Where to Find Support and Hope-Losing a Child to Suicide
My Forever Son: A Mother's Journey After Losing Her Son to Suicide
Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
The following resources, book lists, narratives from parents who have lost a child to suicide, support groups, and more are meant to be a resource bank. Many have helped me keep on keeping on these past nine years of grieving.
That’s when my world changed. That’s when hope for me became something I used to have. That’s when I lost my 20-year-old son, Dylan, to suicide.
“Beyond Surviving: Suggestions for Survivors”
by Iris M. Bolton
- 1. Know you can survive; you may not think so, but you can.
- 2. Struggle with “why” it happened until you no longer need to know “why” or until YOU are satisfied with partial answers.
- 3. Know you may feel overwhelmed by the intensity of your feelings but that all your feelings are normal.
- 4. Anger, guilt, confusion, forgetfulness are common responses. You are not crazy, you are in mourning.
- 5. Be aware you may feel appropriate anger at the person, at the world, at God, at yourself. It’s okay to express it.
- 6. You may feel guilty for what you think you did or did not do. Guilt can turn into regret, through forgiveness.
- 7. Having suicidal thoughts is common. It does not mean that you will act on those thoughts.
- 8. Remember to take one moment or one day at a time.
- 9. Find a good listener with whom to share. Call someone if you need to talk.
- 10. Don’t be afraid to cry. Tears are healing.
- 11. Give yourself time to heal.
- 12. Remember, the choice was not yours. No one is the sole influence on another’s life.
- 13. Expect setbacks. If emotions return like a tidal wave, you may only be experiencing a remnant of grief, an unfinished piece.
- 14. Try to put off major decisions.
- 15. Give yourself permission to get professional help.
- 16. Be aware of the pain in your family and friends.
- 17. Be patient with yourself and others who may not understand.
- 18. Set your own limits and learn to say no.
- 19. Steer clear of people who want to tell you what or how to feel.
- 20.Know that there are support groups that can be helpful, such as Compassionate Friends or Survivors of Suicide groups.
Iris Bolton, Suicide and its Aftermath (Dunne, McIntosh, Dunne-Maxim, Norton et al., 1987). American Association for Suicidology
After a Suicide
“After a Suicide” is a portal linking people who are grieving after a death by suicide to an online directory of resources and information to help them cope with their loss.
- Grief in General — Introductory material on bereavement
- Suicide Grief Primer — An overview of grief after suicide
- Suicide Grief Websites — Comprehensive sites focused on suicide bereavement
- Suicide Grief Materials — Booklets, handouts … about grief after suicide
- Support Groups — Information about group support for people bereaved by suicide
- Bereaved Children — Items for suicide bereaved children, plus children’s grief in general
- Military/Vets/Families — Resources for bereaved military, veterans, and their families
- Schools/Workplaces — Best practices for community, work, school responses to suicide
- Communities — Postvention training and principles for communities
- Helping Others — Principles, theories, guidance on assisting the suicide bereaved
- Children’s Caregivers — Guidance on helping children bereaved by suicide
- First Responders — Guidance for law enforcement, LOSS Teams …
Perhaps the figure is reeling from a loss so catastrophic that all one can do is scream to sky, to stars, to sun–to wherever forever is, to where forever is out of reach forever again.Beth Brown, My Forever Son, From Sorrow to Joy: How Pain Colors Loss
The suicide of a child of any age presents unique circumstances that can intensify and prolong the mourning process for parents, family members and friends. Suicide is believed to be a reaction to overwhelming feelings of loneliness, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness and depression. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the United States among 10-14 year olds and 15-24 year olds, and the second leading cause among 25-34 year olds.2017 The Compassionate Friends, USA
In-person Support Group Directories:
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (United States, Australia, Brazil, Canada and China)
- Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (United Kingdom)
“Thoughts from a Long-Term Survivor of Suicide Loss”
By Desiree Woodland
Jul. 26, 2019 – Thirteen years ago, my son took his life. At the time, I could not imagine living one more day or hour without him, much less these many years. His absence was a heavy weight. I could barely breathe. The overwhelming pain, and the intense longing I felt for him, seemed unendurable.
With the passage of time and the facing of grief, I have adjusted to living my life without my son. Will I always wish it could have been different? Of course. Ryan’s death was out of order: my child dying before me.
In many ways it feels like a dream that my child was ever here. The passage of time poses its own challenges. Cultivating hope over the long haul has required both tenacity and forgiveness. I have learned – and continue to learn – to forgive reality for what it is. Since losing my son, many changes have taken place in my heart. The loss changed my life’s trajectory. I am not the same person I was before Ryan died. There is a distinct before and after.
