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.

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