A little over four years ago, my son told me about a friend of his from school. He told me he was helping her study for math, as she was close to failing the class. As he proceeded to tell me a little more about her, he told me that she cut herself. Intentionally. She was actively self-harming. My first thought….the very first thing that came to my mind was……she must have a difficult home life. She must have absent parents. How could they NOT know what was going on with their daughter? The visions of her sad, lonely, parent-lacking life filled my head. I was not unique. I was among millions of other people who don’t understand, or have never experienced, self-harm, suicide, or suicide attempts in a loved one.
My family is your average nuclear family. My husband and I have been married for 26 years. We have lived in the same house since the oldest child was 15 months old (We lived in Shanghai for four years, but returned to our American home during the holidays and in summer.) We have two dogs, two cats, great neighbors, and a small-town-feel neighborhood in a large metropolitan area. We go to church. We take family vacations, go out to eat, to the zoo, museum, baseball games, and more. We visit grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The kids play sports, but not too many. They have plenty of relaxation time. We are always there for our kids when they need us, and at times when they don’t. However, regardless of all we do right, we cannot control what happens all of the time, and things can go miserable wrong.
This will be the first time I have said this publicly. Close friends and family know, but we have kept the circle close. This is very difficult to say, because of the stigma, and they way many of those who have never had to deal with it react. In February, 2014, my 10 year old daughter attempted suicide. More than once. Without my knowledge. She was taking my prescription medication. I noticed I was low on pills, but thought I had been shorted by the pharmacy. It wasn’t until she came downstairs to me crying, on her third try, and told me what she had done, as a result of bullying. As a parent, it was like being hit by a train. How could this happen in our family? What had we done wrong? How could we not know that the bullying had continued at school? What do we do now?
I immediately went into panic-mode. Bill wasn’t home yet and Ethan had just left with my car. I asked what she had taken and how much, then I called a neighbor to take us to the hospital which is luckily only a few blocks away. I didn’t not tell her why, and she did not ask. In the next few hours we would learn the extent of the situation.
I will not go into the details of what happen with the school and the bully, but you can get the story in my prevous blog post for which I attached a link below.
In the two and a half years since her attempt, my daughter, and our family, has had an amazing amount of support and growth. With the help of her phenomenal psychologist and her psychiatrist, and with education on the subject and guidance on looking for and dealing with symptom we have all learned. We have not just learned how to deal with suicide, attempted suicide, and self-harm. We have not just learned how to create a new normal. We have learned that no one is immune.
I am walking in an “Out of the Darkness” walk sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I am walking for my daughter. I am walking for her journey from darkness to light. I am walking for my friend’s son, who gave up on life last October, who couldn’t find light in his life, and for whom I wrote my blog post linked below:
I am walking for all of those who have experienced any sort of mental illness in their life, or in the life of a loved one. I am walking for those who may experience it in the future. I am walking to raise awareness, to educate, to teach compassion and understanding. I am walking because suicide does not discriminate.
i am walking into the light.
Over the last week, my heart has broken over and over again, as I think of my dear friend, who just lost her son. As a mother, I cannot imagine having to deal with such a tragedy. I feel like she is on my mind almost every minute. I check her Facebook page several times a day, to see how she’s doing, and what others are doing in support for her. I can’t help it. That’s how I’ve always been. I want to help people. But where is the line between concerned friend, and creepy Facebook stalker, and have I breached it? Are others who are close to her, also consumed with her grief?
In the past, my daughter has been in circumstances similar to what Adam endured. It is because of this, that she feels connected to him. The day of the funeral she expressed sadness that she did not know him, and therefore, could not help him in his darkest days. She asked me if he could see and hear us, and I told her it’s possible. Maybe he even knows of their connection. I would like to think that is part of the reason for the rainbow I saw on the day of the funeral. She desperately wishes she could have told him that things would get better. There was light in his future, even if he didn’t see it yet. Seek help. Don’t be afraid. Have hope.
