When a Child Dies by Suicide
I still remember Chad as a young boy. His blond hair, bright eyes and exuberant personality lit up the landscape around him. His family lived down the block and around the corner, and we attended the same ward. Although I was several years older than Chad, we occasionally would get together to play and compare notes on our latest fishing adventures. Chad and I both loved fishing. We were able to convince our fathers to take us together on several occasions and had a great time. Eventually, Chad's family moved and our contact in the years that followed was infrequent, but occasionally I heard reports on how Chad and his family were doing from my parents.
I was twenty-two years old when my older brother died in a tragic automobile accident. His death sent shock waves through our family and the surrounding community. In the days that followed, the pain I felt in losing my brother was matched only by the pain I felt in watching my parents go through a Gethsemane of suffering that I could not assuage. At the viewing for my brother, I stood in line to receive the support and comfort of countless relatives and friends who had traveled to be with us in our time of need. Then I saw a man come in who I knew. He was Chad's father. I looked on his face and was shocked by it - he wore the same mask of pain that I saw in my own parents. He spoke no words to them as they met and clasped hands tightly. Yet a wave of emotion and understanding passed between them. That night I learned the reason for his shared pain. Only months before Chad, his bright and vibrant son, had intentionally shot and killed himself.
The Impact of a Child's Suicide on Parents
Emily Dickinson, the American poetess, captured a parent's grief upon a child's death poignantly when she wrote, "This is the hour of lead." A child's death is a death multiplied. The death of innocence. The death of dreams. The death of part of one's heart. In particular, the death of a child by suicide is a difficult and overwhelming loss for parents to bear.
As a professor of child development and family relationships for several years, I have focused my research on the experience of child loss and parental bereavement. In that time, I have come to realize that each death of a child and each parental experience is unique, and thus each experience of pain is unique. Yet there are dimensions of the experience that are often shared, and understanding these dimensions can be helpful in understanding and responding to parents' needs when a child dies. I would like to share some thoughts related to how a child's death by suicide impacts parents, and hope that they may be of some value or insight to a parent, relative or friend who seeks to further understand this topic.
Suicide is the intentional act of taking one's own life. It is the killing of oneself. It is, as Elder M. Russell Ballard has written, "a sin-a very grievous one" that disappoints the Lord and perpetuates pain within a family. Yet he also notes clearly that the Lord "will not judge the person who commits that sin strictly by the act itself," but that He will also "look at that person's circumstances and the degree of his accountability at the time of the act."1 Suicide represents perhaps the ultimate act of self-condemnation, meaning that in most circumstances the person who commits suicide has reached a point where he considers himself to be unable, unwilling, or unworthy to continue living in mortality. It must be a very lonely and painful state of mind. Its consequences are tragic. Its victims are many.
Parents who have lost children by suicide often find themselves trying to describe in words something that is indescribable. It cannot be imagined or fully comprehended by those outside of the experience. One parent noted of his experience:
Parents who lose a child are multiply victimized. We are victimized by the realistic loss of the child we love, we are victimized by the loss of the dreams and hopes we had invested in that child, and we are victimized by the loss of our own self-esteem. Not unlike the survivors of the concentration camps, we cannot comprehend why we did not die instead.
Yet there is a need for us to seek understanding, for in doing so we might find ourselves more able to "mourn with those that mourn" and "comfort those that stand in need of comfort." Mosiah 18:9 I would like to briefly describe ten features of loss by suicide that impact parents greatly and provide some basis for a better understanding.
First, the suddenness of a child's death by suicide is a tremendous shock and creates a sense of chaos that can last for months and even years. Most children who die by suicide are adolescents or young adults (though this may not apply to all situations). Most parents are not present at the time of a child's death by suicide and therefore are unable to fulfill their most basic desire - to protect a son or daughter from harm. To desire to protect or save a child from harm and to be unable to do so is parental torture. A parent in this circumstance makes a shocking transition from being the parent of a living, breathing child to the parent of a child who will never breathe again in mortality. The speed of death frustrates a parent's ability to gain any sense of control and leaves a mother or father feeling robbed of a lifetime of loving interactions. Parents are shocked by the finality and the utter lack of any opportunity to hope for a miracle. These parents will often wonder in pain for years about their child's final hours and moments and the loneliness or pain they might have experienced. In these circumstances, parents need immediate and extensive support from persons they trust and can rely upon to help them through the disorganization and shock of the weeks that follow. Also, they need to be able to share, over time, their feelings related to the suddenness of this loss and its impact.
Second, a child's death by suicide is often made more difficult to accept because it is generally intentional, violent and voluntary. The way in which a child dies will influence the effects upon a mother or father. I interviewed a mother who had a toddler die gradually of cancer and she held her in her final moments. This same mother had a sister who had come home and found that her adolescent son had hanged himself. Their experiences of the final moments of a child's life were vastly different, and the mother I talked to said that her sister had been robbed of any peace about the moments of her son's passing from this life due to its nature. A death by suicide is a death by choice. Such a choice is a terrible and wrongful exercise of agency that leaves parents and family members searching for answers. If a child died violently, parents often experience nightmares and intense psychic suffering. It is critical to extend solace and assistance to parents through priesthood blessings, prayer and fasting, friendship, and love.
Third, parents of children who die by suicide generally indicate that guilt is the most dominant and distressing aspect of grief for them. If a child attempts or commits suicide, it is like placing a psychological skeleton in the survivor's closet and condemning a mother or father to a constant search for answers. Parents struggle with intense guilt feelings, often related to whether they perhaps did something to trigger the child's suicide and thus somehow caused the child's death. It can be helpful to remember that children in such circumstances retain their agency to act independently, and also that the Lord will determine to what degree a child may have been "acted upon" by other factors such as a chemical imbalance or emotional instabilities. Another type of guilt parents struggle with is the feeling that in raising their son or daughter they acted in ways that harmed the child or drove him or her to depression, unhappiness, or problematic behaviors. Parents who endure such feelings of guilt need special sensitivity and understanding to the emotional burdens they place on themselves.
Fourth, parents of children who die by suicide often feel a sense of shame associated with the child's death. There is a social stigma associated with suicide that makes parents sometimes feel that they have been unveiled to the world around them as unfit parents. Some parents speak of feeling as if they've contracted "social leprosy," such that they feel uncomfortable around others, or they notice that others tend to avoid interaction or conversation with them. They may find it difficult to talk with others of the way in which their child died. A son or daughter may have had behavior problems or other difficulties that make parents feel isolated or shameful. These bereaved parents need reassurance that they are loved and accepted no matter what has happened. Even God himself, the Father of all, lost many children in the premortal existence who made wrongful choices. He understands the hearts of those who have lost children in ways that come unbidden to them.
