difficult years, following our losses. I started out with two when Eric first died, quickly added two more—then another two, then two more. Then two more the year after Eric died, and then two more this past year. We call ourselves the survivors, and believe me, it is not a club anyone wants to join!
Of course, no offense to any of the others I’ve mentioned so far, but our not-so-new grandson is what I (we) are most thankful for. And I do give God (and Jessica and David) some credit for creating this wonderful human. Grandchildren really are game-changers—and they do give you a reason to get up in the morning, go shopping (for clothes and toys of course) and put that smile back on your face, and laughter in your voice, and heart.
So to get back to the “Thanks” part of Thanksgiving, and recovery, I guess I am recovering—slowly—and there are still some things to be thankful for. But I do miss Eric terribly. And I’m still leaving town for Thanksgiving!
Since the passing of her son, Eric, by suicide in 2016, Eta Levenson and her family founded the Eric Eliezer Levenson Foundation for Hope to fight the stigmatization of mental illness, raise awareness about mental health challenges and help prevent suicide. She can be reached at [email protected]