Shortly after our conversation, I went upstairs to take a shower. As I have said, Adam and his family have been constantly on my mind. I started wondering if he, or any friend or loved one in Heaven, COULD see and hear us. This was followed by the realization that I hoped NOT in the shower, or other awkward moments for that matter. Heebie Jeebies commence. This thought reminded me of when my oldest son was three years old. He walked into the bathroom while I was taking a bath, looked me straight in the eye and said….”Grandpa Dave is watching you.” For many years, and countless times, we have told that story, assuming he was referring to my “very much alive” father-in-law, in some unexplainable yet very creepy, toddler moment. It had never occurred to me, until now, sixteen years later, that my grandfather’s name, on my mom’s side, was “David.” He passed away before I was a twinkle in my parents’ eyes, before they were married, and even before my dad entered into my mother’s life. Because of this, I don’t often think of him, or his name. Once again, but in that wide-eyed, “I see dead people” kind of way….heebie jeebies.
I hope my grandfather is watching over us, and if Adam is keeping an eye on my baby girl, I’m all in, but unless there’s an emergency, can you keep it on the other side of the bathroom door, please?!
In the early morning, before the sun rises, a mother should feel like her children are safe. They are home, protected from the perils of the outside world. She would never expect to wake to find her child, gone forever.
Early this week, I learned that a longtime friend lost her baby. His father lost his only son. Their teenage child took his own life, and now they will never see him grow up, go to college, get married, have his own children, change the world. A sister has lost her big brother. She will no longer have him to look up to, get advice from, be protected by.
It was a beautiful, warm, and sunny fall day, and it should not have started with the death of a child. How dare the world keep moving; people eating, sleeping, laughing, dancing. This family has lost a child, and it feels like everything should stop, if just for a day. Of course, that’s not possible. People die everyday, but at times like this, when someone close to you is grieving, and you are grieving for them, it feels like it should. It’s so much worse when it is a child.
I never knew Adam, but I wish I had. I have learned that he was an extremely bright and talented boy. He was full of life. A friend to everyone. He could play just about any instrument he picked up, and was very involved in his community theatre program. He knew more about any given topic, than many adults. Nothing went unquestioned. It was his endless quest to learn about the world, and dream of a better tomorrow.
As with many highly intelligent people, Adam was quirky, and thus tended to be bullied at school. He had been depressed for quite some time, and I’m sure the bullying was wearing on him. His family and friends were trying to help him through these tough times, but sometimes it’s hard to get through to someone who thinks they can handle it themselves. He was a compassionate soul, who wanted to spend his time uplifting, and helping, others. He loved to make people laugh. He brought light to so many lives, while silently, his grew darker. He wanted to be strong, and self-sufficient, but he didn’t have the tools to deal with something so dark and cruel.
The despair overwhelmed him, and he couldn’t see the light. He couldn’t figure out how to climb out of the dark hole of pain he found himself in. On Monday of this week, a child took his own life. He would never have wanted to hurt his family, he was beyond the point of realizing what the aftermath would be like for his loved ones. His pain was a thick, black fog. Overtaking him little by little until he was lost.
As I stood in front of poster boards full of pictures of Adam, I saw so much light and life in him. It is hard to fathom having him there one day, and gone the next. How do you continue on after your child has died? Are all of those wonderful memories enough? I know for me, the belief in Heaven comforts me. Hoping that he has found his younger brother, and grandparents that passed before him. I am usually too uncomfortable to approach the deceased at a funeral home. I pray for them from afar, but not this time. I had a chat with Adam during the visitation. I told him that I hoped he had found peace, and that I wished he could have found another way. I asked him to watch over his sister and parents, to protect his family.
This morning, on my way to the funeral, a rainbow stretched across the expressway, on a beautiful, sunny day, with a spattering of raindrops on my windshield from one tiny cloud in the sky. I fumbled with my phone for a bit trying to get a picture. It seemed to remain in the sky for longer than it should, until I finally got a few shots. I put down my phone, looked up, and it was gone. I thanked Adam, and God. I have no doubt that rainbow was from him.
As the funeral started, in the auditorium which I imagine his plays were performed, a place where he most likely found reprieve from his sadness, I looked back to a standing-room-only crowd. It was full of students, parents, teachers, friends, family, and maybe even some who knew neither him, or his family. Strangers come together in a small community like his, especially when a child dies so tragically, and unexpectedly. As the music began, chills ran down my spine. It was “Over the Rainbow” by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole. I later learned It was his favorite song. He loved to listen to the song, and then play it on his ukulele, interchanging over and over again. I get it. You’re watching. Well played, Adam, well played.