Fifth, parents who lose children to suicide often struggle painfully in a search for meaning and are troubled by the senseless nature of such a death. Bereaved parents seek ways to find a meaningful resolution of a child's death in any circumstances. This challenge is magnified significantly with a child's death by suicide. In some situations, parents can see the factors that affected a child's decision to commit suicide, such as if they struggled with mental illness or other severe challenges that brought emotional pain to the child. But often there are only the whys. Why didn't I see this coming? Why didn't my child talk to me? Why did he have to do this to our family? Why can't I feel any peace? Why didn't the Lord avert this tragedy? The questions can be overwhelming. The answers may seem few or insufficient to a parent whose heart has been stricken so grievously. Important sources of comfort and assistance may include prayer and peace from the Holy Ghost, words of inspired leaders and friends, and the guidance and sharing of other parents who have lost children due to suicide or other means.
Sixth, parents who have children die by suicide feel a gaping loss, not only of their child, but often of part of themselves. We who are mothers and fathers, to a Jonathan or a Katelyn or a Scott, feel that the true meaning and purpose of our lives is to be a parent. Bereavement scholar Therese Rando has stated, "The process of mourning for one's child involves not only dealing with the loss of the loved child, but with the loss of part of one's self."2 I have had dozens of bereaved parents tell me that the feeling of loss is so intense that it is as if someone has torn their heart from their body - as if the parent's life and identity has also ended. To be clear, it is not uncommon for bereaved parents to feel such emotional pain that they want to die themselves or even consider committing suicide to escape the despair or depression they feel. They may feel isolated or even crazy because of having such thoughts, and therefore do not voice them much to others. Our children are part of ourselves. To lose them is to lose part of ourselves. Although our relationships are eternal, the intimacy of a loving hug and the familiarity of a child's laugh have vanished permanently. Although we still are parents, the need to cook a meal or straighten a collar for that child has disappeared. These things make up a sense of who we are as parents. When they disappear, it is normal to feel a part of one's self has disappeared also. A new sense of self emerges only with time and patience and effort.
Seventh, parents who have children die by suicide lose all the hopes and dreams they held for that child's future. Parenting is acted out in the present, but it is also an investment in the future. We love our children with hopes and dreams, hopes that they will gain a strong testimony or dreams that they will graduate from college or marry in the temple. Suicide shatters these dreams. Suicide also dims a parent's hopes for a child's eternal future, as there are questions left unanswered in the scriptures or modern revelation about the final circumstances of those who commit suicide. Parents ache for their children's lost opportunities, for the son who will never hold a spouse or the daughter who will never bear a child of her own in mortality. They also mourn their own lost experiences of watching a child grow and achieve and find happiness. Facing a future without that child's presence was never imagined - there is no road map.
Eighth, parents who lose a child to suicide will seek ways to maintain a meaningful sense of connection to the child they loved. What is a bereaved mother or father's greatest fear after a child has died? I believe it is often that the child will be forgotten by themselves or by others. "Moving on" with life without that child seems like an insult and feels like a betrayal. Thus, finding ways to maintain a sense of connection is common and even vital for bereaved parents. Feeling such a sense of connection can allow many bereaved parents to preserve an emotional tie to their deceased child and allow them to process the change in that relationship in a personalized way. Some suggestions for enabling bereaved parents to connect emotionally with the deceased child include:
- Talk with others who are willing to listen or share stories about the child.
- Talk or share thoughts directly as though the child were present.
- Keep a journal of thoughts, feelings and memories related to the child.
- Pray for the child's happiness and well-being.
- Feel a spiritual connection through being aware of a sense of the child's presence, dreams, or other meaningful reminders of the child.
- Associate with people meaningful to the child.
- Attend a support group or read books on loss.
These and other ideas can help parents to keep memories alive for themselves and for others.
Ninth, parents who are married that have a child die by suicide may face significant challenges to their personal relationship with each other. Loss of a child is the ultimate trial for husbands and wives to face together. I should note that it is not clear, as some have suggested, that parents who have a child die are more likely to separate or divorce. The research on this issue has been, in my opinion, not carefully done and highly exaggerated. It is accurate, however, to say that the difficulties associated with grief, fatigue, guilt, and other emotions that follow a child's death have a significant impact on marital partners. They may find it hard sometimes to understand one another, to communicate clearly, to be comfortable with a partner's coping style or expression of grief, or to offer one another support. Each spouse struggles with emotional and physical fatigue while trying to meet the continuing demands of life. Usually sexual intimacy ceases for some time following a child's death, and individuals vary widely in their readiness to resume this aspect of marital life. There is no clear path. Some couples may struggle while others find themselves drawn closer together over time than ever before. Others should be sensitive to how each spouse is dealing with a child's death and the way they are handling it together.
Tenth, parents who lose a child by suicide must help their remaining children cope emotionally and understand the loss of a sibling. How do you explain to a twelve-year old daughter that a seventeen-year old son has shot himself? Such parenting tasks face the mothers and fathers of children who commit suicide. Very often, a parent's energies and abilities are significantly impacted for several months after a child has committed suicide. Assistance from others in providing care or guidance to other children can be extremely helpful. In addition to helping their children to cope with a sibling's loss, parents often become much more protective of their remaining children and concerned about their well-being. A bereaved mother I interviewed told me that she had to lock herself in the bathroom to prevent herself from stopping her adolescent children from leaving home to go somewhere because she worried so intensely about them. Many bereaved parents also make more concerted efforts to strengthen relationships with remaining children, give more of themselves, and be more responsive to their children.
No individual parent's path of grief after a child has died of suicide can be charted on a map of mourning. Yet perhaps some of these common patterns can help bereaved parents and those around them to gain further insight into the process of mourning after a child dies by suicide.
Not long ago a dear friend from our days in Oregon called me out of the blue and wanted to talk. She and my wife are good friends and so I was surprised that she wished to speak to me, but I soon learned the reason for her request. Her older sister had recently suffered a tragedy. While traveling home from a Church event in California, some of her teenage children had been involved in a car accident and one of her sons had been killed. It had been some months since his passing and this faithful Latter-day Saint mother was interested in finding some specific resources for herself and her family to cope with the loss of their son. My friend hoped that I might be able to help.
