No time to say goodbye

Our 17 year old son, Shayne, lost all hope and believed things were never going to get any better and as a result, took matters into his own hands. On March 3, 2014, our son hanged himself in our stairwell, just outside our bedroom doors. We have now entered into a realm that no parent or person should have to enter.

Suicide devastates those left behind and its wake is widespread, affecting all those who knew the person. It is a permanent solution to an often temporary problem, either real or perceived, that once completed cannot be reversed and erases any future that the person was destined to have. The impact of the death is felt by many, yet understood by few, if any.

For every person that dies by suicide, there are several lives that are deeply impacted, whose lives are forever changed. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, cousins, wives, husbands, children, friends, colleagues—the list is endless and the impact massive, if not catastrophic.

I believe that if that person truly understood the pain, the devastation and the hurt left behind, they would not intentionally inflict such pain and suffering on their families, friends, teachers, therapists or others. However, I also believe in that moment of impulsivity, isolation and despondency, there is no logical thought. From their point of view; either based on untrue assumptions or internalized thoughts focused on the relentless struggle, pain and heaviness; death seems very logical and the only solution. BUT it isn’t!

Depression weighs you down (as if you have two lead feet with chains dragging behind you) and leaves you drained and confused. Everything becomes hyper-cynical or hyper-sensitive and is internalized. You can’t seem to escape the thoughts that “Something is wrong with me”, “It’s all my fault”, “I can’t do anything right” or “Nothing will get better or change”.

When those thoughts occur, as we believe they did with our son, he could not step back and evaluate or see the whole picture, nor could he reach out for help. He felt trapped and just wanted to escape. Our son often said that he thought we would all be better off if he were dead. He seemed to feel that he was causing us too much grief, sadness, heartache and trouble and that our lives would be better without him, all of which were not true. However, even after hearing him express his feelings and thoughts, we didn’t think he would take his own life. We thought we were still on the road to recovery.

Often people say that those who die by suicide or “committed suicide” are selfish. Those of us, involved in the day to day struggles of living with this are concerned about the two words, “committed” and “selfish”. The terms suggest that the person had a choice and I feel perpetuates the STIGMA of both suicide and mental health.

All too often, they are suffering in SILENCE. Those individuals who die by suicide are doing so out of DESPERATION, to end an UNBEARABLE PAIN and do not really want to end their life, but at that moment cannot see or experience anything else other than that deep dark intense pain. They are incapable of seeing clearly almost as if in a fog, and are unlikely to reach out or formulate any logical thought or consequence of their actions. It is up to us, and society to recognize those actions, warning signs, needs and assumptions and to dispel those negative beliefs.

As a society, we need to practice patience, give understanding and compassion for those who are different, for those suffering with mental illness. These children and adults are extremely sensitive, caring, friendly, compassionate, and charming individuals who are extremely tormented, experience much anguish and are very despondent.

Our son cared for and loved both his family and his friends deeply. He was kind, caring, sensitive, shy, generous, compassionate, and fun-loving. Yet in his mind, he was incapable of knowing that we loved him unconditionally and that it didn't matter what we had to do or not do.  We felt that as a family we would get through it. However, no matter how hard we tried to let him know this or how we said it, our son was incapable of seeing or hearing anything other than the darkness and the message that told him, "he was not good enough", and this kept weighing him down.

As caregivers, we are also human and are often pushed to our limits, functioning on limited sleep and on an emotional roller-coaster of wellness and illness.  We might say things or do things that trigger others or cause them even more pain, without even knowing it. In our frustration and our anger, we can often say things and do things counter-productively. In our household we were often walking on "egg shells", not knowing exactly what to say, how to say it or what not to say, so as not to upheave the delicate and intricate balance or become a trigger. Often our daughters would complain that we were "babying" him too much and that he got away with murder.

