But Now I’m On This Side: Reporting on Suicide Deaths

I “grew up” from a career perspective in marketing. My years at L Brands and then at Cheryl’s Cookies taught me a great deal about how to communicate with customers. I was good at my job and was part of a leadership team that saw significant sales growth over the years. I understood the importance of appealing to my audience in a way that would win their business.

From August 7, 2012 and prior, I would have told anyone who didn’t like how a business was being run where the door was. That would even include businesses I wasn’t that familiar with. If people would complain about how the media did their job my typical line of thinking would go like this: “They are reporters. They have a job to do. Their job means reporting in a way that garners as much attention as possible. It’s at least, in part, how they measure success. If you don’t like it quit watching/reading.”

On August 8, 2012 everything changed. My son took his life. So I found myself on the other side of suicide. A “survivor of a suicide loss.” Never in a million years did I think I’d be here. With the recent suicides of two well known celebrities, I have an entirely different perspective on how some reporters/news outlets do their job and here’s what I wish they understood.

When I stumbled across footage of Kate Spade’s body being brought out to take to the Coroner’s office I was horrified. Here’s where I’ve gone with it: “I didn’t watch my son’s body being brought out – I ran to the neighbors so I wouldn’t see it. Does that make me a bad Mom? What kind of Mom doesn’t stay with her boy for as long as possible?” 

When I saw specific details about how she took her life I thought I would puke. I don’t even know those specific of details surrounding my son’s death, by choice. “What kind of Mom doesn’t pour over every ounce of the Coroner’s report trying to find a reason why why why her boy did this? Did my son suffer? Oh my baby how could this have happened!” And the thoughts continue down an unproductive, painful path.

This week has been difficult and yes, it was brought on by how the media reported on Kate Spade’s death.

As a suicide loss survivor I – like many of us – have become a magnet for people who are impacted by suicidal thoughts, for people who are supporting someone who is struggling, and for people who have been personally impacted by a loss. I have received several text messages, phone calls, instant messages this week. What I hear most is “why why why,” then that leads directly into their personal experience. They question themselves. They doubt themselves. They communicate regret, pain, and guilt. Some people even wonder out loud what the point is of staying in the fight. These are hard thoughts and hard conversations. My heart aches.

The detailed media coverage stirred all of this up… I can’t help but to feel like the news media stepped into a room of people who are coping with emotional pain and stirred it all up then left the room without a care in the world. I know I’m generalizing and I’m making some assumptions about reporters that may not be fair. But my heart just aches so much. I want people to understand the impact of their words. In an effort to be “the best” reporter, there lies a trail of hurting people.

For those loss survivors that follow my blog… I am thinking of you. You are NOT alone. I ask myself, “why am I being so triggered by a complete strangers suicide? This isn’t rational. I didn’t even know them?!” If you are beating yourself up with thoughts like this please stop. Please hear me loud and clear that the coverage we’ve heard – and perhaps are about to hear with the loss of Anthony Bourdain – is triggering. It is hard. And it may be causing us to revisit our own pain and even question past decisions. One breath at a time. Talk to someone! We are in this together!

Crisis textline: 741741      Nat’l Hotline: 1-800-273-8255   

Franklin County Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS): 614-530-8064

Holding On

This is the first year since my son died that the dates line up with the actual day of the week. Another first…

Six years ago today, Sunday May 6th, at this exact moment we were landing in Florida for what would be our last family vacation. Drey had insisted on going to prom at another girl’s school the night before and was operating on just a few hours sleep. He slept on my shoulder and drooled. It was my right shoulder. He was sitting by the window on the plane, I was in the middle seat. I tried my best not to move much so I wouldn’t disturb him. I remember feeling especially grateful for him. I knew my days of having “my boy” were coming to an end. He was graduating high school in just a few weeks. He was considering going into the military and college – wasn’t sure which. He already had a job he really liked and was getting 30 hours a week. He was a man and from my vantage point high school graduation was going to seal the deal. I was proud and sad. He was – and is – my boy. I wasn’t handling his transition so well.

Drey, I love you. Always. I miss you so very much. I have anxiety. Today marks the first day of the shit season. May 6th. May 13th. May 26th, May 27th, July 10th, July 11th, August, August, August. I don’t know how but it seems like yesterday and like decades ago since I saw you. I want to watch a video, listen to your voice, look at pics I haven’t seen yet. I want to experience you in every way possible apart from you physically being here. But I only have so many unwatched videos. Only a handful of unseen pictures. It feels like these have to last me the rest of my life. How will I feel when I see the last memory we captured? That’ll be it. It’ll be over. I will have seen every memory and then what?

I’m tired. I’m sad. My soul is downcast.

Psalm 43:5 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.

Well What Else Am I Supposed To Do?

In 2014, I started a non profit organization that exists to be an instillation of hope to people personally impacted by a suicide loss. I love love love what I do.

Sometimes people ask, “isn’t doing what you do like ripping the bandage off over and over and over?” My answer is simple: No, it is not.

I hate more than anything that my boy, the most important person in the world to me, my pride and joy, died by suicide. It’s sickening and horrible and I miss him every day all day. The heartache is real and it will always be part of me on this side of heaven.