When I made a long distance call to California a few days later to talk with this sister, I expected that we might speak for fifteen or twenty minutes. Two hours later her story had unfolded and there was much left to discuss. As I searched for some helpful information that I might share with her before concluding our conversation, I asked if she'd had the opportunity to discuss her feelings and experiences with any other Latter-day Saint women who had also lost a child. She had not. I sensed an ache in her heart to share with someone who would understand. To share with a mother who would know her heart. I promised to connect her with several other LDS women I knew who had shared her experience and hoped that in them she might find support, friendship and understanding in a time of great need.
In our times of loss we seek understanding. We seek support. We seek peace that seems elusive. Emma Lou Thayne penned the soulful words to the beautiful hymn Where Can I Turn for Peace? and asked poignantly:
Where can I turn for peace?
Where is my solace when other sources cease to make me whole?
When with a wounded heart, anger, or malice,
I draw myself apart,
Searching my soul?
Nothing wounds the heart of a mother or father like the death of a child, particularly if a child dies by his or her own hand. Where, indeed, can peace be found in the midst of unanswerable pain? What sources might bring any healing or comfort? This article is intended merely to point toward some resources and avenues of support that may be helpful to families who have experienced a child's death by suicide.
The Stories of Others—Biographies, Books, and Articles on Loss
I must confess that I was once an English major. Not only that, I graduated with a degree in English literature from Brigham Young University and continue to be captivated by words and stories. And why? Because I believe with all my heart that to understand another and to be understood is based largely on the words and stories we share with each other. One of the most helpful and widely available resources for coping with child loss is the wealth of books, articles, and shared experiences of others who have had a similar experience.
I would like to begin by suggesting that it may be helpful to read biographies, or personal accounts, shared by others who have faced the death of a child and know its ravages and realities. I think of persons like Melvin J. Ballard, Harold B. Lee, and C.S. Lewis. Each has shared personal accounts of grief and loss that are profound and moving in different ways. Elder Ballard, who served as a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, lost a son and spent much time pondering upon this experience and its difficult lessons. It seemed to engender in him a special sensitivity to the experience of God the Father at the time of the Savior's death. Consider this perspective he shared. Elder Ballard reflected:
I ask you, what father and mother could stand by and listen to the cry of their children in distress…and not render assistance? I have heard of mothers throwing themselves into raging streams when they could not swim a stroke to save their drowning children, [I have heard of fathers] rushing into burning buildings [at the peril of their own lives] to rescue those whom they loved…
[God the Father] had the power to save and He loved His Son, and He could have saved Him…He saw that Son condemned. He saw Him drag the cross through the streets of Jerusalem and faint under its load. He saw the Son finally upon Calvary; He saw His body stretched out upon the wooden cross; He saw the cruel nails driven through hands and feet, and the blows that broke the skin, tore the flesh, and let out the life's blood of His [Only Begotten] Son…
[He] looked on [all that] with great grief and agony over His Beloved [Child], until there seems to have come a moment when even our Savior cried out in despair: "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me."
In that hour I think I can see our dear Father behind the veil looking upon these dying struggles,…His great heart almost breaking for the love that He had for His Son. Oh, in that moment when He might have saved His Son, I thank Him and praise Him that He did not fail us…I rejoice that He did not interfere, and that His love for us made it possible for Him to endure to look upon the sufferings of His [Only Begotten] and give him finally to us, our Savior and our Redeemer…
This is what it cost, in part, for our Father in heaven to give the gift of His Son unto men.3
The first time I read these words by Elder Ballard, I came to understand something about God the Father that I had not felt or understood in the same way before. I understood that God's heart beats with the same emotions as any father or mother—the heart of a parent. I understood things that I would not have been able to learn but for reading the account shared by Elder Ballard. Such accounts offer the bereaved an opportunity to learn from others who have walked a similar road.
So, what books and resources on grief or loss or a child's suicide might I recommend? That is a difficult question. Let me explain. The experience of one parent who has a child die may be quite unlike that of another parent. Understanding is earned at more of a personal level than a global level. In other words, the book or story that speaks to the heart of one person may be confusing or frustrating to another. I would simply recommend that each person must be active in reading and seeking out books or articles that will speak to them in their circumstances.
Having said that, I will highlight some written resources that I have found to be valuable to myself and others that are from both Latter-day Saint and other sources.
- LDS Edition of the Holy Scriptures
The first series of books I would begin with and continue to read is the Holy Scriptures, including all of the standard works of the Church. The stories and messages speak with comfort, insight, and understanding. For bereaved parents who seek a voice that identifies with their anguish, there is the heartbroken cry of King David, a father, at the death of his son Absalom in 2 Samuel 18:33: "And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!" Every mother and father who has lost a child by suicide knows in the marrow of their bones what King David voiced in that cry. Read the Holy Scriptures and let them speak to you.
- Where Is Our Hope for Peace? A Resource for Latter-day Saints Coping with Suicide
This is a relatively new resource by Jaynann M. Payne and Dr. Richard C. Ferre, perhaps the most comprehensive source available on coping with suicide from a Latter-day Saint perspective. It is available at the Mental Health Resource Foundation website. This book offers a wealth of information, insight, and personal stories shared by other Latter-day Saints who have faced the trauma of suicide.
- Suicide: Some Things We Know, and Some We Do Not
This article by Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, is the most in-depth and sensitive treatment of the topic of suicide by a Church official. It has brought insight and comfort to many bereaved parents and family members who have lost a loved one to suicide.
- Mourning With Those Who Mourn
This recent book by Steven C. Walker and Jane D. Brady is an edited collection of essays and experiences by Latter-day Saints who have faced the death of a loved one. One account, shared by the Omerza family of Mesa, Arizona, deals specifically with the death of a family member by suicide. The accounts are poignant and the expressions of honesty and faith are genuine. I have found this to be a helpful resource.
- The Broken Heart: Applying the Atonement to Life's Experiences
I honestly had not thought to include this book, but today as I searched my shelves I felt a spiritual nudge to list it instead of another I had in mind. This book by Elder Bruce C. Hafen of the First Quorum of Seventy is a classic. Its deep insights regarding the power of the atonement of Christ to provide healing for all of life's experiences, not simply for sin, are moving and transformative. I highly recommend it.
- A Grief Observed
This book is not about suicide specifically, but rather about the wrenching process of grief and its impact on our spiritual lives and relationship with God. It is C. S. Lewis, the bard of Christian literature, at his best in a unique way. It is bare and honest. It is forthright about the realities of spiritual pain and unanswered questions. And, finally, it is powerful and affirming in its witness of God's manifest love for us in our trials.
- When the Bough Breaks: Forever After the Death of a Son or Daughter
This book, by J. R. Bernstein, speaks from a perspective informed by scholarly research on parental bereavement and it is very readable and insightful. It is among the best books available on the experience of a child's death and its multiple impacts.
