On February 19, 1977, our 22-year-old son, Mitch, shot himself in his bedroom of our home with two revolvers. He was determined no to tail in the last act of his life. Apparently, he felt he had failed to reach the goals of perfection he set up for himself: I believe he saw death as a release from failure, loneliness, and hopelessness.
The afternoon of Mitch’s death, a psychotherapist came to our home and what he said had a profound effect on me personally. The first thing he advised was to use the upcoming days and weeks to bring our family closer in a way that is not possible under normal circumstances. He said, “Never close the door to your children or make decisions without including them.” He suggested we be honest with each other, share our feelings (both positive and negative) about Mitch. He also said, “There is a gift in his death if you can find it.” My husband, Jack, heard his words and said they had no meaning for him. But I knew instantly that someday I would find the meaning of his words and I have. I knew also that Jack and I would grieve differently and that difference must be honored and accepted.
Ultimately, you must go through you grief alone, but it can bring you and other family members closer if you choose to do part of it together. It is easy and natural to blame yourself, your spouse, or anyone else at this time, but to do so can be destructive and helps no one. Be careful not to blame in an effort to explain why this happened. It is hard to help other children with their pain when your own is so enormous. But they need to know that it wasn’t their fault, and it wasn’t anything that they said or didn’t say to the sibling that caused his death.
In our own family, we included our children and Mitch’s girlfriend in immediate decisions that needed to be made. We talked about Mitch’s good qualities and also about the times he overwhelmed us with his antics or his selfishness. Remembering him realistically helped us all and our family togetherness gave us much needed nurturing and support at that time.
It is important to experience the pain and get it out. People release their emotions in different ways. Crying is helpful and necessary. Sometimes it is helpful to talk about how you feel to your spouse or a friend. The world we live in does not support your hurting. Well-meaning friends may offer you a drink or a tranquilizer and say, “Don’t feel bad, take a pill… have a drink.” I believe that in this tragedy, as in so many others, you have to hurt and allow yourself to hurt, without judgment, in order to someday get beyond the intensity of the pain. I believe I will not get beyond it until I go right straight through it. There is no way to go around, over, or under it. To be with your feelings, to make no apologies for your emotions, is a very necessary part of the process. Then, one day, you will know that your healing has begun.
Many of our feelings may frighten us, but know that all feelings are normal, natural, and to be expected. You may think that you are losing your mind, but even that thought is normal. So is feeling nothing, feeling hopeless, or having thoughts of wanting to die.
It is important to know that survivors of a suicide often do not want to go on living for a time, and feel overwhelmed by these thoughts. This soon passes as the healing begins. Experiencing a sense of shame is common. For a few weeks, I felt “foul” to myself, to my family, and to the counseling center where I worked. But, in time, I realized that I was still me; I had the same values, morals, and principles I’d always had. I was me… but I was different. I would never be the same but I had the choice of surviving or not.
I have been a counselor at The Link Counseling Center since 1972, and have helped parents allow their kids to make choices and take responsibility for those choices. I have suggested that we, as parents, can only guide, advise, suggest, inform, persuade. We can only offer ourselves, our humanness- our best selves and sometimes our worst selves. What our child does with that is his responsibility and his alone. We cannot insure that our child will have our values, morals, or goals. Ultimately, it is the child’s decision regarding what he does with we offer him. He was responsible for his life and 1 am responsible for my life. I must stay aware of that fact. I can grow with this event and survive or I can go down with it and destroy my own life. It is my choice and I have chosen to survive. So has my husband, Jack, and so have my three other boys. We have chosen to get beyond the pain by going through it and somehow making meaning out of its meaninglessness.
I can grow with this event and survive or I can go down with it and destroy my own life. It is my choice and I have chosen to survive. So has my husband, Jack, and so have my three other boys. We have chosen to get beyond the pain by going through it and somehow making meaning out of its meaninglessness. There is a need to ask “Why?” The questions must be asked, even though you may never find the answers. It is an enigma and it is part of the process of healing that we all go through. But, ultimately, if there are no answers, you may need to stop asking the questions, for to continue only becomes an obsession, which can be destructive to yourself and those around you.
I found I only had partial answers and nothing really satisfactory. I will never know all the answers as to why my son chose to end his own life, but I came to the conclusion that I didn’t have to know in order to go on with my own living. I finally chose to let go of the question, but only after I had asked it over and over and struggled with the WHY. Had I not done that, I could have allowed mourning to become my life-style for the rest of my life.