Mother of a Teenage Suicide
I am the mother of a young suicide. Changed, forever changed, by the death of my 20-year-old son, Dylan Andrew Brown, 3 years and nearly 4 months ago. I hate that word–ago. Long ago. Oh, you know, awhile ago. Ago–to go, has been, past tense, once was, not to be again.
I lost Dylan to suicide on June 25, 2012 at 1:52 a.m. He had texted his close friend, his growing up forever best friend, just an hour earlier. “Hey bro, what’s up?” “Not much, how ’bout you?” “Bout the same.” Dylan’s last words to someone he had known for more than a decade, someone who was frequently at our house because we were neighbors, a running buddy, a fellow gamer, a band mate–Dylan on guitar, his close friend on drums.
The two of them were closer than brothers, called each other brother, knew and spoke more into each other’s lives much of most days, 5 days a week at school, playing after school–football, basketball, skateboarding. Pizza, big breakfasts I’d cook from scratch–bacon, fried eggs, toast, orange juice, milk, fried potatoes, a close, intimate suburban suburb. Good kids, good homes, “A” students, top-notch students, athletes, and musicians, in band, doing all things together, hanging out on weekends, staying up too late talking and texting, sharing hopes and dreams and visions of their futures.
Shock, Denial, Guilt, Anger, Depression-and guilt, over and over again guilt, have churned through me since losing my son. There hasn’t been anything resembling an orderly process through each of these difficult feelings. When Dylan died in June of 2012, I felt complete shock and an overwhelming numbness. I felt shut down and as if in a mist or fog-or perhaps even behind a veil-where nothing felt quite real. I functioned as if on autopilot.
Guilt came nearly immediately. What had I done? What had I missed? What if I had been there with my son? Why couldn’t I keep him safe? Why couldn’t I protect him?
The Compassionate Friends, Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
The suicide of a child can raise painful questions, doubts and fears. You may question why your love was not enough to save your child and may fear that others will judge you to be an unfit parent. Both questions may raise strong feelings of failure. Many bereaved parents wrestle with these feelings, but in time come to a place where they understand their child made the choice to end their life.
Dealing with Depression
Depression settled immediately into all that I am. Why didn’t my son want to stay? Why wasn’t I able to stop him from taking his life? I lost my past and my future the day Dylan died. He is my only child, and I love him beyond words. “If Only” haunts me even now, and guilt? My depression and guilt are one in the same.
DepressionThe Compassionate Friends, Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
Lack of energy, sleep problems, inability to concentrate, not wanting to talk with others, and the feeling there is nothing to live for are all normal reactions in bereavement. Situational depression, as opposed to clinical depression, should eventually subside. This type of depression can be helped by integrating moderate physical activity, plenty of rest and water, and a nutritious diet into a daily routine. Try to allow family and friends to take care of you. You don’t have to be strong. Try to stay connected with people you value and trust. Talking with others who have been through a similar situation may also help you to cope. If the depression does not appear to lessen over time, you may want to talk with a qualified professional who can determine how best to help you.
Guilt and RegretThe Compassionate Friends, Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
Parents, family, friends, classmates, and even coworkers often have feelings of guilt and regret following a child’s suicide. “If only” is a phrase many find themselves repeating over and over. Intellectually, you may come to understand that your child’s decision to end their life was their own. Emotionally, however, it may take much longer for you to accept that you are not responsible. Be patient with yourself. Letting yourself fully feel an emotion is often an important part of processing and working through it.
Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
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.
While mental illness often plays a role in suicide, not everyone who dies by suicide is mentally ill. Some families have experienced years of treatments, hospitalizations and medications with their child, while some experience none at all.
Sometimes there are warning signs of the person’s intentions. However, clues may be so disguised that even a trained professional or counselor may not recognize them. Occasionally there are no discernible signs and the child’s suicide becomes a catastrophic decision that may never be understood.