- Beyond Endurance: When a Child Dies
This is another readable and insightful book, written by Ronald J. Knapp, that deals extensively with the topic of parental bereavement and has information specifically on the suicide experience.
- The plan of salvation stretches across eternity and includes our premortal existence, mortal journey, and eternal destiny in its scope.
- Individual agency to make choices between good and evil is central to our mortal and eternal experience.
- God's love for each of His children is personal and all-encompassing and His judgments will be merciful and completely just.
- Each person is an immortal soul and we continue to live in a different state as spirits after we die in this life.
- Each of God's children can go to Him with questions and receive the promise of spiritual peace and individual revelation regarding our life experiences and circumstances.
- Depression is probably the best single predictor of recurrence of suicidal thoughts and acts. Signs of depression may include a persistent sad or anxious mood, decline in school performance, loss of interest in activities, sleeping too much or too little, shifts in weight or appetite, etc.
- Previous suicide attempts are strongly related to future likelihood of suicide.
- Anxiety disorders, obsessional behaviors or phobias may often be linked to the statement of suicidal tendencies in a person.
- A sense of hopelessness about life or their own personal future.
- A feeling that they lack control of life choices or have difficulty in making successful decisions.
- History of physical or sexual abuse.
- Alcohol or substance abuse.
- Knowledge of suicide by a family member or relative, close friend or other personal associate.
- Recent losses such as a death in the family, family divorce, relationship difficulty, loss of a job, or other situational stress experience.
- Unstable or emotionally challenging family environment, including critical or overly controlling parents.
- Access to firearms.
- Emotional or mental health challenges such as bipolar disorder, other concerns.
These resources and many others are available to provide an understanding that is critical for a bereaved parent, which is simply that it is possible to live through this experience. It is possible to survive. It is possible to laugh again some day and not feel guilty about it. It is possible to heal.
Many other specific resources are available in this area from professional or nonprofit organizations that focus specifically on the issue of suicide. I will list some of these groups and individuals may contact them directly for further information.
Caring Persons - Other Parents, Family and Friends, Priesthood Leaders, and Professionals
Among the most critical factors that influence a parent's course of experience when a child dies is the type of support that the parent receives during the time of bereavement. Social support from others is a key resource for parents who have lost a child by suicide. One common difficulty in this arena is that although many persons care and provide some support, they do not understand clearly how long such support may truly be needed and cease far too soon. The tasks of bereavement when a loved one dies normally last three to five years. When a child dies, this period is much extended and it is common for the mourning processes to continue strongly for seven to twelve years. Seven to twelve years. It is likely that a child's death by suicide makes this process even more drawn-out and complicated. Some things will simply never fade away. But much comfort can be drawn through support from other bereaved parents, family and friends, priesthood leaders, or community professionals.
All bereaved parents know about "The Club." You join when a child dies. You are forced to join. It is like becoming a member of a distinct social club that you actually never wanted to join and always tried to avoid. You are dragged in kicking and screaming. And once you are a member, your life will never be the same again, and you will always have a bond with those who are members with you. I have had literally dozens of bereaved parents tell me that, apart from their spiritual relationship with God, the most important and helpful resource to them in coping with their loss has been talking to and connecting with other bereaved parents. They know. They understand. A friend of mine in graduate school lost his first son within days to an unusual heart condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. He'd never heard of it before, but within weeks he and his wife had met four other couples who had lost children to the same condition. They understood each other's hearts and experiences in a comforting way almost without speaking. Hearts know what words cannot communicate.
One of the most helpful things to assist a parent who has had a child die by suicide is to connect them with others who have had a similar experience. Not all bereaved parents are comfortable or willing to talk with others about their own experience or feelings, and such personal boundaries need to be understood and respected. However, in most cases it is a help and a relief to speak with someone who can identify with the vast sense of guilt or the mixed-up emotions that characterize parental grief at a child's death. What can you do? Identify local support groups that are specific to child loss or loss by suicide. Ask a friend you know who has lost a child to call someone who has recently been bereaved if that person is willing. Volunteer to introduce someone and go with them on a first visit to meet another bereaved parent. I was amazed at the compassion of a Latter-day Saint mother I knew in Oregon who had lost a teenage son. She knew the pain and heartache of such a loss. She would take careful notice of others in the community who had lost a child and call them within a few weeks to offer a warm heart and a listening ear. In a painful but tender way, she was welcoming them into the club.
Family and Friends
The next and most immediate source of caring support for most bereaved parents is the family and friends in their lives. Such persons may include a spouse, family members, relatives, and friends. Research shows that the support given from such persons is the most important for parents during bereavement, and carries more weight in adjusting to a child's loss than any other factor. It seems that a burden shared is a burden that becomes bearable. I will never forget when my mother's sisters entered the house after my own brother's untimely death. It was then that she could weep freely and together with those who knew her best, and their hearts must have beat as one beat for the many days that followed. Early on after a child's suicide, the most helpful thing is for known and loving family members and friends to provide a constant, comforting presence. A parent's world has been utterly shaken and they need the presence of those they can depend on. Also, practical and hands-on support such as cooking meals, running errands, cleaning, taking care of other children, and other tasks can be very helpful. Later on, it is more important to provide emotional support through listening and validation of a bereaved parent's grief struggles as normal and expected. Perhaps one thing to remember is the fathers of those children who have died by suicide--too often they are expected to soldier on without specific and consistent emotional support from others, or they expect it of themselves. Reach out to both fathers and mothers in need.
Sensitive Priesthood Leaders
A third resource among caring persons who can provide critical assistance and guidance to parents after a child's suicide are sensitive priesthood leaders. Home teachers, bishops, quorum leaders, stake presidents, and others can furnish needed insight and inspiration in such times of great crisis. They can be consulted for guidance on funeral preparations and Church guidelines for handling specific issues or concerns upon a child's death. They can be looked to for inspiration and support as they seek the Lord's will in behalf of those who grieve. Not all church leaders have experience with such loss and at times they also may make mistakes or be uncertain as to how to minister to a family that has suffered a child's death. Yet so often it is through such leaders' wisdom and inspiration that families are blessed and comforted. Additionally, priesthood leaders are the appropriate individuals to provide guidance and feedback to local church members or church gatherings where the topic of a child's suicide is being dealt with. In such settings, they can assist members who seek answers and direct efforts to give support and comfort to bereaved parents. Church leaders can provide priesthood blessings, counsel, and needed comfort.