How have I changed?
My son accompanies me on this road that is paved with both sorrow and joy. Not his physical presence, but a deeper knowledge that he is still with me. He guides me as I walk, often stumbling, as I move forward to make life better for others as an offering to him.
I have become an advocate for youth mental illness awareness and suicide prevention. As a teacher and as a parent, I was not educated about mental illness and was in denial when it came to my own son. I now know that most people who die by suicide had a mental health disorder- whether unrecognized, undiagnosed, undertreated or untreated. Half of all serious mental illness begins by age 14, and yet often treatment doesn’t begin until ten years later.
Many survivors find that volunteering to support others facilitates their own healing, too. I am a facilitator for the Survivors of Suicide support group in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This has been part of my healing journey. I value the fragility of life and the sacredness of every story I hear, from others who have lost loved ones to suicide. I value the privilege of being a companion to other hurting parents along the road of loss.
I have also become involved with a local program called Breaking the Silence NM. The program offers school presentations across the state, designed to help young people be in touch with their own mental health, and identify when what they’re going through might go beyond typical adolescence. We want them to know that treatment works, and that there is no shame in either counseling or medication. Additionally, we focus on the strengths associated with talking with a trusted adult about their struggles without shame or embarrassment; the importance of getting support from their friends; and exercise, eating right, and avoiding alcohol and smoking.
My involvement in these things has helped me in my own continuing journey as a long-term survivor of suicide loss.
In 2016, in Chicago, I attended the first AFSP long- term survivors of suicide loss conference, called “Our Journey Continues.” The acknowledgement I felt at referring to myself as a long- term survivor was a refreshing relief. Grief is still grief, but society, and even we survivors, haven’t always known how to refer to ourselves. Long- term loss needs to be acknowledged in the suicide survivor community. We still need to be gentle with ourselves and take time to remember. As the author Rachel Naomi Remen says, we need to recognize the value of “revisiting our wounds to see what might have grown there.”
I sense that Ryan has left me with many gifts. I believe I am a better human being. I am less impatient. (Though not always!) I am less judgmental, and view life less through a black and white lens, but rather in shades of gray. I realize now that there is so much I don’t understand about our human lives, but I sense the mystery in them. Since Ryan’s loss, I have cultivated deeper friendships with others. I see the wisdom in my wound that offers a place of refuge and meaning not only for myself, but for others. I see more of the deep down of things, and have the sense that God is not hurried along in time. This understanding has allowed me to give myself permission to slow down and be more mindful in my life.
Coping with long-term loss is different than the more immediate loss of early grief. And somehow, we learn to find and use tools like journaling and writing poetry that lets in a little more light. We learn to be okay with the grief process, and maybe even to accept that process. We educate ourselves about suicide, and some of us find a way to heal our grief through suicide prevention advocacy, as well as the community found within AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walks, and International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.
This poem expresses the longing I feel for my son, even as my life moves forward.
Don’t fade from my mind like words written on a letter long ago.
The memory of you was vivid and shot through with color.
The brightness of your smile, the warmth in your hazel eyes, the joy of your laugh.
With the passage of time I am unable to imagine how you would look now.
I see you through the sepia tones of time.
Stay sharp, stay poignant.
Don’t leave me again.Desiree Woodland, “Thoughts from a Long-term Survivor of Suicide Loss,” AFSP
Coping with Impossible Grief: Losing a Child to Suicide
Nationally, suicide has emerged as the second leading cause of death for children ages 10-19 years old.
*Nearly 1 in 6 teens has seriously contemplated suicide in the past year.
*Suicide affects people of all backgrounds.
*Early identification of risk factors can aid behavioral health specialists in prevention strategies for youth at risk of suicide.
*Suicide is complex and tragic yet often preventable if communities are provided with the right tools.Beth Brown, My Forever Son, ” Where to Go for Support After Suicide Loss,” Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Center for Suicide and Research, My Forever Son
Books and Resources After Suicide Loss
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love.”Washington Irving
Healing After Suicide Loss
After Suicide. Hewett, J. (1980). Westminster Press.
After Suicide Loss: Coping with Your Grief. Baugher, R., & Jordan, J. R. (2002). Self-published (contact firstname.lastname@example.org).
Finding Peace Without All the Pieces: After A Loved One’s Suicide. Archibald, L. (2012). Larch Publishing.
