What to do for… a mom whose son commits suicide.

An interview with someone who’s been through it:

My son committed suicide – He was 23. I was 47.

My Story/The Circumstances:
Ted had fought Crohn’s Disease and Depression his whole life, it seems.  In 2003, he had part of his colon removed and was, for the first time in memory, completely symptom free.  He went away to college and had a full year of healthy, happy existence.  He had his health, lots of friends, a couple of very good ones, and was excelling in school.  He came home for Christmas and we had a wonderful visit.  He showed us some of the projects he was working on for school, and he was excited about his future.  And the following March, he surprised everyone by ending his own life.  He had fought depression for many years, but we really thought he had crossed the bridge and was going to make it.  I have no evidence of this, but I will always assume that the Crohn’s had returned, as we knew it eventually would, and he just couldn’t go back to that misery again.

What were some things that others did for you that helped the MOST:
My brother, Quintin, who is a Christian minister, stepped in and offered to handle the details of the funeral service.  I was (and am) so thankful for that because I had never really even been to a funeral before. Quintin talked to Ted’s friends and collected music from them that had been meaningful to Ted.  I would never have thought of it, and yet music was so important to Ted.  So I’m so thankful that the service included some of his favorite songs and artists.

Ted was away at school in Indianapolis, and we were living in New York.  So the initial notification was made to my sister, who also lives in Indy.  I am thankful to her for asking that the NY State Police make the notification to us.  That’s not the kind of news anyone should get over the phone.  I’m grateful to that cop who must have hated getting that assignment.

I’m thankful to my best friend who came to the funeral and just  stood with me.  We had raised our kids together and had shared all the ups and downs over the years.

Headstone with Ted's self-portrait

Some of Ted’s teachers came to the funeral and brought me samples of his school work.  He was studying graphic design and was very talented. I’m thankful to have these mementos of his creativity and his passion.  One of his assignments had been to create a self portrait using only the characters on the keyboard.  The image he created was so true to his persona, we actually had it engraved on his headstone.  He would have loved that.

Ted’s friends put together a CD of photos that included Ted in his college activities.  I cherish those photos.

My sister and her family opened their home to us and to all the visiting throng.  It was a huge inconvenience and a financial burden as well to house and feed all of us.  But that’s what sisters do.  I love that woman.

What were the WORST things that others DID or SAID:
One of my brothers, and two people that we had considered very dear friends, didn’t come to see us.  We were very hurt and disappointed by their absence.

What do you WISH someone would have done for you:  After the funeral, we returned to New York and went back to work and school and normal life.  But a mother doesn’t just put it behind you and move on.  Weeks later, even years later, I still needed to grieve and I longed to talk about Ted.  But I think the topic was uncomfortable for people, so I kept it to myself.  I wish there had been more follow-up later on.

Do you have any gift ideas or care package items that would have been helpful/useful during this time?
Immediately after Ted’s death, we were showered with love and support.  But then a week later, that was all gone.  I encourage anyone who has a friend or family member in this position to stay in touch afterwards.  It’s not important what you put in the package, it’s just the fact that you cared enough to send your love.

Any other suggestions for readers:
Give the grieving person the opportunity to talk, and be aware of birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries.  Mark your calendar so you’ll remember to take note of the dates that will be hardest for them.  Just a note saying, “I know today’s a tough one for you and I’m thinking about you”.  That sort of thoughtfulness is really appreciated.

Can you give us some emotional insight to what someone in this situation is feeling/going through:
I was heartbroken, of course.  But I was also angry at Ted, and you hate being angry when you know there’s no reconciliation coming.  And I felt guilt for not having been a better mother.  And I remember the first day I didn’t cry, and I remember feeling guilty about not crying.

But I want to let you know that time really does heal all wounds – even that one.  And you really can go through something that awful and recover from it.  You can learn to live and laugh and even thrive, if you have the support and love of the people around you.

If someone you know is hurting, and you don’t know what to say, just tell them “I know you’re hurting and I don’t know what to say.”  And let them take the conversation where they need it to go.

A special Thank You to Marianne Carlson for sharing her story and giving us such personal insight.


9 Responses to “A mom whose son commits suicide”

  1. Thank you so much for sharing such an painful time. I just lost my 21 year old son, and I can relate to so many of the points. After the first couple of weeks, the cards and phone calls die off so quickly and the silence can seem deafening. The shock wears off and it feels very lonely suddenly.

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. I am trying to help my 20 year old son right now who is in profound depression. I am alone with this and him. Nobody to help us, and even though I have been a nurse for many years, I am unable to help him. His depression takes the form of sullen irritability and anger. It is so hard to be around him, yet I can’t leave him for I fear he will end his life. I wish I knew what to do. It’s killing me and him.

    • Trish, so sorry about what you are going through with your son… Hoping you find a professional that can help him (and you) manage this depression. Take care. Thinking of you both.

  3. IT IS SO SAD THERE IS NO HELP FOR DEALING WITH THIS SORROW. ONLY GOD KNOWS THE “WHYS” WE ASK, AND MAYBE ONE DAY, WE WILL
    HAVE ANSWERS. KEEP THE FAITH IN HIM STRONG!

  4. Thank you for sharing. My boss’s son committed suicide 2 months ago & it breaks my heart every time I see her & the sadness in her eyes. Your story is very helpful, but I’m sorry for your loss…

  5. I just met with a mom yesterday whose son committed suicide over four months ago. I hugged her, felt her pain, offered my support and friendship and listened to her talk. She’s involved in a couple of support groups for grieving parents and going to counseling, both of which are good but she’s still so depressed and very sad. She realizes that things will get better with time and that she has to travel through the milestones first, which can and will be very painful. My instincts told me that just by being there and listening to her was helpful but nothing will remove the deep and abiding pain of that tragedy – only God’s presence and time. Her family has been loving and very supportive but it’s still a rough road. I will continue my part in being a friend to listen and pray for her. That’s about all we can do for someone who is grieving.

  6. Sam's mother says:

    Hello,
    You are very brave for sharing your thoughts and feelings. My son took his life a few weeks ago and what you have written has helped me enormously.
    Thank -you.

  7. Victoria Klohr says:

    I found this looking for a way to be there for a friend who’s 18 year old son died by suicide yesterday. We’ve not spoken for long time and I really don’t know what to say. Thank you for sharing, you have given me some great ways to just let her know I am thinking of her.

  8. Thank you so much for your sharing.
    One of our friends’ son just committed suicide.
    Your post was helpful in reaching out and also in what was not useful.
    God bless you – the sacred ache ebbs and flows for a long time doesn’t it? Strength to you…

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