A final source of support that can sometimes be helpful to bereaved parents, particularly after a child's death by suicide, is the professional community. Community professionals who have specific training or experience in helping individuals to cope with loss by suicide may include counselors, therapists, social workers, psychologists, or other mental health professionals. The challenges associated with mourning a child's death by suicide can be overwhelming to some bereaved parents. They may themselves sink into depression and face concerns related to relationship difficulties or substance abuse. It is important for caring persons who know bereaved parents and for bereaved parents themselves to identify local professionals in the community with experience who can be of assistance. For example, couples who have a child die by suicide may have different patterns of grieving and find it difficult to understand each other's reactions, thus becoming more hurt and isolated in the process of coping with a child's death. A caring professional can provide training and guidance to such a couple and assist them to communicate and understand each other in the process of coping. A responsible support group led by a professional or an experienced facilitator may also be appropriate or helpful for some bereaved parents.
Organizations that Care
There are literally dozens of organizations that provide information and resources designed to assist those who have lost a family member due to suicide. It is the responsibility of bereaved parents themselves and those who support them to become aware of resources or groups available in the local community that might be helpful. For example, in one community I interviewed a woman who had founded and run for sixteen years a support group called the Grief Resolution and Enhancement Group, or the G.R.E.G. Group. It was only after interviewing her that I learned the name of her deceased son—Greg. However, there are several organizations that are well-organized and professional that can be of assistance to those who have lost a child due to suicide. These are listed briefly.
The Compassionate Friends
The mission of The Compassionate Friends is to assist families toward the positive resolution of grief following the death of a child of any age and to provide information to help others be supportive. The Compassionate Friends is a national nonprofit, self-help support organization that offers friendship and understanding to bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings. There is no religious affiliation and there are no membership dues or fees. It is perhaps the premier organization in the world dedicated to assisting families who have experienced a child's death.
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
This organization is a leading group promoting education and support related to suicide prevention and coping with suicide. They provide a wealth of information and resources, including a national survivors of suicide support directory for local support groups.
American Association of Suicidology
This group has a great deal of information related to suicide and its effects and provides a variety of good resources.
Mental Health Resource Foundation
This group provides a wealth of resources for the Latter-day Saint who is interested in topics ranging from suicide to depression to substance abuse. A nice and well-organized site for useful information and resources available for Latter-day Saints.
These and other different organizations provide a great service for those persons wishing to understand more about how to help a family that has had a child die because of suicide. Again, they represent only a small portion of those addressing this topic but they are good resources.
There are many approaches to coping with a child's death and a variety of resources that can be meaningful to a bereaved parent. For this article, I have chosen to focus primarily on spiritual approaches and resources that can be important to a grieving parent. This is because it is primarily through spiritual means that most bereaved parents find some measure of solace and direction in their lives after a child has committed suicide.
It is important to clarify that the impact of a child's death by suicide has widely varying impacts on a parent's spiritual life. Frankly, for some parents the experience of suicide is faith-shattering in the sense that they struggle to understand why such suffering has come unbidden to them and where a loving God was at the time of a child's death. An article I read recently described those bereaved persons who become locked into difficult and lasting patterns of grief as somewhat selfish. I can only assume that the person writing the article simply did not understand at a personal level the extraordinary emotional and pyschological impact of a child's death by suicide, or any other means for that matter. It is important to acknowledge the complexity of each person's experience and to be careful of passing judgments about the spiritual questions or difficulties that they may raise repeatedly. Yet by and large I find that both Latter-day Saints and other bereaved parents seek out and find much comfort in spiritual sources after a child's death.
At the forefront of a person's mind after a child's death are the spiritual beliefs they hold about such issues as the nature of life and death, the existence of God, and the state of the soul. These beliefs provide the context for what meaning a child's death will come to hold for a mother or father. For example, a Latter-day Saint who believes fully in the reality of life after death will be somewhat comforted by this spiritual reality and the potential for a future reunion with one's deceased child. Gospel truths provide spiritual vision that is sorely needed for a parent suffering from a view clouded by pain. President Spencer W. Kimball, in his classic talk Tragedy or Destiny?, related:
Could the Lord have prevented these tragedies? The answer is, Yes. The Lord is omnipotent, with all power to control our lives, save us pain, prevent all accidents, drive all planes and cars, feed us, protect us, save us from labor, effort, sickness, even from death, if he will. But he will not…
If we looked at mortality as the whole of existence, then pain, sorrow, failure, and short life would be calamity. But if we look upon life as an eternal thing stretching far into the pre-earth past and on into the eternal post-death future, then all happenings may be put in proper perspective.4
A proper perspective regarding suicide is simply an eternal perspective. It is a perspective that understands there are, as Elder M. Russell Ballard has suggested, "some things we know, and some we do not" when it comes to suicide. Yet what we do know doctrinally can provide us much comfort. Some key doctrines that are important to understand and that may be helpful include:
Coping with a child's suicide challenges many fundamental spiritual beliefs, but searching out what we believe as Latter-day Saints and how it applies to our unique circumstances can bring much comfort over time.
Beyond our beliefs, many of us find there is great power to heal in the spiritual practices that make up the fabric of our spiritual lives. Partaking of the sacrament each Sunday can comfort us with the reminder that Christ died for each one of us personally and He knows our hearts and our sorrows. Receiving a blessing of comfort at the hands of a priesthood holder can furnish immense spiritual strength to meet our life's difficulties. Fasting and prayer can allow us to enter into deeper dimensions of spiritual sensitivity that allow us to feel communication from beyond the veil. Participation in temple ordinances can provide us with calming reassurance that our covenants are sure and certain if we are faithful unto them. Ultimately, a child's suicide drives a parent to feel utterly alone at times. Spiritual practices can rejoin us with God as a companion when literally no one else can comprehend our hearts.
