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

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