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I was eight years old back in 1969, walking home from school in a small town in eastern Canada during deep winter, with the snow crust crunching underfoot and my breath fogging the air, when I was surprised to see the moon dangling in the bright afternoon sky.
It was as if it had stolen away from evening firmament, just to share a fleeting moment with the sun.
I felt a surge of sublime sadness then, knowing that the sun and moon could not share the same heaven for long as dusk would soon be arrive to part them. Theirs was an ephemeral joy.
It reminded me of an old Scandinavian fairytale in which a young maiden lost her love and embarked upon a desperate odyssey fraught with tests and triumphs to find the elusive castle where he had been enchanted and imprisoned, East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/East_of_the_Sun_and_West_of_the_Moon).
I thought that must be where the mythical place would be found, the portal appearing only when the sun and moon were conjoined in the same sky.
This fanciful notion was forgotten as I grew up until the summer of 1982 when, just as the flowers were all in bloom, my twenty-three year old sister died of Hodgkin’s Disease (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Hodgkin%27s_lymphoma).
Then, it seemed to me, the day I found the sun and moon together might have been a prognostication of the devastating loss that would one day come and raze my world to the ground.
She died before I got there; we never said goodbye.
Over the years following her death, I would often have vivid dreams, but the memory of the mantle of her flowing chestnut hair and the chimes of her mischievous laughter always dissipated on the winds of wakefulness.
It seemed I had just found her again, only to have her torn from my embrace. The realization brought physical impact, like a hammerhead fist had slammed into my gut.
The sun had set yet again. I had lost my moon. And so it shall always be.
For weeks now, I have been attempting to write the story of Jan Andersen, founder of the UK’s Mothers Over 40 (http://www NULL.mothersover40 NULL.com/) and author of a new ground-breaking book being launched on 1nd November—the anniversary of her son’s death in 2002—entitled Chasing Death: Losing A Child To Suicide. (http://www NULL.chasingdeath NULL.com/)
Until today, I’ve been unable to go there. Now I know why. And it has taken this long to face it.
It is because writing is organic and all that we create in word must flow from the roots of truth. I could not bear a fraction of a moment under the crushing weight of imagining what it would be like to lose my little boy.
And when you read Jan’s book, the truth is what you get. Raw truth. And plenty of it.
In fact, her grief experience has a further distinction: Jan became a mom again at the age of 40. Her midlife miracle, Lauren, was two and still nursing when big brother Kristian ended his life.
When he took an overdose of heroin on Halloween night, Kristian left two suicide notes—one for his girlfriend Millie and their baby daughter and the other “To Whom It May Concern”, pointing out that his wasn’t an accidental junkie-death.
It was a self-execution: At twenty years of age, he was riddled with self-hatred and just couldn’t take it anymore. His words tore through Jan like “a hail of bullets”.
On November 1st, a police officer turned up on Jan’s doorstep and requested that she come to the hospital to formally identify the body of her first born child.
After his death, she says: “I felt trapped at the top of a burning tower block, with every floor below me ablaze and every possible escape route blocked off. There were two choices. Either I could jump to my death out of the window, or I could remain where I was and be consumed by noxious fumes and flames.”
From birth to bereavement, and miracle to tragedy. How could any mother endure what must be a bitter, razor-thorned oxymoron on a cosmic scale?
As Jan highlights in her book, grief for parents is more intense and lasts longer than other forms. What’s clear is that the child’s self imposed death sentence becomes a life sentence for family and loved ones they left behind. A sentence of “eternal grief”.
It’s no surprise this book was seven years in the making.
Andersen stays wide open and raw throughout the whole journey, becoming the reporter, remaining the victim, in a soul-driven determination to offer healing to other traumatized parents of children who died by their own hand.
When my sister passed that summer while nature burst forth with new life, I sunk into a dark winter of the soul . It was a time when people attempted to comfort me with empty platitudes, pointless suggestions and an utter lack of comprehension that I was spinning out of control.
At her wake, when her old boss commented that the funeral home had done a great job with the makeup on the corpse, I hit the ground like a sack of potatoes.
Nobody, it seemed, “got it”.
Had it been offered to me then, I would have grasped Jan’s book like a life ring in the glacial waters where I lay gasping, drowning in a sea of so bleak with despair as to seem infinite.
Naked truth is undeniable. In the reading of it, I would have known that I suffered, but not alone. It would have been alms to the emotionally and spiritually destitute—for Death is the great leveler.
After a seven year journey of courage, Jan Andersen has found the mythical place, east o’ the sun and west o’ the moon, where her son was bewitched—not by heroin, but by his own inner demons he was no longer able to keep at bay.
With this book, the boy who once ended his life by his own hand, reaches out to the grieving families of other lost children with the light of truth, empowering them to heal.
Post Script: Jan and Kristian’s story reminds us that Death is never very far away and that Life is merely the precipice to which our precarious grip adheres—and it can teach us to open our own minds to step in, to help if we can, before the sun sets for the last time, and a life is irrevocably lost.
Note to readers:
More info on Jan’s book is available at: http://www.chasingdeath.com (http://www NULL.chasingdeath NULL.com/).
For every book sold, 1 pound (UK Sterling) will be donated to Kidscape (http://www NULL.kidscape NULL.org NULL.uk/), the UK charity committed to keeping children safe from bullying and abuse.
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