Posted by: Jody Glynn Patrick | 09/22/2013

Considering suicide after the death of your child? Think again.

Early this past summer, I was contacted by email by a woman who inquired if I was a former police chaplain in the Milwaukee area in 1991. Well, yes, I did put on my chaplain’s bars when doing a death notification for police stations, though my actual position by 1991 had changed to crisis interventionist officer. That clued me that we were talking about a death and not a counseling session.

I didn’t recognize her name, but her title of “claims adjuster” made me a little nervous. It is not unusual to be contacted by the Wisconsin Bureau of Investigation, if they are opening a cold case, or the DAs office to review old testimony, etc., but this simple inquiry with no explanation made me very uncomfortable, obviously. So I replied “yes” and “why do you ask?”.

Kathy xxx explained in her reply that she believed I had done a death notification for her family. She added that her husband had died suddenly and unexpectedly from a brain tumor. Upon seeing me in her doorway wearing a chaplain’s uniform, she had felt both fear and anger, and she confessed feeling detached from God and her faith; she felt that God had, in fact, abandoned her. And so I had taken my cross necklace off of my neck and put it on hers, suggesting that she hold tight to it during her hardest times. “God sent me to you,” I had told her. “I will hold you up through this tragedy and stay with you until after the burial. We can do this together with God’s help, and we will.” And so we did.

I immediately remembered Kathy then, though she had remarried since and changed her surname. I remembered sitting with another family member who was mentally challenged, to try to explain why her beloved family member would never return. I remember making arrangements for the three-year old daughter to be readied for pickup at daycare, and then going with a grandmother to the location to bring her back into the family nucleus. I remember the funeral and the discussions afterward in my counseling office at the department and in the family’s living room as they struggled to create a new “normal”.

Now, all these years later, Kathy wanted to know if I would officiate at that little girl’s wedding, since she’s all grown up and in love. “My granddaughter will be the flower girl and she’ll be wearing that necklace during the service,” she added.

“It would be my privilege and it will be my gift to your daughter to marry her,” I agreed. “But I’d like to spend two hours with the bride and groom first; one in a condensed premarital counseling session after they fill out some survey forms, and the second hour to discuss the service they would like.” And so we did schedule and spend that time together.

Here’s what I was reminded of in that session, that I’d like to share with you today. Almost every single day, that beautiful daughter goes to her father’s grave — despite the fact that she has a step-father who more or less raised her and whom she dearly loves as well. Given the family dynamic today, she is the only one who goes to the cemetery; her mother advises it’s time to move on, and to always love her father of course, but to live in the world as it is today. With the family she has today.

The young woman feels closest to her father at the cemetery, since her memories of him are a child’s and not clearer than a blurry picture — more a sense of being held and loved and of being his little princess. She feels close to him in church, which is a problem in that her new groom isn’t religiously minded and prefers not to attend a church with her. When she thought of her wedding ceremony, the only dark hole she could imagine was an empty chair in the back, where she would imagine he would be sitting. She was still reeling from the death of a grandmother — her father’s mother — who was the one single person in the world still comfortable talking about him with her.

After that session, I asked Kathy to give her daughter a precious wedding gift — the gift of one hour in the cemetery, telling her stories about her father — sharpening the image of who he was. Also, we decided to put his picture and the grandmother’s picture on a small round table at the alter area of the banquet hall where the marriage was to be, and to leave an empty chair at the end of the front row in his honor, which the stepfather agreed to as well.

Last night, I married this young lady to the man she loves, and I admit getting a little choked up myself, mentioning her father during the service, as well as those who support her in her new life now.

“New life.” Now she will deal with another “new normal”, but this is and should be a blending, not an abrupt letting go.

Back to suicide. This woman child — the daughter — lost her father unexpectedly, with no answers available to satisfy a three-year old’s mind as to why. As she got older, people filled in the missing details with acceptable answers and she railed against cancer and the circumstances that took him away from her. Imagine, now, that she was given a different story ending, in which he chose to leave her to end his own pain.

In almost every case of adult suicide that is fully investigated, suicide is chosen to end pain — either mental or physical. Isn’t done to manipulate other people or to punish — to “show you” that you were to blame for ruining a life. Teenagers are more likely to do that immature, outward punishment act — to show a boyfriend/girlfriend the depth of a betrayal, forgetting the impact it will have on their parents, etc.. For mature adults, suicide is most often an act of capitulation, of avoidance, of voluntarily leaving an overwhelmingly painful situation or humiliation.

An adult also will often, however, minimize the impact of their action. They will imagine that ultimately people will be better off without them, etc., and this is my message today: that thinking is wrong-headed. It is a symptom of depression. It is not fact.

One person’s escape is another person’s prison. If the father had killed himself voluntarily, the mother would not have allowed his picture to be shown at the wedding. The storyline the daughter heard about him all of her life would have been entirely different — all of the stories about how much he loved her, all of the actual facts of their brief time together, would have been erased. Instead of inviting his spirit into the wedding, he would have been shunned, his name only whispered, and most likely, only whispered by his immediate family who would still  wonder WHY he opted out of a future like the one unfolding on that day.

