It’s amazing how much I can see reflecting back on the almost two decades of life I’ve had since my sister’s suicide when I was twenty-one. But what’s even more interesting are the experiences I’ve had in the past few years, particularly since I became aware of my life changing about five years ago.
On Thursday of last week I met with a priest to discuss several things that are going on in my life. Things aren’t going badly, but I’m always looking to make myself a better person, a more patient person. When I left his office, I stopped in the church and then went home, feeling a sense of peace.
That night, on advice from a friend, I bought and lit a candle. Though there are many variations, candle lighting is often seen as a symbolic way to let go – in my case, to let go of what I can’t control in my life. Letting go of control is having faith. I like to control situations and make things happen; it’s difficult for me to sit on the sidelines and watch and wait. But I realize I must do that; some things have to play out on their terms, not mine.
When I woke up the next morning, I felt even more peace. My sister Denise had been far from my mind the day before as I was working through all this life “stuff,” but during the night I had a dream about her. I often dream about Denise so that in itself wasn’t significant. But what I dreamt was.
I don’t remember many details of the dream except for one thing: in my dream, Denise's death was not a suicide. I’m not sure how she died in the dream, but it didn’t matter. It was only important that it wasn’t a suicide. To me, this means I have truly come to the end of the road with my grief over her death being a suicide. It’s done, it’s over. I am on another road. The suicide isn’t significant to my life; it doesn’t define me.
Our lives are filled with symbolism, signs, messages. They are around us if we are open to them. This dream was a giant message to me that night. I didn’t expect it but I know it means that I need to go forward and be the Michelle whose life took a different path on March 18, 1993. My old road and my new road have converged. The sign says I have reached the end and now I merge onto a new road that is exciting and uncharted. Where it will go, I don’t completely know. What I do know is that I’m in the midst of carving out the life I always dreamed of. Finally.
Michelle Linn-Gust, Ph.D., is an international author and speaker about finding hope after loss and change. She is the author of several books including Rocky Roads: The Journeys of Families through Suicide Grief and Ginger's Gift: Hope and Healing Through Dog Companionship. Her first book, based on the suicide of her younger sister Denise, Do They Have Bad Days in Heaven? Surviving the Suicide Loss of a Si..., inspired siblings around the world in their survival after a loved one’s suicide. She is the President of the American Association of Suicidology and lives in Albuquerque, N.M. Read more about Michelle at www.michellelinngust.com.
Photo: Michelle Linn-Gust