Healing the Hurt Spirit: Daily Affirmations for People Who Have Lost a Loved One to Suicide. Greenleaf, C. (2006). St. Dymphna Press.
Life After Suicide: A Ray of Hope for Those Left Behind. Ross, E. B. (1997). Insight Books. Mourning After Suicide. Bloom, L. A. (1986). Pilgrim Press.
My Son, My Son: A Guide to Healing After a Suicide in the Family. Bolton, I. with Mitchell, C. (1984). Bolton Press.
No Time to Say Goodbye. Fine, C. (1999). Main Street Books.
Touched by Suicide: Hope and Healing After Suicide. Myers, M. F. & Fine, C. (2006). Gotham.
Helping Understand: Principles, Theory, Guidance
Devastating Losses: How Parents Cope With the Death of a Child to Suicide or Drugs. Feigelman, W., Jordan, J. R., McIntosh, J. L., & Feigelman, B. (2011). Springer.
Grief After Suicide: Understanding the Consequences and Caring for the Survivors. Jordan, J. R., & McIntosh, J. L. (2010). Routledge.
The Impact of Suicide. Mishara, B. L. (1995). Springer.
Left Alive: After a Suicide Death in the Family. Rosenfeld, L., & Prupas, M. (1984). Charles C. Thomas.
Living with Grief after Sudden Loss. Doka, K. (1996). Taylor & Francis.
Retelling Violent Death. Rynearson E. K. (2001). Brunner/Routledge.
Rocky Roads: The Journeys of Families through Suicide Grief. Linn-Gust, M. (2010). Chellehead Works.
Silent Grief: Living in the Wake of Suicide (revised edition). Lucas, C., & Seiden, H. M. (2007). Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Suicide and Its Aftermath: Understanding and Counseling the Survivors. Dunne, E. J., McIntosh, J. L., & Dunne-Maxim, K. (1987). Norton.
Survivors of Suicide. Cain, A. C. (1972). Charles C. Thomas.
Why Suicide?: Questions and Answers About Suicide, Suicide Prevention, and Coping with the Suicide of Someone You Know (revised edition). Marcus, E. (2010). HarperOne.
A Winding Road: A Handbook for Those Supporting the Suicide Bereaved. Linn-Gust, M., & Peters, J. (2010). Chellehead Works.
Personal Accounts: Lived Experiences with Suicide Grief
Artful Grief: A Diary of Healing. Strouse, S. (2013). Balboa Press.
Before Their Time: Adult Children’s’ Experiences of Parental Suicide. Stimming, Mary, & Stimming, Maureen. (1999). Temple University Press.
Blue Genes: A Memoir of Loss and Survival. Lukas, C. (2008). Doubleday.
Do They Have Bad Days in Heaven? Surviving the Suicide Loss of a Sibling. Linn-Gust, M. (2001). Bolton Press.
His Bright Light: The Story of Nick Traina. Steel, D. (1998). Delacorte Press.
In Her Wake: A Child Psychiatrist Explores the Mystery of Her Mother’s Suicide. Rappaport, N. (2009). Basic Books.
Real Men Do Cry. Hipple, E. (2008). Quality of Life Publishing Co.
Seeking Hope: Stories of the Suicide Bereaved. Linn-Gust, M., & Cerel, J. (2011). Chellehead Works.
Stronger Than Death: When Suicide Touches Your Life. Chance, S. (1992). Norton.
The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order. Wickersham, J. (2008). Mariner Books.
Words I Never Thought to Speak: Stories of Life in the Wake of Suicide. Alexander, V. (1991). Lexington Books.
For Children and Their Caregivers
After a Parent’s Suicide: Helping Children Heal. Requarth, M. (2008). Healing Hearts Press.
After a Suicide Death: An Activity Book for Grieving Kids. (2001). The Dougy Center.
But I Didn’t Say Goodbye: Helping Children and Families after a Suicide. Rubel, B. (2000). Griefwork Center.
Red Chocolate Elephants: For Children Bereaved by Suicide (includes DVD). Sands, D. (2010). Karridale Pty Ltd.
Someone I Love Died by Suicide: A Story for Child Survivors and Those Who Care for Them. Cammarata, D.T. (2009). Limitless Press.
from After a Suicide Resource Directory
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
SuicideData: United States State Fact Sheets
International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day
Each year, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention supports hundreds of large and small events around the world, in which survivors of suicide loss come together to find connection, understanding, and hope through their shared experience. Learn more
5 Common Myths About Suicide Debunked
Excerpts below can be found in their entirety at the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). 5 Common Myths About Suicide Debunked is a blog post by Kristen Fuller, M. D.
