I am often asked, “How do you cope? It is hard enough to lose one child but I cannot imagine having to cope with losing two?” The following narrative is a brief account of how I have managed to ‘weather the storm’ of losing both my children to suicide.
My two sons were born two years apart and shared a close emotional bond. They were exact opposites but were inseparable. They were the best of friends. I guess you could say they were kindred spirits. In their early teens, both boys started to experiment with drugs. I figured it was simply a phase and kept saying, “This too will pass.” Unfortunately, that did not happen and addiction took over their young lives. As their worlds shrunk, they found themselves in total despair.
With the downward spiral of life as they knew it, my two sons entered into a suicide pact. In January of 2007, my eldest son, who was 26 years old at the time, took his own life and left his younger brother alone with a broken heart and a broken promise.
Over the course of time, my only child by default did manage to turn his life around; he quit all drugs and joined a 12 step program. He started up his own business and became so successful that he was able to purchase a home and move me into it. As recovering addicts go, he became a poster child in the 12 step program and an inspiration to everyone that he met. We spent the next seven and a half years living and working under one roof. Saying we were close is an understatement. The fact that we had been brought together because of the shared anguish of the suicide of someone we both loved became a subject that we rarely broached. Our unthinkable tragedy was best lived by not talking about having failed to save the dearest person in our lives.
However, there was still the unspeakable subject of the suicide pact and I lived in constant fear that my youngest child would honour his promise to join his brother in death. In September of 2014, three days after his 32nd birthday and seven and a half years after he lost his older brother, my worst nightmare became a reality and my only living child took his own life.
With the deaths of both my sons by suicide I was powerless to avoid a full measure of painful regrets and might-have-beens. I even questioned my own existence. How was it that I was the last one standing? I asked myself if I even deserved to be here.
Losing one’s child is a loss like no other as it is a ruthless scrambling of the correct sequence of life as we know it. With every missed birthday, holiday and milestone, weddings that will never be, and grandchildren that should have been born, I am reminded that my life has been irreversibly altered forever. I will always be the mother of two children whose hopes for the future were thwarted. I will never again share joy with my children. My family tasks will go undone. My growth will be permanently arrested. My love will always be blighted and challenges with my boys will always be unmet.
Mourning is a solitary business! Dealing with the suicide of one child was bad enough, but having both my sons die by their own hand left me feeling alienated and abandoned. I felt guilty that I was alive and they were not. The grieving process was not a stranger to me but I felt shell-shocked and devoid of feeling. I knew the various steps I would have to take to grieve and heal from the loss of my children but it always felt like their deaths were holding me hostage. If I was to choose life over death and hope over despair, I knew I would have to find some meaning of all that I lost. So, I adopted a new companion that I called ’The Great Sadness’. I carried my companion with me at all times and found solace in the fact that I would never feel alone again, just sad!
In an effort to reconstruct my life, I embarked on my grief journey. This connected me to a host of people much like myself and an organization that operated a Survivor of Suicide Loss program. The program assigned me two volunteers, one who was a survivor of suicide loss and the other who was a caring, compassionate human being who wanted to help others. We met for one hour, once a week, for eight weeks. Over the course of time, I was able to build trust and understand my losses. My companion, The Great Sadness, was kicked to the curb, allowing the grief facilitators in the program to become my kindred spirits, because a knowing of our hearts connected us.
The inspiration I embraced from other suicide survivors proved to be the most healing for me. In 2016, nine years after the suicide of my eldest son and two years after the death of his brother, I joined the ranks of the Survivors of Suicide Loss program by taking extensive training to become a volunteer Grief Facilitator for other survivors like myself. The stories I hear echo my own feelings of loneliness and alienation. But, there is tremendous comfort in knowing that going through the grieving process by sharing your feelings with another survivor will teach you that there is a magnificence of mankind and it is possible that one can truly enjoy a sunset again.
In my twelve years of navigating the world as a bereaved parent, I am continually struck by the power of the bond between suicide survivors. I have been welcomed into a club that I cannot ever leave, but this club is full of the most shining souls I have ever known.
The survivors of suicide I have met trekking through the unimaginable have become instrumental in shaping my new life; they are the life changers, game changers, relentless warriors who redefine the word ‘brave’. Every day survivors move mountains in honor of their loved ones who have gone too soon. They have started movements, changed laws, and spearheaded crusades of tireless activism. They have alchemized their grief into a force to be reckoned with. They have turned tragedy into transformation and loss into legacy.
It has taken me over a decade to navigate my life so that I can accept the fact that I was not responsible for the suicides of both my children. I was, and always will be, accountable for my own actions but I realize now that I never had the power to keep my children out of harm’s way, once they matured into adulthood. I had become the player in a film production, with pitifully few parts. As a parent to my sons I knew it was my responsibility to them to be capable and strong. I have now discovered that the hypothesis of having the power to keep our children out of harm’s way is, in fact, part illusion, as I became every bit as powerless as my two suicidal sons.
Because I know deep sorrow, I have allowed immeasurable joy to replace The Great Sadness. I live from a deeper, richer and more vibrant place. I am able to do this not in spite of my losses, but because of them. I try to honor my children’s lives every single day by living a full and empowered life.
My grief odyssey has brought me to the point of facing my fears about life’s changing tides and the realization that with each new day, I am being given the opportunity to sail my own ship. On that note, I face my new life with humility and great privilege.