‘Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.’ John Lennon wrote those words in his song Beautiful Boy. I sang that song to my son, Terry, when he was little and we danced to it at his wedding in 2004.
We planned to meet Terry and his wife in Ireland in September, 2010. Then August 21, 2010 at about 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time life happened and my son, my beautiful boy, ended his life. In doing this he shattered our plans, my heart, my sense of security and my life changed forever. It was and still is unfathomable and I have struggled to come to terms with his irrevocable act.
The day after Terry died a friend told me about her suicide attempt. She had been very depressed and entered what she called a ‘suicidal coma.’ A place where the pain so consumed her, she believed the only way to stop the pain was to die. Fortunately she survived and realized she did not want to die, she wanted the pain to stop. She said I would have to come terms with the fact that I will never understand why, that she still does not understand why she did it. She said a ‘suicidal coma’ is an irrational state of mind that you can’t understand from a rational one. This conversation was very important and profound for me. It was my first step in beginning to come to terms with the loss of my son.
We learned that Terry had been profoundly depressed for some time. He concealed it well and we had no idea, although in retrospect there were signals. His wife and closest friends knew and tried to get him to get help but he refused. Eventually in his own ‘suicidal coma’ he ended his life.
Terry left a note. One part was to a friend, a social worker. To her he wrote, ‘you could not help me because I would not let you, I am so sorry.’ I believe the stigma of mental illness kept him from accepting help. I believe he felt unworthy, hopeless and ashamed and that breaks my heart.
The first months after Terry died are a blur of shock, disbelief, numbness and anguish. As the fog dissipated, reality began to dawn and the real grieving began. I have learned that overwhelming grief is exhausting, miserable, crushing, unnerving, discombobulating, and extremely hard work. It takes a long time. It will never be okay, I will never ‘get over it’, but I will be okay. Earl Grollman wrote, ‘grief is not a disorder, a disease or a sign of weakness. It is an emotional, physical and spiritual necessity, the price you pay for love.’
Since Terry died I have spoken to so many people who have told me of their depression and suicidal thoughts. Most had rarely told anyone else because of the stigma, the fear of being shunned. I was so moved by their stories that I have become a Suicide Awareness Advocate. I am telling Terry’s story, my story to help eliminate that stigma. I want to raise awareness about mental illness, that it can happen to anyone, and that it can be fatal and the fatality is by suicide.
If you know someone who has lost a loved one to suicide please speak to them. I yearn to speak about Terry. He was a wonderful young man. I need to feel he is not forgotten. And I don’t want to just speak about how he died but how he lived. If you know someone who seems to be struggling with anxiety or depression, take time to listen to them. If someone you know mentions suicide, talk to them about it.Talking about suicide does not cause someone to become suicidal or increase the risk. Showing genuine concern by asking about suicide directly can be part of an immediate intervention.
My hope is that by talking about Terry’s life and his death, maybe other lives can be saved.