Saturday, April 7, 2012

GREG, 1970 - 1990

The motor cycle accident that nearly tore Greg's leg off happened in April 1986, just before his 16th birthday. Nearly five years later he took his own life.

That was two days after Christmas 1990. He had spent too long in hospital, fighting to live, as surgeons sliced more and more pieces of dead and dying tissue off his body. But he lost hope. He was too young to bear the thought of having only one leg. He was too damned young to die.

"Surviving Suicide" is the story of Greg's last five years as told by his mother. And it is Heather Hapeta's story of how she coped with the massive, complex problems during the long months by Greg's hospital bedside, and the years since her son died. It is also a practical, down to earth book about coping with grief, for the bereaved, their friends and supporters. Like Heather herself, the book is no-nonsense, tell-it-how-it-was.

I didn't know Greg, but I have come to know Heather in the years since his death. I know her to have had a colourful and rebellious past, that she is a recovering alcoholic, and that her husband died of cancer. All these things she tells us in this book, without dwelling on any of it.

She tells us more about her gratitude for the people who donated the blood that Greg needed. About how his vital signs, pulse and heart rate were slower and more even when she was beside his bed, holding his hand, massaging his foot, rubbing his back. About spending 23 hours a day just being there, because it helped. About raging at finding a minister praying over her son, because it sounded like the last rites – there was no room for negativity in Heather's mind. About making sure that medication, blood tests, monitoring, all were done properly and on time. She tells how Greg sucking ice was cause for celebration, and how "breathe me" was a plea for help in performing the most basic of human instincts because he had forgotten how to breathe alone.

Then, "Greg is healed" said the doctors, and he came home. And later, after Christmas, he hanged himself.

Heather's "grief was not tidy. It was a messy, confusing and strange time." But she learned to live with Greg's death. And as she learned to remember his life rather than his suicide, it seemed that letting him go gave him back to her. Heather describes herself as bossy, determined, pushy, protective. Yes, she is all of those, thank goodness. Many similar words crowded my mind as I was reading this book, including raw, fierce and honest. It hurt to read it, but I also cheered Heather's courage in writing it.

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