There is a change taking place in the terminology when talking about suicide. The term “died by suicide” is being adopted. This new language is reflective of the changes in our understanding and compassion as we move away from the harsh statement and stigma of the words “committed suicide”, which can be offensive to families whose children have taken their own lives. The Compassionate Friends, Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
Some days are easier than other. Today is not such a day. Today’s a day I awakened in tears, my head buried in shame in my pillow, my heart wide open and longing and grieving for a child and son and cusp-of-young-adult man I love and adore with all that I am, all the time, in everything I do.
I only know to do what I know how to do, routine, ritual, move–even when all of me is grinding down, step feet out of bed, push through, make tea, make something–eat, read, come to. . .come to.
This too shall pass, but when? When? It is mid-afternoon and still this hangover of depression, of suicide, of wide-open grief. I look to my cat. She opens her eyes for the picture, then right back to dozing.
A cat’s life, slumbering through the day, 18-plus hours of napping, drifting off, a hazy, filtered kind of life.
Living in the Surreal Fog
I know this kind of life now. 18-plus hours a day of living in the surreal fog, this veiled shroud of living each breath as the mother of a suicide. There are simply no words to describe this kind of numbing out, this haze through which I must glimpse the world. I’m here, but not here. Not really when all of me either surfaces and spills over wide open in sorrow and pain or else numbs out and assumes the facade I must wear and be to even marginally fit in. I am always with Dylan, even when seemingly not so. These are two disparate states of being–either faking it and wearing the masque of living in the moment, or else cracking open in despair and hopelessness. I wish I could choose–like clothes to wear or whether or not to clip my hair back–to numb out and feel detached and separate from, or to just be real and let my insides outside.
In the end, I know Dylan struggled with this too, because my confusion and torment between living between who I am inside and who I must be outside is not just about grieving his death by suicide. Dylan was saddled–and I am saddled, with depression, that ugly sick monster who feeds off sucking you dry from everything you knew you loved. The one with daggers for horns and an unquenchable fire to consume all that you once knew of life–a childlike joy, a fascination for a new day, gratitude to be here now, fun in the moment, the ability to laugh, love, play, let go, take it easy, follow through, achieve, desire, plan, hope, dream, do, be.
DisillusionmentThe Compassionate Friends, Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
Often parents find themselves in a spiritual crisis and question their beliefs or feel betrayed by God. Religious concerns about the hereafter may also surface. “Why did God let this happen?” is a question we may never know the answer to. Talking about spiritual and philosophical questions with other parents who have experienced a suicide may be helpful. For those with concerns of a spiritual nature, it could be helpful to find a gentle, caring and nonjudgmental member of the same faith and open yourself to that person.
Dylan made it 15 years in the jowls of depression, all the while being chewed up and spit out repeatedly in an effort to chew the living life out of my son. And then, and then. . .sigh, . . .
June 25th, 2012, Monday, Dylan took his life.
Depression hurts. Left untreated, depression kills. Even treated, depression rallies and rails against any sort of containment. Depression lies in wait. Dylan was seeking help. Starting medications. But depression is an illness. And illness never waits for medications to work–And death waits for no one.
Ideas to Help You Cope
The ideas below are ones that helped me cope with my grief. Perhaps they will help you too.
- Talk about your child’s death with family members and discuss your feelings of loss and pain. Talk about the good times you had as well as the times that were not so good. It can be helpful and therapeutic to express feelings rather than to internalize them. Giving the gift of tolerance for all family members to grieve in their own way allows each person to feel validated in their own unique grief experience. Keep in mind that everyone’s grief journey is as unique as the relationship they had with the child that died. You may find it helpful to write your feelings or to write a letter to your child; this can be a safe place for you to express some of the things you were not able to say before the death.
- Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to let your friends know what you need when they ask; they want to help.
- Consider becoming involved with a self-help bereavement group such as The Compassionate Friends. Through sharing with others who have walked a similar path, you may gain some understanding of your reactions and learn additional ways to cope. Seek professional support and family counseling if necessary. These ideas appear in full at “The Compassionate Friends”, Surviving Your Child’s Suicide