I sometimes hear, “I couldn’t do what you do, I’ve decided I don’t want my parent’s/child’s/spouse’s/sibling’s suicide to define me.” This is a slap in the face. Stop saying that. There is no “wrong” way to grieve and there is no “wrong” way to integrate the loss into your life.

I pause sometimes and I think about other options for how I can spend the final 1/3 of my life. Nothing else interests me. Nothing. I believe God entrusted me with this gift of suffering so I could grow from it and care for others. Who the hell calls losing their son to suicide a “gift?” Gross. I don’t know what to say… it’s what I believe. The ache is real and I still have complicated and intense emotions AND I’m confident I’m where God wants me. There’s a peace in knowing that. A peace I never experienced before. My son is safe in our Father’s arms. I will have eternity with him. For now, I give my agenda over to God and He continually gives me confidence that I’m right where He wants me.

I have the greatest son in the world. Just look at that face. I will be with him again. I love you so much, baby.

5 years old

Happy Boy. Proud Mom. 5 years old

Restless

Grateful for sweet birthday wishes from new and old friends.

Anxious and unable to pinpoint why… which makes me more anxious.

Angry at suicide and stupid people.

Encouraged by Glenn, Alli, Charlette, and Alex.

Contemplative about priorities.

Stretched continually out of my comfort zone and ironically enough becoming more comfortable with that.

Blessed by Gods creation of animals.

Challenged by the desire to squeeze more into each day.

Hopeful. Ever hopeful. Someday soon this glorious, painful, temporary life will be over. Sweet heaven.

Exhausted when I try to do things with my own strength.

Energized when life-giving words come out of my mouth that I know aren’t my own!

Round and round it goes. Damn monkey bar brain jumping frantically from thought to thought, feeling to feeling.

Breathing in grace filled air and I’m grateful again.

Psalm 121: 1 I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? 2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth! 3 He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. 4 Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps. 5 The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade. 6 The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. 7 The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. 8 The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.

Sometimes I still Scream

I recently prayed asking God to make me more dependent on Him. He’s faithful to answer…

Hard conversation today. How does someone say the things they do even after I tell them my son killed himself? Shut up already! I almost had a full meltdown after that phone call. Robbie is loving and patient. He’s learning – we’re both learning – how to handle the sudden onset of physical shaking, scattered thinking, and incomplete sentences. The rubbing of my leg or hand. All tell tale signs of being tossed back into trauma. “It’s moments like this that I don’t believe I’ll ever be normal again. And based on that belief I conclude it’s best to just isolate. To self protect.” I know that’s not really true. But I’m so fuckin sick of being “that person.” An unexpected conversation with an old friend got me out of my head and brought me back to the here and now – for a little while anyway. Coming up on six years and I still get triggered? Will there ever come a day when I’ll be normal again?

How did I get here? I miss my boy. I miss his physical presence. I want to touch him, to hug him. I just want to be near him.

I made it through the day in one piece. Thank You God for loving me. For reminding me I MUST take time with You every morning. I’m too vulnerable, too exposed, without my spiritual armor.

Laying quietly at night staring into the dark with eyes shut tight I scream in my head: NO NO NO! I try to push the thoughts out of my mind. “La la la la la. I’m not thinking of this. No, I’m not doing this. I won’t. Just think about anything else.” I give up and turn the light back on and read myself to sleep.

Is This as Good as it Gets?

I still connect with my friend who was there for me just a few days after Drey died. On a few occasions she has wondered out loud, “why are you able to support others in the way you do but I am not?” My friend lost her loved one ten years ago.

I had a suicide loss survivor recently tell me, “it’s still feels like it happened yesterday.” She lost her loved one three years ago.

One of the FC LOSS volunteers recently attended a Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper training with the expectation on herself that she, too, would be able to train others. Instead she found herself revisiting the, “what did a miss” question. After some prayer and consideration she realized at least for now she needed to pause on this. She lost her loved one three years ago.

I sat at a restaurant last Fall with a suicide loss survivor and listened to her explain how she still goes into her closet daily, closes the door, and sobs. She lost her loved one four years ago.

Based on what I’ve learned from others and in my relatively brief five+ years experience, we continue healing for many years. But if we don’t take the time to reflect on where we were two, five, or however many years ago we may miss it. We may miss the slow but steady movement from surviving to thriving. We may forget two years ago we couldn’t look at those pictures. We may miss out on being grateful to God for His steady, consistent, love.

I’m not proposing we should walk around 24/7 vulnerable and exposed; always ruminating on heavy emotions, intrusive images, and the why, why, why questions. I am saying occasional reflection on our grief journey may leave us feeling more aware, grateful, and mindful of others and their journey.

This is not as good as it gets for me. I believe as long as we lean into our grief – whatever that looks like –  we will all continue experiencing “healing” in our own way. In 2018 I will laugh, write, dance, and pause to re-read past blogs. I will take note of mile markers and where I was three years ago. I carry Drey with me always. I will never be the same. I may never get out those precious Christmas ornaments. I may avoid Worthington for the rest of my life. But still, I continue to heal.