Suicide is unique in its impacts upon bereaved parents in that it perpetuates a wounding of the soul that is unlike even other forms of child death. Parents grieve for the child who has become a victim by his or her own hand, and yet they are also victimized intensely by the child's wrongful and painful choice. They have become living victims of the victim they grieve for. And with this wounding comes anger toward the child, self-blame for the child's choice, sadness at the child's final end, and sorrow for the difficult and uncertain path the child now faces. How can one be comforted in the midst of such sufferings? Only the Holy Ghost, the Comforter of all who seek rest unto their souls, can bring hope and hopefulness to such a parent. It is the mission of the Holy Ghost to fill one's heart "with hope and perfect love" Moroni 8:26, and for the bereaved parent this must be understood as a process. The Comforter can help bereaved parents to handle emotional challenges that are much more difficult without the companionship and guidance of the Holy Ghost. Jay Omerza, whose son took his own life, wrote in Mourning with Those Who Mourn:
I plead with the Lord to help me sort out my feelings and emotions…I began to see that my feelings fell into two groups. One group was sadness, loneliness, grief, and emptiness; the second group was anger, hate, resentment, guilt, and betrayal. The first group will always be with me, but time will soften those feelings. The second group was generated from within me and was closely tied to forgiveness. In order for the second group of emotions to go away, I had to unconditionally forgive Max, ask the Lord to ask Max to forgive me, and ask the Lord to remove these dark feelings from me. I also came to realize that answers to many of my questions had already been given. Answers were given to me each time I attempted to give comfort to others.5
The multiple gifts of the Holy Ghost to bring comfort to our souls is highlighted here. The Spirit will soften the ache of loneliness, provide capacity to overcome feelings of guilt or resentment, and furnish personalized answers that assist us in getting through what Elder Maxwell has called the "midnight moments" of our pain and suffering. Thus, seeking the Holy Ghost through sincere prayer, pondering of the scriptures, attending the temple, serving others, listening to sacred music, and other means can provide spiritual strength to cope with a child's loss.
The most comforting doctrine in the gospel is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and all it encompasses. Central to the message of the atonement is that Christ died to redeem us all from the consequences of our sins. This applies also to the individual who has taken his or her own life by suicide. Only God knows the scope and circumstances of each person's individual trangressions, and only He will determine the eternal journey that a soul must tread after committing suicide. We may take comfort in the boundless depths of Christ's love and the knowledge that He will know how to succor that person who has taken the fateful step of suicide.
Another important dimension of the atonement that we may find comfort in is the reality that it reaches us not only in our sins, but in all of our difficulties and heartaches and sufferings. Christ declared it was His divine mission to "heal the brokenhearted" and to "set at liberty them that are bruised." Luke 4:18 Surely, the parents of children who have died by suicide are among those who have been bruised and had hearts broken in ways too severe to fully understand. They have entered the tunnel of pain and it seems unlikely at times to ever end. Yet in the Savior's love and grace through the atonement there may be rest. Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written of such times, "If we in that dark tunnel do all we can, we will see at the tunnel's end the light of him who forgives, sweetens, and makes recompense for all our troubles. When we do return, offering our broken heart to him whose broken heart binds up our own, we will understand life in ways we could not have understood before leaving."6 Christ knows what it means to be bruised. Christ fully understands the magnitude of a broken heart. In Him there is the possibility of peace.
The phone call came into my office from a local educator in a rural county of North Dakota a few hours away. It was the type of call I dreaded. It was a request to come out and help a group of community leaders and citizens work through the issue of how to prevent further suicides among young people in their community. There has been at least one teenage suicide each year in this small rural town of only a couple thousand people each year for the last five years. I wish there were a magical solution. The community reeled from the shock of the first suicide. It tried to cope and begin to recover. Then it happened again. And again. Then again. Why?
Research on the topic of suicide is widespread and much of it has focused on diagnosis of suicidal intentions, suicide prevention, and reactions to death by suicide. More recently, there has been much focus on how to minimize the negative effects of suicide in a community and how to prevent what has been called the "contagion effect" of suicide—the possibility that other vulnerable persons will be prompted to take their own lives after seeing or hearing about someone else doing so.
Suicide is not a comfortable topic. Hence my reaction to the phone call I received. Yet it is also not a topic that can be avoided if we wish to do all that we can to prevent its occurrence. This article will briefly outline four key areas to consider in preventing or diminishing the contagion effect of suicide.
Acknowledging the Problem of Suicide
As I mentioned, suicide is not a comfortable topic. It is not fun to discuss. It is sobering and serious and saddening to talk about. But the factors that are involved when a suicide takes place and approaches to diminishing or preventing its occurrence must be openly talked about in responsible ways. Silence cannot prevent the problem of suicide, it can only exacerbate it. Yet when and how and why we talk about it are important things to consider.
Is suicide a serious problem? Consider the statistics.
In the United States, the National Center for Health Statistics reported in 1998 that more than 30,000 people died by their own hand. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young people between 15 and 24 years of age, and the fourth-leading cause of death among persons aged 25 to 44 years of age. In adolescent males, the rate of suicide in the United States tripled between 1960 and 1980. Similar increases in suicide rates have been seen in the adolescent female population. A 1995 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that among 10,000 U.S. high school students, 24.1% had serious thoughts about suicide, 17.7% had made a specific plan to attempt suicide, and 8.7% reported a suicide attempt during the twelve months preceding the survey. Suicide is a problem.
A first and major step toward addressing the issue of suicide is simply acknowledging its seriousness as a public health issue and a national tragedy. It is important neither to sensationalize suicide nor to normalize it when it is being discussed. Instead it is helpful to approach it from a straightforward and facts-based perspective with an emphasis on its causes and consequences. Openly acknowledging that suicide is a serious concern and needs to be faced can be helpful.
I had the opportunity over the last three years to participate with a local Latter-day Saint who is a clinical psychologist, Dr. Val Farmer, in a series of retreats for rural couples facing the loss of their farm or ranch. Another friend and Latter-day Saint, Dr. Jean Soderquist, assisted with providing therapeutic guidance and support at the retreats. As we met with these seriously burdened men and women facing challenging life circumstances, we introduced them to a man who had walked in their shoes and wished to share his own story. He looked them in the eye and told them that he had seriously contemplated suicide.
As we later discussed their reactions to his story in small groups, we found that 25% of the participants in these retreats had also seriously considered suicide and were relieved to feel that they could share their dark feelings with someone else who understood. Thus, it was important to acknowledge the topic and approach it directly. Yet it was done in a responsible setting with support from trained professionals who could respond, help individuals to process their feelings, and provide appropriate guidance and resources.
Sometimes merely bringing an issue out into the open in such a manner, in a sensitive yet responsible and direct way, makes it possible to deal with it much more effectively. President Boyd K. Packer related the story of how his own mother faced tests for cancer in the 1960's, and the family had not yet spoken the word openly in her presence. She was taken to the hospital in Salt Lake City and after a time wished to leave, becoming tired of the tests. Then Elder Packer directly but lovingly told her that there was reason to believe she might have cancer and they needed to know it in order to help her. His mother finally spoke, "Well, ii that's what it is, that's what it is, and I'll fight it."7 Suicide is, in a sense, the cancer of a society riddled by pain and personal suffering among too many of its citizens. And so it must be faced.
