Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
Marcia Gelman Resnick wrote “How I Survived the Suicide of My Son: 15 Tips for Grieving Parents” in 2019, 20 years after losing her son to suicide. She shares her experience surviving the suicide of her son alongside 15 tips that may be helpful to other parents grieving the loss of their child to suicide.
The article is published in full at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
How I Survived the Suicide of My Son: 15 Tips for Grieving Parents
Sept. 20, 2019- For 20 years, I have been healing from the loss of my son to suicide. I learned to survive one day at a time. I’ve put this list together, from one parent to another, in the hope that it will be of some help to other parents who are just starting this journey. You will survive.
- You are not alone. You may think that as a parent whose child took his or her life, you are on another planet, all by yourself: but there are many parents walking the same road. You don’t yet know them. Find an AFSP chapter in your community, make use of the support they offer, and connect with other survivors of suicide loss. There are many people enduring the same pain as you. We all understand.
- Get the help you need. After my son died, I found a therapist for my surviving son, as well as a grief counselor for myself. My husband and I continued to see our couple’s counselor. I eventually took anti-depressant meds. There is no shame in getting help. If you don’t have the energy to do it yourself, have a close friend find the appropriate therapist or support group for you. Speaking of which…
- Let your friends provide support in whatever ways you or they can think of. If I had a doctor’s appointment, I asked a friend to call in advance to tell the doctor what had happened, because I couldn’t bear the thought of answering the typical question, “So did anything important happen this year?” As another example, I’m a lawyer, and eventually after my son’s death, I had to appear in court for clients. I took a friend with me for support each time. Everyone is different. Your friends want to help. Let them be there for you.
- When you’re ready, re-connect with your regular routines. Before my son died, my daily routine included going to the gym. As emotionally shattered as I was, I continued to go. It wasn’t always easy, but in the end, it helped. Figure out what you liked to do before your child died. Knitting, reading, cooking, cross word puzzles, yoga, reality TV, painting. Everyone has their own thing. It will help you maintain your sanity.
- There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Do whatever feels comfortable for you, and don’t do anything you don’t want to do. You have a “pass.” If you are invited somewhere, and don’t want to go, you can say something like, “I’m not up to it, but please keep asking. Eventually I will accept your invitation.”
- When you go back to work, make sure you have a safe place to hide when you have a meltdown. Let those close to you know it will probably happen, and have them protect you as much as possible.
- It’s okay to smile and laugh. You are miserable enough. You don’t have to prove, or show, how sad you are to anyone.
- Plan ahead for holidays, or have several alternate plans, depending on how you’re feeling. Holidays can bring up a lot of complicated feelings after a loss. See how you feel that day, and do whatever feels right to you then.
- Try not to make any big decisions for at least a year. Don’t move out of your home. Don’t clean up your child’s room or their belongings until you are ready.
- Try your best not to spend a lot of time agonizing over the question of, “Why?” There is probably no good way to protect yourself from doing this. But try to keep in mind that no matter how long you think about the “why,” you may come up with possibilities, but never a conclusion.
- Know that you will always be your child’s mom or dad. You might wonder, “If I lost my only child, am I still a mother or father?” You raised your child, and can keep your child’s memory alive in meaningful ways, when you are ready. My son’s picture is on a memorial quilt. You can share happy memories of your child with others. Some people find that giving their child’s friends a special item of theirs is meaningful. Many raise awareness and funds through Out of the Darkness Walk teams, or by creating their own events in honor of the people they’ve lost. Whatever feels right to you.
- Many people feel guilty after the loss of a loved one to suicide. You might think, “I should have done more, or done things differently.” Our children did not come with instructions. Know you did the best you could. We would give our own lives to have our children back. It was not within our control. Taking one’s life is not a rational decision.
- Realize your child did not take their life to hurt you. You might feel angry; it’s a common response. Realize your child had tunnel vision in that moment, and just wanted to end their pain.
