Updated: Oct 8, 2021
By Theresa Anthony, Author of My 13th Station
It has been over seven years since I lost my beautiful 25-year-old son to suicide. Not one hour goes by that somewhere within my heart, soul, and psyche I am not disturbed by that reality. The pain of losing a child in any manner is horrific, leaving a gaping hole in your heart, never to be made whole again. The pain of losing a child to suicide is a whole different kind of devastating.
Survivors of a suicide loss carry the burden of the loved one’s crushed spirit, the lowest possible point in their earthly life that led to the decision to end their pain. There is no way a mother can avoid this transfer of pain to oneself. That lifeblood link between a mother and their child never ends, no matter how old the child becomes. We feel our child’s pain, whether or not they communicate it verbally to us. It just travels through space and permeates our being, even after their death.
For me as his mom, that is the worst of all the fallout, realizing how much emotional agony my son was in at that moment when he took his life. I rarely even allow myself to consider it, that is how heavy it is in my heart. To think that this lovely human being—a son, a father, a sibling, a friend, a grandson, a cousin, a nephew, an uncle—was so distraught and hopeless that he saw no other way out is so very painful to me.
Even after seven years I struggle with those what-ifs and whys that will plague me for life. As a mom, you just expect yourself to be able to fix things, to solve dilemmas and find solutions. Losing a child to suicide leaves you feeling like you have failed, even though it is obviously not rational. In reality, I didn’t have the power to fix what was wrong with my boy.
Then there all the obvious fallouts that suicide loss survivors have to endure. By far, his daughter, who was just 3 ½ at the time of his death, will experience the greatest fallout of all of us. She lost her father. Her mother and her family on both sides know all too well how deeply she misses her daddy. She and her daddy were very close, and in his darkest days she was literally all he lived for. Now, nearing eleven years of age, there will be more and more sensitive and difficult moments as she increasingly fields questions about her daddy’s life... and his death.
The only saving grace is that he left her a letter, telling her that he “wasn’t strong enough,” that it was “not her fault,” and that he felt we “would all be better off without him.” That letter, which she will not see until she is older, was filled with intense love for his little girl, but also revealed his overwhelming pain. I believe this letter will help her deal with the loss in the future, to have a better understanding of his mental state. Still, she has to go through her days without him. Thankfully, a loving, supportive family—a huge blessing for my precious granddaughter, surrounds her.
A suicide leaves the family and friends literally traumatized. His sisters, dad, and I still feel the visceral shock. It is doubtful that will ever go away. That day we were utterly unprepared for that moment when we learned he was gone from our lives forever. It is a wound that will never heal.
And there is more. A suicide leaves loved ones feeling guilty, ashamed, angry, sorrowful, and confused. These are emotions that play out in phases organically depending on what triggers them. Suicide is a stigmatized death, which makes it extra hard for survivors, as people feel uncomfortable even discussing the loss. We have to work through these feelings at our own pace, and there is no ‘right way’ or timeframe to shape this process for us.
As a Catholic I have the burden of worrying about the state of my son’s soul. This has caused me deep grief, but I place my trust in God’s merciful hands that He knew how broken my poor son was when he made that awful decision. I also hold out hope that in the final seconds of his life he had a spiritual encounter with the Divine and asked for forgiveness. Still, not a day goes by that I don’t pray for God’s mercy on his soul. I figure it can’t hurt to try to pray him into heaven.
I hope I have been able to articulate the specific fallouts that losing someone to suicide can result in. If there is anyone in your life that is battling depression and/or addiction, trust me, suicide is on their mind. Please share this post with them, if for no other reason but to give them this harsh reality about how their suicide would devastate loved ones. Maybe, just maybe, this will help deter any suicide attempts.
Hope Springs from a Mother's Broken Heart: 11 Women Share How They Survived the Loss of a Child, available on Amazon
Read my son's story: My 13th Station: A Mother Shares Her Son's Battle with Depression, Alcoholism, and Demons, a memoir. Click here: Order on Amazon