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IMPORTANT: Please ensure you read post: ‘Spike Belt’ for Suicide Prevention to get the necessary context for what you’re about to read here.
A note on structure: The ‘Spike Belt’ for Suicide Prevention initiative divides each post into four successive parts:
Part 1: describes the experience of suicide, from the survivor’s perspective.
Part 2: describes the impact of suicide on surviving family members.
Part 3: describes the aftermath of suicide (one year or more after an incident).
Part 4: poses the following question to the survivor: “If they were sitting here in front of you right now, what would you say to them?”
Be aware that this exercise requires you to leverage your human endowment of imagination (which is “the ability to create in our minds beyond our present reality” – Stephen Covey). Imagination enables us to form images and perceptions and is key to understanding and discovering meaning in our experiences.
For this purpose, I believe that we must leverage the power of imagination to find meaning in the tragedy of suicide.
Part 1: A Son’s Experience
Take a deep breath.
I want you to imagine being home and talking to your mother. Things are normal – at least, they appear so from your perspective. Your mother invites you to stay for dinner. Normally, you would accept the invitation, but today you can’t as you’ve got another priority to tend to. And you leave.
Later that same evening, you get word that your mother is missing. No one knows where she is and naturally, the family grows concerned. Everyone pairs up to search for her – except you. You’ve left on your own.
You drive to some familiar places that you know your mother would sometimes frequent. No luck. Your anxiety mounts with every second that passes. You wonder if, and hope that another family member has found her and that she is safe and sound at home, waiting for your return. But in the meantime, you continue searching.
You pull in to another familiar place and park the car. Within minutes, you find her – her body.
Your mind fails to comprehend the horrific reality that exists before you – that a caring and loving mother just took her own life.
You are in shock. Your body goes numb.
“This image is always in my mind.” – Words from the son who found her. “It’s devastating.”
With no access to a cell phone, you leave the premises – and your mother behind – and drive to the nearest payphone to call for help. You are burdened with the agonizing task of calling family to inform them of the news.
When you hang up the phone, you then make your way back to the tragic scene.
“I was numb all over.” – says the son, “I was just going through the motions at this point.”
Now imagine days later, you pull into the funeral home for your mother’s wake. You park the car, but you can’t bring yourself to get out of the vehicle. Instead, you sit there, alone – for hours.
“I felt so guilty.” – the son reflects, “I never imagined she could do this.”
Part 2: The impact
“I immediately grew angry.” – the son explains, “I felt like I was ripped inside-out…my anger was really bad.”
He explains that he directed his anger toward both his mother, himself and family members. On his anger toward her:
“She bailed on me. She bailed on us.” – he explains, “A mother is not supposed to bail on you. How can you learn to trust anybody if you can’t trust your own Mom? It’s a trust of love. And I lost that.”
“At the time, I felt it was a cowardly thing to do.”
On his anger toward himself:
“I felt so guilty.” – the son admits, “I felt so guilty about not seeing the signs until after. I couldn’t stop thinking about the ‘What ifs’…what if I didn’t go that fateful night, and instead, I stayed for dinner? What if that was her way of reaching out to me?”
“It eats at me.” – the son continues, “I never stop questioning. That night, was it a cry for help? They found two quarters in her pocket – was she trying to call someone for help? I don’t know. I never stop thinking about it.”
“The image of how I found her…the questions, it torments me.” – he continues, “It’s gruesome to think how low a person must get to do something like that.”
The son explained that he became “guarded” after the incident, emotionally. It was like an “outer shell” formed around him. He felt nothing – no emotion.
“I was just numb to reality” – he explains, “I closed up.”
Part 3: The Aftermath (1+ years later)
“I still feel the effects of that day – the day I found her.” – the son explains, “There are no real words to explain it.”
He described his mother as the rock of the family unit: “When she left us, there was no more rock. The family link became broken. Holidays – like Christmas and Thanksgiving – they were never the same again. Life was never the same for anyone involved.”
The son explained that he did a lot of “dealing with it” since the incident – and continues to get help. He described the difficult experience learning to work with counsellors – trying to rope in the anger enough to allow himself to be vulnerable.
“I had a distrust of people.” – he emphasized. “My guard was up and I had a hard time letting anyone get close enough to help.”
The son explained that such an experience changes your whole mindset.
“You can never get over something like this.”
Part 4: “What would you say to her?”
This point of our conversation was difficult.
I asked him that if he had an opportunity to talk to his mother one more time – imagining as though she was sitting right here next to us: What would you say to her?
I could feel how difficult this question was for him to think about – let alone, answer. And after a long pause, he looked up at me. I could see the emotion in his eyes – in his face. This is what he said:
“The biggest question I would ask: ‘Was there no other way?’ There is help out there. There’s hope. It didn’t have to be like this. What you did – it broke the whole family apart. It broke their hearts – everyone hurt and still hurts.”
“The turmoil – how deep is that hole? How black is that hole when you can’t see any other possible way?”
“Mental illness is a disease – just like cancer and diabetes are diseases. It doesn’t mean you take your own life because you have a disease. It’s not logical.”
“You’ve missed so much because of this. Your grandchildren – they only hear about you, but they can never meet you. You deprived yourself of so much and you’ve deprived us of sharing life’s greatest moments with you.”
“I think the worst thing is that what you did gives other people ideas about doing the same thing. Your actions may influence others down this same tragic path which can destroy families.”
“I still go to the graveyard.” – the son adds, “And I go to the place where I found her. I just go to think – to talk. I talk about how pissed off I was – but I also tell her how much I miss her, and love her, and that I partially understood the best I could.”
“I go there to give my forgiveness for what she did.”
Readers, it goes without saying that this was an especially difficult post to write. My experience sitting across the table from this individual – a person shaped by the tragic consequence of losing a loved one to suicide – words just can’t describe it.
It took a great deal out of me to get through this, emotionally, however to think what it must have taken for the son to revisit and share this tragic experience – I just couldn’t fathom. But he believed in my cause and saw value in my vision to build this figurative spike belt so for this, I am incredibly grateful.
This post: “Losing a mother to suicide: a son’s perspective” serves as the first spike installed on my ‘Spike Belt’ for Suicide Prevention .