- Know how to deal with inappropriate questions, like people wanting details about your child’s death. It is none of their business unless they are close to you and you feel like sharing. You can simply say, “I do not want to discuss it.” Or, “This isn’t helping me right now.” You need consoling. You do not need to console others.
- When you’re ready, consider volunteering. Get involved with your local AFSP chapter. Whether it’s helping out with the annual International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, the Healing Conversations program, or any number of other ways you can get involved, I have found that once I had given myself time to process my loss, giving back to a community of fellow loss survivors aided me in my own grief journey.
We need to work hard not to be ashamed or embarrassed by the way our children died. Our children had an illness, just like cancer or any other disease. There’s no need to hide it. As survivors of suicide loss, we learn to survive and live a fulfilling, although different life than what we had expected. My hope is that you can use some of the ideas I’ve shared to help you find your own way forward.Marcia Gelman Resnick
The pain of grief is extremely intense as parents digest the finality of never seeing their child again and the loss of future hopes and plans.
While memories of the child flood their mind, they also experience a deep emptiness and unimaginable void in their lives.
Grief impacts a parent’s whole identity as well as the identity and security of other members of the family.The Compassionate Friends
More thoughts by Marcia Gelman Resnick, author of “How I Survived the Suicide of My Son: 15 Tips for Grieving Parents”
WHAT TO DO IF THIS HAPPENS
-People will ask you inappropriate questions- like wanting details about your child’s death. It is none of their business unless they are close to you and you feel like sharing. You can simply say “I do not want to discuss it” and hold your ground, even if they become annoying. Or “This isn’t helping me right now”. Or walk away if they are persistent. Do the same if someone approaches you with a sad, tormented face. Compassion for you is not the same as making you feel even worse than you already do. You need consoling, you do not need to console others.
-People will ask you how many children you have, which many consider a conversation starter. It’s also asked of someone who wanted, but could not have, a child. How you answer depends upon who is asking, and how you feel. Possibilities are: “I had two children but one died.” Or “one, or 2, or 10″.You do not have to answer any further questions unless you want to. If you decide to tell your sad story, try not to feel sorry for them or that you need to protect them.
At first you feel like you are walking with a huge boulder on your back. As time passes, the boulder stays the same but your back gets stronger. (Wise words from a fellow survivor).
Suicide notes are usually not helpful. If there is one, it usually says that you were a good parent and they love you, that everyone would be better off without them, etc. Remember our children were not in their right minds when they took their lives. They had a pain that they thought would never go away. They did not think about those left behind.
-Our children did not commit a crime. Try not to use “committed suicide” and correct others who do. “Died by suicide” or “took their life” is more appropriate, in my opinion.
-The stigma of suicide. We need to work hard not to be ashamed or embarrassed by the way our children died. Our children had an illness, just like cancer or any other disease. No need to hide it.
-Don’t sweat the small things. Unless someone is dead or dying, it is a small thing.
-You never get over it, but you learn to live with it.
WHEN YOU ARE READY
-When you are ready, if you so choose, do something to remember your
child. My son’s picture is part of a memorial wall, I made a square for a memorial quilt. Every year, I host an event at Belmont racetrack in honor of my son, who loved horses. We built a softball field at Doug’s camp, dedicated to him. Whatever is appropriate for you.
-Share happy memories of your child with others.
-Some people find that giving their child’s friends a special item oft heirs is meaningful.
-You learn who your true friends are. And try to rid yourself of toxic people (those who take more than they give, or stress you). You need to preserve whatever energy you have, and take care of yourself and your family.
-Help others.Marcia Gleman Resnick
Give yourself time, time and more time. It takes months, even years, to open your heart and mind to healing. Choose to survive and then be patient with yourself. In time, your grief will soften as you begin to heal and you will feel like investing in life again.The Compassionate Friends, Surviving Your Child’s Suicide
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