At times, there is concern that direct discussion of suicide as a problem issue through educational or other avenues may lead to more harm than good. Again, it is important to approach the topic in a responsible and straightforward way with the use of good information and available professional resources. But research has shown that discussion of suicide with teens does not lead to any increased thinking about suicide or to suicidal behaviors that might indicate a "contagion" effect. Indeed, responsible discussion of the topic can allow peers to identify others among their circle of friends who may exhibit signals of suicidal impulses or reach out to help them find professional assistance as needed.
Identifying Vulnerable Individuals
Two years ago while visiting a community I had the opportunity to meet with a number of local individuals and families who wished to consult with me and learn about any resources I might share with them. The last person I met was a mother of four young children. She was struggling to make ends meet. Eight months previously, her husband had died as a result of suicide and left her to face a wealth of personal and economic challenges. We talked about his depression and the mental illness that had led to his final desperate act of loneliness. "I knew that he had suicidal thoughts," she told me, "but I never thought he'd actually do it."
It is not true that a person who talks about suicide is unlikely to make an attempt at suicide. It is thoughts that first lead to intentions and eventually to acts. Too often, a person who is vulnerable to the possibility of suicide does not have the emotional resources to cope with the challenges they are facing and seek out the necessary support. They need others who are willing to lend a helping hand. I remember a friend of mine in high school telling me of a long evening conversation he'd had with a young man who was his friend. His friend had seemed despondent and so he took extra time to stay with him and talk. My friend was shocked later when this young man told him that he had thought of taking his own life that night, but was convinced by the caring support he received from my friend that he could and should continue on despite his own feelings of despair. Identifying and assisting individuals vulnerable to the possibility of suicide is an important element of suicide prevention.
Suicidal behavior is the end result of a complicated set of biological, psychological, and social factors in a person's life, but there are a number of factors that can be identified which make a person more vulnerable to the risk of suicide. It is important to be aware of these factors for all persons, but especially for youth if they are the target of prevention:
These and other factors represent the most important things to understand which can make a person more vulnerable to the prospect of suicide. What if you become aware that a person has suicidal feelings or several factors that may put him or her at risk for suicide? Intervention with a person can take different forms and should depending on the circumstances of the person. However, some key steps that could be taken include:
- Take the person's feelings and actions seriously and do not overreact or minimize the problem;
- Encourage and assist the individual to get professional help immediately from an appropriate mental health professional or other source of support;
- Provide care, listening, and support as needed to help the individual deal with personal challenges; and
- Inform yourself about local and national resources you may access to assist the person, such as support groups, etc. These steps and others can help you to identify persons who may have a need and be there to give support as they struggle to overcome the dark or lonely feelings upon them.
- Media coverage may look for simple explanations as a cause of suicide, such as relationship break-up or job loss, when the cause is usually much more complex. The majority of suicide victims have a mental illness, usually mood disorders or substance abuse problems, and they are treatable and can be helped with proper assistance.
- There may be an increase in suicide among readers or viewers when the number of stories about individual suicides increases, a particular death is reported at length or in many stories, an individual's death by suicide is highlighted as a feature on the front page, or the headlines about a suicide death are dramatic ("Boy, 15, Kills Himself Over Poor Grades").
- Certain ways of describing suicide in the news and use of particular language contributes to the potential for "copycat" suicides.
- Attempts to inadvertently romanticize suicide or idealize those who have taken their own lives (suicide as heroic or romantic) may encourage other persons to identify with the deceased person.
- Descriptions of a suicide method in detail, or of the site or location of a suicide, can encourage vulnerable persons to imitate the event.
- Discussion of suicide as an act that seems mysterious by someone who seemed healthy or high-achieving may contribute to identifying with the victim. Although this may seem true in some caes, in reality over 90 percent of suicide victims have a significant psychiatric illness at the time of their death that are often undiagnosed or untreated.9 The recommendations in this report offer questions to ask and angles to pursue when covering a suicide, as well as guidelines on how such an event might be reported in ways that will tend to diminish rather than increase the likelihood of a contagion effect.
Postvention After a Suicide
Despite the best efforts of parents, friends, and peers, there will be times when a parent and a community face the ultimate sadness of a child's suicide. It is important at such times to be aware of the potential for "copycat" incidents or attempts within the weeks and months following a child's death in this manner. Also, communities can take specific action to reduce the likelihood of such occurrences.
"Postvention" refers to the efforts at crisis intervention and assessment of vulnerable populations in the wake of a completed suicide. The goal of postvention is to prevent self-destructive behavior in the survivors of such an event. A school or community should, as much as possible, have a clear plan developed in advance as to how to deal with the aftermath of a suicide by a school or community member. It is during the immediate aftermath of a suicide that the contagion effect is most likely to occur, especially in adolescent populations. Those persons who are already considered to be vulnerable need to be followed up with and referred for assistance if needed. Additionally, it is important to take immediate steps to identify any friends, family members, or other persons in the local area who may identify with the individual who died by suicide that are potentially vulnerable themselves. This is the first and most critical way to respond in order to minimize further suicide efforts that might occur in an area.
In a school or community, it may be necessary to meet directly with students or community members following a suicide and inform them of the event and any needed information. Doing this serves two purposes. First, it allows them to learn of the event from a designated individual who can present the facts clearly as they are known. This makes it possible to minimize the spread of false rumors or rampant speculation that can fuel feelings of anger or despair among vulnerable persons. Second, it provides a context for persons to ask questions and receive answers from someone who can help them to understand what has occurred and share thoughts and feelings appropriately. Jay Omerza, in his account of his own son's suicide and its aftermath in Mourning with Those Who Mourn, indicated that in the days following his son's death both the Relief Society homemaking meeting and the Mutual activity night for youth were venues where the bishop and stake president made themselves available to talk with and answer questions from members of their LDS ward. Such avenues of communication can furnish a meaningful response following a suicide that will aid in diminishing the possibility of further copycat attempts.
How Suicide is Reported
Research on suicide has demonstrated that oversimplified or sensationalized reporting of suicidal acts can increase the likelihood of further suicides in an area, which has been called the "contagion effect" of suicide. The media plays an important and continuing role in this phenomenon. A glaring example of this may exist in the continuous and haunting coverage of "suicide" bombings carried out in the Middle East against Israel. In other words, in my opinion it seems more likely that such attacks will continue as widespread attention is given to the events as they take place, which is the original intent of such attacks. What role does the media play and how should suicide be reported? Consider the following guidelines.
