How can we “live” when our child dies of Suicide?
When you have lived through the unimaginable and witnessed something you could never be prepared for, life changes in that moment. On April 7th, 2013 just before 11pm as I am about to drift off to sleep my 17yr old daughter’s friend knocked on my bedroom door to say she is worried because Rehtaeh has locked herself in the bathroom stating that she was done with life . She said she was going to kill herself. In those moments, getting upstairs and into the bathroom to face the horrors of the reality, my life was forever changed and my beautiful daughter who had so much to offer this world was rushed to hospital. She never regained consciousness and died three days later. The 17months leading up to this impulsive act were difficult to say the least. Rehtaeh was struggling from a traumatic event and was filled with anger, anxiety and depression. In her anger and impulsiveness on that dreadful night she set into motion an action that she could not undo.
I was left shocked yet functioning in a very pragmatic way of thinking. Suddenly, our lives, her sisters, her friends, her community forever changed….in that moment. The shock portion of my brain continued to set up camp by protecting my fragile state enough to function. Looking back much of the events following my daughter’s death is hazy at best. The hazy state lifted over time revealing moments of clarity but only in increments. The brain is so clever because it knows we can only feel that type of pain for moments then the defenses kick back in.
Do you remember the feelings you had when you became a Mom for the first time? When we become parents for the first time the feeling of love is overwhelming. Looking at Rehtaeh when she was born was so miraculous. I also remember thinking that I am now responsible for this little being I brought into the world. I remember like it was yesterday holding Rehtaeh for the first time feeling so much love, yet feeling so scared. Scared, because I wanted to be everything she needed - worried that I may not be enough. That’s when I took a vow. I vowed the day I met her, to love her and protect her in every way possible. I wrote those words to her in the journal I created during our first year together. I wanted to wait until she became a mother to give her that journal but instead I gave her the journal just months before she died. I wanted her to see just how special she was since she was struggling so hard emotionally.
Rehtaeh started to feel like a burden to everyone because she kept trying to “feel” better and it was not working or it worked momentarily then something would happen to bring her back to her knees struggling again. As much as we tried the help and services that she needed for trauma was not adequate. I specifically recall a conversation we had just 6weeks before she died. We got into an argument and who knows what it was about but she said to me “I know I’m the reason you can’t work right now and I’m ruining everything. I’m such a disappointment to everyone! When I kill myself everyone will be happier!” In that moment I became so sad but very clear and calm and said “Rehtaeh, I love you with all my heart. I would be devastated if you ever left us BUT your path is your path. I will get you all the help I can to get you through this pain but I know I can’t MAKE you want to stay, that has to come from you.” In the weeks following we had more conversations about her progress, strength, struggles and tribulations but certain conversations are so vivid. I feel the tears rolling just writing about our talks. Gosh, how I miss our conversations. Ironically, I still talk to her but obviously it’s different now.
Losing a child by suicide is also death for the parents. I laid in bed and wondered how could I possibly “live” again without my first true love? How can I? I wanted to die! Yet, you go on and at some point I had to ask myself if “Are you going to live? And if so, what do you need to do to live, not merely exist? The answer came pretty quick for a starting point…Leah, you need to live moment by moment, don’t you dare ignore those emotions. You feel them! Honour yourself every damn day and find a new way to live.
You see the trap is looking to the past for how you “used to be” comparing your ability now to how you once were. Grieving parents will fail every time if they compare life to “before” and “after” because you will never be the same person again. That’s the truth but it does not mean you cannot live. You see there is a beauty in being broken wide open emotionally but we don’t want to see it because we are engulfed in the pain. I believe that in my most vulnerable moments in life the answers to move forward are clearer than any other time.The layers of emotional walls we normally carry within have crumbled. In those times when the foundation crumbles, when we are open to new information without the clutter of the baggage. In those moments I began exploring my emotions and found fountain of love.
The first step was being a friend to myself and loving who I am as a person. Guilt could come for a visit but she was not allowed to stay because there is no place for her here in my heart. I loved my daughter immensely and I needed to find the gifts of our time spent together. She was the reason I went to University and obtained two degrees. She was my driving force, my motivation, my heart beat in many ways. Because of her I found my strength and allowed my intellect to shine. She taught me how to love someone and not walk away when times were tough. That is true love and she taught me that. What a gift!
Does it hurt to know she will never fulfill her dreams? Rehtaeh had so many dreams. Yes, it hurts so much sometimes I have to remember to breathe but in my pain and in my breath I always find myself. I honour myself and Rehtaeh by being present in my pain. I am not running away and often I greet my physical pain in the same way as my emotional pain because they come from the same place. I see you! I feel you! I am here for you in a loving supportive way.
In the aftermath of suicide so many people leave you. Others offer support that does not feel like support. It feels like directions on how to live your life but how can they live your life? The answers are internal not external. To live life in a new way we need to listen and be present. Don’t allow the emotional walls to build in ways that we can no longer access the openness. In our most vulnerable moments we hold such strength. It’s lurking so close to the pain. Before new walls form with bitterness and hate embrace yourself!