Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
Suicide is Not a Choice
Stopping the Stigma of Suicide
Suicide is not a blot on anyone’s name; it is a tragedy-Kay Redfield Jamison
The Stigma of Suicide
As much as I respect and value online resources and support for parents whose child dies by suicide, I vehemently disagree with any resource that states suicide is a choice. Suicide is not a choice; suicide is not a decision.
For all the strides we’ve made forward with understanding mental health, the Stimga of Suicide is still currently entrenched in even some reputable support groups.
This thinking is naive and outdated. Suicide is not a choice anymore than death by any other disease is a choice. Mental illness is not “all in your head thinking” anymore than physical illness is “all in your body” thinking. We don’t choose disease states, we don’t choose mental illness, and “Suicide is not a blot on anyone’s name; it is a tragedy,” Kay Redfield Jamison
“Don’t Say It’s Selfish: Suicide is Not a Choice”
John Ackerman, Nationwide Children’s Hospital
Suicide Is Not “Selfish”
Viewing suicide as a choice promotes the misunderstanding that people who engage in suicidal behavior are selfish. Selfishness has been defined by Merriam-Webster as “seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.” Suicide does not generate pleasure, advantage or well-being. People who take their own lives commonly feel like a burden to others or experience intense emotional pain that overwhelms their capacity to continue with life. Making others feel guilty is typically the furthest thing from their mind.John Ackerman, PhD, Nationwide Children’s Hospital
We often underestimate how many factors contribute to an outcome as complex and final as suicide. Those who experience the kind of emotional pain associated with suicide do not typically want to die; they wish for an end to unbearable emotional pain and, often, the resources that allow them to hold on aren’t available. Individuals who struggle with thoughts of suicide usually have a hard time thinking flexibly and their ability to see an end to pain and a life worth living is greatly compromised.John Ackerman, PhD Nationwide Children’s Hospital
Mother of a Teenage Suicide
I am the mother of a young suicide. Changed, forever changed, by the death of my 19-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. . . . [Suicide is not a choice]
Nothing can prepare you for what happens when your child dies by suicide. It is truly living out a nightmare from which you cannot awaken. Indeed, “grief is an extraordinarily powerful constellation of emotions that can initiate a chain reaction of biochemical events in the body” (Understanding a Broken Heart – The Physiologyy of Grief)Beth Brown, Struggling with Guilt After Your Child’s Suicide-A True Tale of Two Mothers
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.
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.The Compassionate Friends, Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
Guilt and Regret
I am in my tenth year of learning to keep on keeping on after losing my only child, my beloved 20-year-old son, to suicide on June 25, 2012. My life forever changed that day and who I was died too.
A great and terrible Tsunami swept in and through everything I knew and loved and cared about in life, and all that I was and loved and cared about was swept out into a violent, retching ocean, infinite fathoms deep, defying any earthly description here, blacker than a starless night. I couldn’t hear, see, be, hold onto, reach for, grasp, touch, feel anything familiar or loved or comforting.
I couldn’t find my son and reached, grasped, searched for him for days, weeks, months on end. When I came to, I realized that somehow, I was still alive and that Dylan had been washed out to sea. I had finally surfaced from the ferocity of the storm and there I was, alone without my son. I didn’t want to live without him.
Suggestions for Survivors of Suicide Loss
Beyond Surviving: Suggestions for Survivors
By Iris 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.Iris Bolton, 25 Suggestions for Survivors of Suicide [Loss}
Learning to Want to Live Again
I have had to learn to live again. To learn to want to live again. I’ve gone deeply within the darkest, blackest, starless night, oceans deep, galaxies wide, to get my insides outsides, to release the soul screams, to hold clasped hands and fractured body, mind, and soul over a heart raw and weeping.
I have wept infinite tears, carried the weight of mourning and grieving, fallen apart, kept on keeping on only because of my family and friends’ carrying me when I could not take a single step forward. I have been awash in grief, alive in my life’s greatest tragedy.
A deep, deep soul ache settles in that never goes away. Not in the first year of grief, not in the 2nd and 3rd years of my grieving, not even now after nearly a decade of grief. Wanting to live past my son’s death seemed impossible. Especially in the beginning. Especially in that first year. I had to be reminded to breathe-just breathe.Beth Brown, My Forever Son, Just Breathe, excerpt from Suicide Changes Everything-Struggling to Survive Grief After the Suicide of My Son
But I have held on to hope, even when hope seemed farther away than I could reach. I have joined support groups, including online support groups Where to Go for Support After Suicide Loss , and I continue to read books and online resources for support for parents whose child has died by suicide Books and Resources
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.
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.
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
That All of Love Could Sweep Time Back That All of Love Could Sweep Time Back Should’ve, Would’ve, Could’ve, If I’d only Come to See, That might I future forward live To see all eternity. That I might know when and where somehow, And here and now then see, To erase the dark and stay…Read More
I Want to Believe– I Want to Believe- –that with enough love and laughter, books and reading, friends and family, children grow up to be happy –the stage is set early for dreams to come true: Skies dazzle in brilliant blue, clouds drift idly, stretches of pastures and woodlands lend serenity -all families stick together–even…Read More
“When Someone Takes His Own Life” Excerpt from “The Healing of Sorrow” Norman Vincent Peale In many ways, this seems the most tragic form of death. Certainly itcan entail more shock and grief for those who are left behind than any other. And often the stigma of suicide is what rests most heavily on those…Read More
Surviving Your Child’s Suicide Suicide is Not a Choice Current research absolutely supports the validity of mental illness. Current research and researchers in the mental health field know indelibly that suicide is not a choice your child makes. Beth Brown, My Forever Son Stopping the Stigma of Suicide The Stigma of Suicide As much as…Read More
The Pain of Suicide Video: Learning More About Suicide 10 Commonalities of Suicide Below are 10 commonalities of suicide, identified by suicide expert, Edwin Shneidman, author of The Suicidal Mind. “The Suicidal Mind” by Edwin Shneidman The suicide of a child of any age presents unique circumstances that can intensify and prolong the mourning process…Read More
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.Read More