Between 1984 and 1987, a rather significant number of persons attempted or completed suicide in Vienna, Austria, by jumping in front of trains in the subway system. Media coverage of this phenomenon was extensive and quite dramatic. However, after reporters were alerted to the possible negative effects of such coverage through a public information campaign and given ideas for alternative ways of reporting the events, something quite interesting happened. In the first six months after the campaign began in 1987, both actual suicides and suicide attempts in the subway system decreased by over eighty percent. In addition, the overall number of suicides in Vienna dropped also.8 This and other examples highlight the nature of suicide contagion and the role that media coverage can play in its occurrence.
An extensive set of guidelines for coverage of suicide by reporters and media organizations was released in 2001 by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the American Association of Suicidology, and the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. These guidelines were developed in consultation with a national panel of experts from the Office of the Surgeon General, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Mental Health, and other key organizations. While they are too extensive to cover completely here, they are available for review at the website of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.This may be a resource that local Church public affairs personnel could identify and make available as a public service to media when a suicide takes place in their area. Some of the key points included in this report include:
No person can take responsibility for another person's act of agency. Yet we each, by sharing our lives and our gifts with each other, can make an effort to bring comfort to those in need and assistance to those who seek a path out of the darkness they may feel. As we do so, we can bless one another's lives, particularly in circumstances where someone has suffered the death of a family member by suicide or where a person is vulnerable to the possibility of suicide.
Teresa Perry writes:
A friend of mine forwarded your recent article. Thank you for publishing it. It is a very needed topic to be discussed for the many families who deal with this unfortunate issue.
I wanted to pass along some information to you of a support group specifically for parents who have experienced the death of a child (at any age, from any cause); it is The Compassionate Friends, or TCF.
If you have any questions, or would like more information, please feel free to contact me at 801-561-9862, or my email address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
TCF 2002 Conference Co-Chair
It is indeed unfortunate that we as LDS parents are so reluctant to seek support. We expect so much of ourselves and our children, that sometimes our own expectations and our perceived failures send us on a major guilt trip. One of the best things that happened to our family is that we had the help of a good LDS family psychologist, who could assist us in getting help and helping us deal with our grief and sense of loss. I have to admit that I did blame myself for a while, but when I received some assistance in dealing with my son's death I also gained a great deal of insight. One thing I did learn fairly early on in the process was that I could "What if…" or "If only…" or "I wish I had… and be miserable, or I could get out of that vicious cycle, and get on with life. It hasn't always been easy, but it was an essential step in overcoming my grief. I fully recommend grief therapy sessions (even when they may not be taught by LDS counselors—the principles of dealing with grief are quite universal, I found). Most large hospitals offer some kind of course which can help both adults and children deal with their grief and loss. I think that this is especially important for siblings. Yes, dealing with the grief can be painful at times, but the sooner one deals with it, the sooner one can overcome the depression which comes with the grief. Also, one learns that although the hurt becomes less, it never quite goes away, but it can be overcome. Maybe that's good too. I don't think that I would ever want the hurt to subside completely. If that were to happen, I suspect that sweet memories of the child I lost would also subside. It's important to remember the good times, even though sometimes they remind us of what we've lost. Remembering the good times is an important step in healing.
Thank you for this article. You describe very well the emotional (and physical) roller coaster that parents who lose a child this way go through. It wasn't until some months after my son's suicide that someone gave me a reprint of Brother Ballard's talk, and I must say that I have found great comfort in it. I have also recommended it to others with similar experiences, and found that they too have all been comforted. I can heartily recommend it to any others. I have come to believe and be very thankful for Brother Ballard's statement that only the Lord knows all of the circumstances surrounding [a] suicide, and that "When he does judge us,…he will take all things into consideration…" I hope that others might find the comfort I have found in Brother Ballard's article.
When my own son took his life early in the spring of 1991, as we met with a family psychologist following his death, some of the best advice we got from him was, "During the next few months you will see accounts of other [youths] who have committed suicide. One of the things you have to remember is that your son did not start an epidemic." Parents and family can often blame themselves and those they've lost with "starting something." What our psychologist went on to explain is that there is usually an upswing in suicide at certain times of the year (at least where we live), the spring being one of those times. He also explained that this happened at this time of the year because of the depression which often takes hold during the dreary winter months, and that when the Spring begins, susceptible individuals will often take their own life just when the weather begins to change. He also went on to explain that this is often the case with bi-polar individuals. After a "manic" phase, they often slip into a deep depression, and when the depression begins to lift, they have a great desire not to ever repeat the depression again. As a result, just as the "light begins to dawn," they will shut it out, and end the cycle.
Understanding this has made it possible to escape the "blame game" and get on with my life, while at the same time making it possible to understand my son's state of mind at the time he took his own life.
Dr. Brotherson responds:
Thank you for your insight and thoughtful comments. I'm glad you had the opportunity to receive some of these helpful insights as a bereaved parent that perhaps made your road a little bit better than it might have been. You are right about the cycles that we see in relation to suicide as it relates to time of year and the cyclical nature of the mood shifts for those with bipolar diagnosis. Often the media does stories about the suicide peak at the Christmas season, when in reality it is the springtime and not the Christmas season when we see a peak effect in suicide rates.
I appreciate your feedback and am glad to know that someone has had the chance to read these articles. I hope they have been useful in some way. There are many things that we are still learning about suicide and its causes and consequences, as well as parental bereavement in general. I am just beginning a new study in this area specifically with Latter-day Saints and some of the unique issues and perspectives that come to bereaved parents. The interviews are hard but I find people are often willing to share. I always learn much more than I am able to give. Thanks for your response.
I would like Brother Brotherson to know how much his article helped me. It is the first one I have read that makes sense and gave me a feeling that someone does understand this difficult time. Thanks so much for sharing this article. I have found much comfort and information, that was sorely needed these past four years. This is the first time in four years I feel like someone actually understands how it feels to loose a child this way. Thanks! My friend sent it to our bishop also.
I forwarded this article to my relief society president, who forwarded it to our bishop who, while not the bishop at the time, is the first priesthood leader who has come to me to acknowledge how my son's suicide has affected my life and the lives of my children.
Thanks for your acknowledging and comforting words. Help and "verbal arms" need to come sooner to those suffering through this. It is difficult for ordinary people to understand how broken we feel.
I wish we could all find each other, sooner.
Thank you again.
I enjoyed Brother Brotherson's article on "When a Child Dies by Suicide," And was wondering if he has a book, or perhaps another article about a child's death other than suicide, for my neighbor. She just lost her son to a fluke accident where a microburst blew a portable pitcher's mound on her son, throwing him down on cement two days ago. We were all there for a girls softball tournament, which, of course, was cancelled, but they witnessed the accident and currently are so distressed they cannot write an obituary or plan a funeral. He was their only son, now they only have the 11-year-old daughter who was playing softball. Thank you.