Within the past year, about 41,000 individuals died by suicide, 1.3 million adults have attempted suicide, 2.7 million adults have had a plan to attempt suicide and 9.3 million adults have had suicidal thoughts.Kristen Fuller, M.D., “5 Common Myths About Suicide Debunked,” NAMI Blog
5 Common Myths About Suicide Debunked
Here are some of the most common myths and facts about suicide.
Myth: Suicide only affects individuals with a mental health condition.
Fact: Many individuals with mental illness are not affected by suicidal thoughts and not all people who attempt or die by suicide have mental illness. Relationship problems and other life stressors such as criminal/legal matters, persecution, eviction/loss of home, death of a loved one, a devastating or debilitating illness, trauma, sexual abuse, rejection, and recent or impending crises are also associated with suicidal thoughts and attempts.
Myth: People who die by suicide are selfish and take the easy way out.
Fact: Typically, people do not die by suicide because they do not want to live—people die by suicide because they want to end their suffering. These individuals are suffering so deeply that they feel helpless and hopeless. Individuals who experience suicidal ideations do not do so by choice. They are not simply, “thinking of themselves,” but rather they are going through a very serious mental health symptom due to either mental illness or a difficult life situation.
Myth: Talking about suicide will lead to and encourage suicide.
Fact: There is a widespread stigma associated with suicide and as a result, many people are afraid to speak about it. Talking about suicide not only reduces the stigma, but also allows individuals to seek help, rethink their opinions and share their story with others. We all need to talk more about suicide.
Eliminating the stigma starts by understanding why suicide occurs and advocating for mental health awareness within our communities. There are suicide hotlines, mental health support groups, online community resources and many mental health professionals who can help any individual who is struggling with unhealthy thoughts and emotions.
My Forever Son: A Mother's Journey After Losing Her Son to Suicide
Parents of Suicides http://www.pos-ffos.com/
Friends and Families of Suicides http://www.pos-ffos.com/
These two online groups offer support, hope, and healing for parents, friends, and families of those bereaved by the suicide of a child.
The Stripping Away of A Child to Suicide: Where and How I Found Hope in Early Grieving
Have you ever felt the rain coming–smelled the wetness coming, the watering of the earth and the growth of life? Or felt the impending storm, clouds dark and swirling, all life tucking away into shelter, if it can, to bear out the heavy rain and threatening weather?Have you ever felt its cold sting against your skin, or been drenched in its sudden downpour? And have you ever just listened to the rain–pelting loudly on a rooftop or gentle and steady against a window pane?When it’s gentle, I sleep well and peacefully listening to the rain. And a sky rumbling with thunder and sharp lightening in the distance brings a certain edge, but I still find peace and safety when I am under shelter.
Parents of Suicides offers grief support calls, hosted by a moderator, where parents across the United States in all time zones call in at an appointed time. I was terrified of calling. I didn’t want to belong to a group whose common denominator was losing a son or daughter to suicide. When I called in, finally, on a Parents of Suicide grief call, I was grateful and overwhelmed, finding such release because the first thing I heard a woman say was “Hi, I’m Sarah, Justin’s Mom.” (Names have been changed because this is a closed online support group). Oh how wonderful to be able to say not just my name, but my child’s name along with my own: I am Beth, Dylan’s mom. Today, this is my strongest identity and the core of who I am–Beth, Dylan’s mom.
Sometimes, and especially in the early days, weeks, and months, a parent further along their grief journey would remind me to “just breathe.” Losing a child to suicide takes your breath away. Not everybody knows this, but parents of suicides always do. Breath, this simple act of inhale after the exhale, sustained me through the minutia of milliseconds that seemed to drag forever my first year of grieving.
A drop of water does not a river make, but many drops of water the Parents of Suicides the world over make a river flowing with life energy. Alone, I am bereaved, desperate, depressed, and sad. On Parents of Suicides, I find strength, power, and hope. I find what I need to get me through, whether for the moment, That life matters. That my child mattered. That my son, Dylan Andrew Brown, lived and loved, and that by keeping on keeping on, I live for him now too.We come bereaved and heartbroken, sad beyond means. Hope is found here. Help is found here. Possibility for keeping on keeping on is found here. Love is found here. And most importantly, other parents know that I am Beth, Dylan’s Mom. Always was, always will be. Here, I get to share about my son, the good, the difficult, the silly, funny memories, the precious, God, the so precious few memories of a lifetime’s worth of love.
Crisis & Support Numbers (US)