Suicide is not cowardice; I’m not suggesting that. We all get to our breaking point in suffering. I got to my physical breaking point during childbirth with a broken tailbone after 28 hours of labor, when, screaming, I begged the doctors to kill me to end the pain (asking that they save the baby, however). I returned to that place of intense pain and anguish when the baby boy who tore me apart entering the world also ripped my heart in two when he  exited his life in a broken car. It’s harder to express when the pain is mental instead of physical, but it is just as devastating to the person experiencing it. I understand wanting to kill yourself. I wanted to kill myself. Many days. Many minutes. But I got past those because I did think again, and my lifetime experiences let me know that it would not make things easier for those people left behind. And I couldn’t do that to them.

Borrow from what I know and say, if only for the minute you need it: Think again. Somebody needs you at their wedding, their bedside, their family holiday table. You can do this with us to hold you up when you need it.

We’re here.


Responses

  1. Jody, it’s Alison. It has been nearly eight months since Lindsay was brutally and selfishly murdered, and I have hit a new real low. I can’t get out of bed. I have a husband who loves me and whom I love dearly, I have an adult son, Lindsay’s brother, who also loves me very much but who is very independent in his daily life, but Lindsay was the person who needed me the most, and the most central focus, inspiration and motivation in my life. The vast emptiness I experience in my life every day now since Lindsay died is overwhelming me. I just wish I could go to sleep now and never wake up. Sometimes the energy required just to exist is more than I can summon. I know my husband doesn’t know what to do. I am under medical care, etc. But it is impossible to convey to anyone else (except my counsellor) the yawning pit I see before me as my future. I do not want a life without my beloved daughter. There is no future I can envision without her in it. I don’t know what to do next. I don’t know how long this inability to find any motivation, any energy, any desire will last. I seem to be incapable of working my way out of this morass. I don’t know how to keep going. Is it “normal’ to feel this way eight months afterwards? This is the only website that I find gives me any comfort or solace….

  2. Alison, thank you for reaching out.

    Your “normal” is a new normal and it will change day to day. There is no right or wrong way to feel, just how you feel. You are in the first year of your incredible loss; the holidays loom. This is the greatest challenge, to be “normal” now.

    You wonder what to do. Every day you are doing the hardest job of hanging on, which is why you are so exhausted. But you are doing it. You can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, but trust us that hanging on is the first step to being able to cope and redefine your new “normal” without your daughter physically present, and all that it meant for you, being needed by her and loving her in a tangible way with touch and sound and smell and presence. I understand that is no longer possible, and when that gave your life meaning in the past, much of your work now is defining a new meaning. Going forward and bringing that love forward with you, when you cannot see and touch and hear her.

    This is our challenge.

    One thing to “do” is to remember something that gave you joy in the past that was yours alone, separate from your daughter’s presence, and revisiting it without guilt for being alive to feel pleasure. It might be listening to music in candlelight, if you cannot leave your bed that day. If you can, did you once enjoy taking an evening walk or holding hands with your husband in the park? Allow something other than grief to truly touch your soul — not just your surface existence, but you SOUL — perhaps only for a few moments at first, then for a minute, and then for 10 minutes. Fight your way back. This is hard work, Alison. People who have not lost children cannot comprehend how hard it is.

    When you are struggling to get out of bed, think about the legacy of the love you felt for your daughter. Let it strengthen you rather than drain you of your life’s light. Ask for her help. Her continuing love is an energy without end.

    If you cannot rise, imagine our community of caring bereaved parents sitting beside your bed, guarding you, helping ease your burden as you rest, as you begin to heal, and rest with the idea of trying to rise again when you awaken. We are here to help hold you up.

    There is a reason you are reaching out, and we are here. You are the reason we are here tonight, and you matter. You are not beyond reach. You are needed, even more than you know by an independent son. You matter.

  3. Reading this after losing my son in May 2017 – and today is the day I decided I want to live reading the last comments. “It’s harder to express when the pain is mental instead of physical, but it is just as devastating to the person experiencing it. I understand wanting to kill yourself. I wanted to kill myself. Many days. Many minutes. But I got past those because I did think again, and my lifetime experiences let me know that it would not make things easier for those people left behind. And I couldn’t do that to them.
    Borrow from what I know and say, if only for the minute you need it: Think again. Somebody needs you at their wedding, their bedside, their family holiday table. You can do this with us to hold you up when you need it.”

    Thank you.

  4. Thank you for the depth of your article.
    I lost my 25 year old son in 2013 to
    heart failure. I have another son who is married and has two daughters. His wife does not really like me, consequently her parents see the girls ten times more than I do. I have tried hard to connect with her. I also have bipolar depression. There are many times when I feel like I just cannot keep going. Your words helped.


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