I see my life as two separate pieces. The life I had before my son died, and the life after.
This new life is not easy. It keeps moving forward solely because I wake up in the morning and get out of bed. My feet feel like they are mounted in cement. My heart and chest are heavy. I feel nauseous as if I’m about to make a speech or go bungee jumping. These feelings never go away. They are part of this new life.
My old life is now foreign to me. Even though I remember my son like he was just here at the house visiting, I know I will never get that life back. I am watching it drift away over the horizon.
I’ve worked my entire adult life. I have a master’s degree, goals for my career, I’m able to contribute materially to the financial support of my family—but my children are my world. Every dream for the future included them, being with them as they grew into adults. My two children were four years and nine months apart; he was older. He was so gentle, patient and caring with his sister. They fought, of course, as kids do. But as they got older, they become closer. He would brag to his friends about her and proudly hang her artwork in his apartment. He was so proud of her.
In one instant, my dreams changed forever. His father and I lost the boy we raised to develop his own life. His sister lost her only sibling—someone who was supposed to be with her to share new life experiences. We only had him with us for 23 years.
People who haven’t lost a child try to relate to my experience. Some share what they would do and how they would feel, but they really can’t and shouldn’t try. My therapist told me that, though it’s well-intentioned, most parents truly cannot put themselves in that place mentally because it would be too unbearable. I’ve been told that losing a child is the worst tragedy anyone should have to face. I agree.
What to do? How to move on without him in my world? I spent the first three months going through his phone, his computer, his notebook, trying to find answers. I talked with his friends and coworkers, hoping to understand his suffering. These efforts offered some clarity, but they really didn’t help. The feeling of guilt just compounded.
Everything seems so hard, and it feels like a constant fight. I wish I could leap forward in time to when I am near the end of my life and able to stay in that future time. I would have lived my life; that future place would be easier.
With the recent report release by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) covering the increase in suicide deaths, there has been an increase in media coverage on suicide prevention. ABC News chief medical correspondent, Doctor Jennifer Ashton, shared on “Good Morning America” her personal experience when her ex-husband took his life. She said the family left behind (also called “survivors of suicide”) can experience shame, guilt, anger and blame. I feel all these things. These are my daily struggles in addition to denial and longing.
But I still get out of bed every day for my daughter. I want to help her through this. Together, we sought out mental health care. Mental health directories are vast, and they default by distance from your location. You cannot sort on the category “bereavement of a child due to suicide.” The professional bios are too generic, and it is too time consuming to research.
During my first encounter with a mental health professional, they just listened and gave me a hug at the end of 45 minutes. This was nice at first but not ultimately what I needed. I then saw a therapist referred from a support group. This therapist spent the first 25 minutes talking about her billing practices so she did not have deal with insurance.
I would ask these providers for medical materials on specific subjects. They would never follow through. Finally, I found someone who would. It was a stressful, expensive and long process.
Because my daughter is over eighteen, it was hard to help her through the medical treatment access process and insurance due to privacy laws. It is so burdensome and foreign to someone of her age. I could see where at some point she would be tempted to just give up. It was an effort to find the right fit, but I think we’re both there now.
I also attend a support group through Survivor’s Resources that my friend connected me to about a month after my son died. Her neighbor’s son had taken his life, several years before. She called me while she was driving. She pulled off the road to look for a support group in my area. At first I hesitated as I was not ready to hear other people’s stories. But once I got myself there, they quickly became my lifeline. Going there is the one thing I do for myself each week. They are like me. People are at different stages in their grief, and those who are further along help me understand I am not “crazy” to feel the way I do at each point in time in my journey.
I am so thankful for our brave friends who continue to be with us while we are grieving, who really want to know how we are doing, who let us talk about our son, who laugh and cry with us and who help us remember.
So now, in this new life, I write. I think of my son every minute of every day. Writing about my journey, and about him, helps me relieve the pumped-up feelings inside me. I write to honor him. I also write so perhaps those in the same situation as me know they are not alone, and there is a voice for them.
Peggy has been married for thirty years, has a meaningful job, comfortable living, good friends and close family. Her family has been the most important part of her life. On March 10, 2018, the police informed Peggy that her son had died by suicide. He was twenty-three years old. Peggy is now working through her shattering loss.