Recently, our beloved son Kenny, just 19, ended his three-year struggle with depression by taking his life.
Despite the fact that it has been almost half a year, I think of him constantly. Memories of him flood my mind all day long, especially when songs come on the radio. I still cry because the music gets me. I think to myself, Kenny liked this song.
We go out to a restaurant and see something on the menu, and I think Kenny would have liked this. We all do this, including my husband and my daughter.
I drive through town and see things that remind me of him. I go into his room, and it still smells of him. I have the last outfit he wore, and I haven’t washed his sheets. I go in there because it makes me feel sad and happy at the same time. It makes me feel close to him.
Can you please tell me if the pain will lessen? When does it stop? When does it get easier? And when is it OK to let go?
I am torn apart by so many emotions, especially anger. I even feel angry at Kenny sometimes, and that is hard. Your heart is angry, but your head tells you he was sick.
I feel angry at some of my family and some people in the community. If Kenny had died from cancer, I would probably feel less alone right now. Some people were very supportive and caring, but others were silent.
I haven’t gone to the grocery store or church since Kenny died. The memories are too painful.
I am also worried about Kenny’s sister. All these months later, and she still has not yet cried for Kenny’s loss.
We all need help. Thank you.
I am so very sorry for your loss and your sense of isolation. Whenever we experience trauma, we feel alone, and the pain of the alienation can be excruciating.
But when you lose a child to suicide, the isolation is so much worse. It’s too terrifying for anyone to imagine. In today’s world, the risk of losing a child to suicide or anything else feels much higher and more frightening. So we turn away from our fear and helplessness, and we turn our backs on you.
In psychological terms, six months is like yesterday. Your brain cannot fathom what has happened, let alone what it means or how to cope with it. That’s why these unexpected thoughts and emotions land like a tsunami. I’ll bet you sometimes forget that he’s gone, and then it starts all over again. And for most parents who lose a child, the guilt can feel soul-crushing; they ask themselves if they did all they should have done.
Of course you are angry at Kenny. After all, he left you in a violent way. Same with your community and your family. It must feel as if some of them have also left you.
Sometimes, the unconscious experiences death as a murder when something evil has stolen someone precious from our lives. In the last scene in Miss Saigon, the main character’s lover commits suicide in front of him. As he cradles her in his arms, he lets out a bloodcurdling scream of grief and rage. That is the kind of scream your whole family must feel.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, a famous saying is “One Day at a Time.” Anyone in crisis will tell you that, sometimes, it’s one hour at a time, one minute at a time. The task is to live the next moment and then do it again.
And letting go? You will never let go, and probably don’t want to. Most parents I have worked with tell me the pain is excruciating, but they wouldn’t want to part with it, because that pain is their connection to their child.
Over time, your connection to Kenny will become more textured. The pain will always be there, but there might also be warm affection, quiet longing, and even gratitude for the years you had together. But that takes a long time. Not work, but time. In the meantime . . .
As you know from what happened to Kenny, 90 percent of suicides happen to people with some form of mental illness, typically depression.
So I understand your anxiety about your daughter, because depression has a genetic link, and stress increases one’s risk for a depressive episode. Do what you can to help her feel safe enough to share her feelings. But be aware that males are three to five times more likely to commit suicide than females.
We haven’t heard a word about your husband’s feelings or the state of your marriage. I am sure he is in terrible pain. Men tend to be less expressive, which can add stress to a marriage that’s already stressed. So you’re right. You all need help.
I would recommend your family try a few meetings of Compassionate Friends, a self-help group for families who have lost a child.
And I would recommend family therapy with someone who is skilled in dealing with this kind of trauma.
There is so much more to say and so little space to say it, so I have another offer. You could use me as a resource and stay in touch via e-mail and Web chats.