Carrying Ache and Love in Suicide Loss
My life both imploded and exploded the day Dylan died. Inside I lay dead and dying; outside my inside self, I couldn’t eat, sleep, work, move. The pain of his suicide felt sharp, gripping, piercing, painful. My stomach felt like a lead block. Heavy. Weighted. Sick. As if an arrow had punctured clean through my heart, staying stuck inside me, rib-cage to backbone. My lungs didn’t want to breathe.
“Carrying Ache and Love” does not do justice to the piercing pain I felt during acute grief. My love for my son was infinite and deep, but his suicide immersed me in the utter chaos of traumatic death. I lived only a pain that consumed me and everything in my life. I didn’t feel I would make it through my first year of grieving. I had lost my only child to suicide.
I could only exhale my interior pain—screaming in my head, in my nightmares, out loud in my home, weeping, keening. Tears ran down my cheeks even when sleeping. Frantic, I searched wildly. For my son. For my sanity. For a grip on my life, such as it was.
Much as a compromised immune system is vulnerable to opportunistic infection, so too a diseased brain is made assailable by the eventualities of life. The quickness and flexibility of a well mind, a belief or hope that things will eventually sort themselves out—these are the resources lost to a person when the brain is ill.Kay Redfield Jamison, M.D., Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide
I felt paralyzed with grief. I had no words. I couldn’t write. Grief consumed me. Heartache consumed me. I became physically ill. Hope was elusive and toughing it out meant watching who I was go away, forever, and ever and always. I could feel myself slipping away.
I felt hopeless and helpless, and I knew that if I were to make it out alive of my now-life’s forever nightmare, I had to find help, solace, and support. I knew I had to know how others, especially other parents, especially other parents of an only child, made it through the first year.
Someone said early on that I would forget my first year of grieving, that, like childbirth, the pain eases, softens, blends into and then just moves into the distant background. That someone who told me that had never lost a child.
Seeking an Understanding of Suicide
Because I felt so alone (I didn’t know anyone who had lost a child to suicide), I knew I had to seek help. Initially, during the week of planning my son’s funeral and burial, someone came to my house to talk to me about support groups in my area. She cautioned me not to join a grief group (the irony of which didn’t escape me then or now), as some of those bereaved members of support grief groups might not be empathetic or even sympathetic to a suicide loss.
I had no experience with suicide loss. The stigma around a death that seems chosen (it is not, any more than cancer or heart disease are chosen), represents a profound misunderstanding of suicide.
Losing a child to suicide also stymies those who do want to offer their condolences and support to the bereaved parent. It can be difficult to know what to say to bereaved parents in the wake of such a devastating loss.
In my early months of acute grief, I sought out support groups locally that dealt specifically with suicide loss. I found an online community of bereaved parents who have lost a child to suicide. Still my words eluded me, though by late July, I had begun searching for any and everything about the suicide of a child, parent of a suicide, why suicide, losing an only child to suicide.
At the beginning of my grief, I read voraciously as many books as I could find about suicide and suicide loss of a child. I still pursue learning about current suicide research. I learned I was not alone as a parent who had lost a child to suicide.
I wrote at all hours of the night to my online support group of parents who have lost a child to suicide. Other parents in the group replied, sharing their experience and acknowledging my grief.
Learning About Suicide Research
I have learned much about suicide these past 10 years: (1) the amount of suicide research is increasing and ongoing; (2) the quality, quantity, and caliber of suicide research is vast; (3) suicide awareness is being introduced and implemented in school systems amongst teachers, students, and administrative staff; (4) suicide epidemiologists are studying why suicides amongst children ages 10-14 are increasing; and (5) the stigma of suicide is being broken as the news media and public are educated more about death by suicide (semantics are everything: efforts are ongoing to change “commit suicide” to “death by suicide”).
Published in March 2023, Biological Factors Underpinning Suicidal Behaviour: An Update includes numerous studies on suicide by collective researchers who seek a better understanding of suicide to address the growing suicide rate internationally, particularly amongst young people.
Suicide, a major global health concern and a leading cause of death among young people particularly, is caused by a cascade of interactions, reactions and alterations that when combined may pave the way towards SB. The complexity in decoding SB is due to the interconnected basis, the branched probabilities and the major limitations against it, rendering research through this phenomenon a very convoluted journey to disentangle the real combination of causes leading to suicidality.Abou Chahla MN, Khalil MI, Comai S, Brundin L, Erhardt S, Guillemin GJ. Biological Factors Underpinning Suicidal Behaviour: An Update. Brain Sciences. 2023; 13(3):505. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci13030505
While the researchers initially summarize their findings by stating that “In summary, there is no single aspect behind suicidal behavior,” the researchers conclude their extensive research studies by providing hope for future studies that will target specific biological:
The understanding of SB [suicidal behavior] represents the foundation to cure/prevent it. Given that the different underpinnings of suicide described here including neuroinflammation, engaged inflammatory pathways, alterations in specific brain regions, altered regulation of epigenetic mechanisms, malnutrition, social experiences, childhood traumas, social awareness, psychological factors, and relative mental vulnerability, it is very likely that the field will have to develop toward precision medicine and targeted therapy rather than a one-drug-fits-all model.Abou Chahla MN, Khalil MI, Comai S, Brundin L, Erhardt S, Guillemin GJ. Biological Factors Underpinning Suicidal Behaviour: An Update. Brain Sciences. 2023; 13(3):505. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci13030505
Carrying Ache and Love in Suicide Loss
Time does not heal all wounds, but throughout the passage of time these past 10 years, my grief has evolved and changed shape. Who I was before Dylan took his life and who I am now are not the same, but at least there is a version of me to carry on.
Dylan’s memorial date (“anniversary” never seems befitting of such a solemn remembrance) as well as his birthday are still difficult days to move through. And holidays will never be the same. My world came to a screeching halt 10 years ago, but I have found a way to move forward in grief.
I have grown accustomed to carrying ache and love. Now, after all this time, Ache and Love walk together in my heart. Holding hands, one is never without the other, but ache and love have carried me—and carry me still.
Carrying Ache and Love in Suicide Loss
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