It is well known that all people grieve differently and that no two people will grieve in the same manner. But, how does someone “get over the death of someone who has died by their own hand?” How should we behave? How do we react? How do we carry on? What is the new normal? Suicide is very different from any other deaths you may or may not have experienced.
My husband noted that he thinks he could cope better with our son’s death if he had died in an automobile accident rather than by his own hands. Who do you blame? Who can you direct your anger at? We are grieving the person as well as the life that should have been, for the very person who has taken their own life. The suicide has left us with many unanswered and burning questions as well as a multitude of “If I had only…”

So how is suicide different from all other losses or deaths? –GUILT!   Plain and simple it is the barrage of "What if's"; "If I had only done x"; If I had not done y"; or the "why didn't I do x or say x”.  There are relentless questions that you become obsessed with and overtake your whole thought process as you try to analyze the reasons why.  You wonder what more should I have done or not done to prevent this.

… Was he crying out for help and I didn't hear him and missed the signs? Did he or didn't he really wish to die? Had he hoped someone would be there in time to STOP him again and SAVE HIM? WHY? WHY? WHY? For what reason did this happen? Is there a reason? This should not have been, this is not part of GOD's plan, but here it is.  It has happened, it has happened to our family.  It is REAL, so now how do you deal with the intensity, the magnitude of the pain, sadness, regret and GUILT? Nothing will ever be normal again, our family is truly BROKEN.

There is emptiness - a void that we will never fill or ever get over. While other people get back to their “normal” life, we will never be normal again. My husband has sat on the couch for six months in a catatonic depressed state, while my two daughters are extremely angry and bewildered. The oldest is very upset and doesn’t understand why he didn’t reach out to her. All three of them were extremely close, but he was closest to his older sister who felt it was her responsibility to take care of him, protect him, even more so since he became ill. There is much torture, anguish and BLAME for our failure to not only protect, BUT to prevent the suicide.

You repeatedly play back the events, the moments, the days and weeks leading up to the event. STOP REWIND REVIEW, STOP REWIND REVIEW. What wasn’t relevant in the moment before the suicide now becomes clear, relevant or tainted and now you see things in a very different light. You scrutinize and analyze every second, every detail. We feel that no other death compares to “death by suicide”.
The pain is immeasurable, quite intense, arising out of nowhere and hits like a tidal wave, surging, crashing, churning, gripping like an eddy and if you let it, the strong under current takes hold of you and pulls you down. It is tumultuous.  Again out of nowhere the surge rises and grabs hold, gripping, tearing and squeezing your heart so tight, you feel as if you cannot breathe. Your world explodes or implodes; there is a whirlwind of emotions, yet at the same time there is numbness, shock, and disbelief. Initially, I had to keep reminding myself that this was not a dream, that it is REAL.

People often don’t know what to say or what to do, so they either avoid you or the topic altogether.

BUT, something unique or beautiful occurs when you are not silent! When we acknowledge, “our son died by suicide” and that he was battling major depression and anxiety….others opened up and were able to share and confide in us. It is almost as if you have given them permission to reveal a deep dark secret, broke down a silent barrier or released them from speaking the unspeakable taboo work, SUICIDE. There is no SHAME in speaking about suicide and the only way to stamp out STIGMA and perhaps prevent more suicides is to be more open, and more honest.

As we share our experience, our hope is that the STIGMA associated with suicide, and mental health may one day be eradicated. All too often we suffer in silence….we try to cover up the act…don’t speak of the “unspeakable tragedy”….. It is TIME to BREAK that CODE of SILENCE!! It is TIME to speak up!

What has our son, Shayne taught us? His life was too short and his death too sudden, but he will not be forgotten. HE is GONE, in an instant GONE, never to experience his first love, new friends, new experiences…. LIFE… 

I promised him as a baby that I would keep him safe and protect him always and forever love him. He will be forever loved and never forgotten.

SUICIDE is NOT the answer! One must never give up, stay strong and keep HOPE alive and continue to fight the fight. Call out and reach someone struggling or in need of an ear or shoulder to lean on.