Parenting comes to life in the stories we share.
Whether it’s a moment of joy or a moment of distress, we can learn from each other.
Steph and Colleen McGregor, Georgetown, ON
This may be one of the most truthful statements ever made because if you have not lost a child you simply cannot imagine it. Losing a child to suicide….well, that is another whole category of unimaginable.
I have been a parent on both ends of this. A friend of ours lost their teenage daughter in a car accident. We felt a huge loss for them, but we had no idea what they were going through. At the time, we might have thought we knew. We thought we could see how much pain they were in—but we found out later that we truly had no idea.
On June 5th, 2015 when I got a call from my neighbour at 8:37am and heard that our 23 year old son had taken his own life, I knew their pain. It is an all consuming pain that still gets me in the gut, all too often.
People can relate to other pains or losses, even pleasures, when they compare their experiences to what someone else is going through. But not the loss of a child. It’s a one of a kind loss. It is the loss of the most precious thing in our lives. We can see into the eyes and expressions of our friends and family. We know they are doing their best to console us but they have no idea what to say or do and, for the most part, they are uncomfortable even talking about our loss with us.
Now that we are on the wrong side of the statement and look into the eyes of another parent who has lost a child, we can see it in them. One of our friends who has lost 2 daughters told me, in a tearful hug after our son had passed, that he was sorry to say it, but we are now in a club with them. It’s not a club that you want to be in and it comes with a lifelong pain that there is no cure for. Money can’t fix it, having another child can’t fix it, time can’t even fix it. It becomes more of a chronic pain that you learn to live with.
There are other pains that come with a child dying by suicide. If our son had died in a work related accident, an investigation would most likely have been able to answer our questions as to why. If he had died because of a disease or a cancer, our questions would have been answered. Even most car accidents can be reconstructed to get the answers when there are deaths. Not suicide.
The unanswered questions left when a child takes their own life are a pain all their own. Why didn’t we see it coming? Did we miss any obvious signs? Was it how we raised him? The list goes on and on. The answers will never be available to us. Any possible answer to one of the tiniest questions usually brings up more questions that don’t have answers. I can’t count how many times we have asked ourselves the same questions and know well that we will ask them again. Sometimes the questions are discussed together and sometimes they are what prevent us from sleeping.
It’s been two and half years since we lost our son and the pain is still there, the questions are still running through our heads and life continues. We have not stopped talking about our son for our sake. We need to talk about him and will continue to as long as we live. We need to keep his name—and him—part of our daily life.
There was a question on a TV show that asked,
“If there was a magic pill that could take away our pain, but it meant we wouldn’t have any memory of our child, would you take it”?
It was an easy answer for us.
Not a chance!
We can live with the lifelong chronic pain of how his life ended and we can even tolerate the answerless questions, but we never want to live without the memories of the 23 years we had with him.
Editor’s note: at Parenting Now, we are so very grateful to Steph and Colleen for sharing their story with us. We hope that their insights and experiences will be helpful to anyone who has experienced the loss of a child. Bereaved Families of Ontario, Midwest Region provides a range of resources and services that you might find helpful.
Steph and Colleen have also helped us to understand how the unimaginable loss of a child to suicide is intensified by the unanswerable questions and the constant, gut-wrenching pain. If you are seeking support, The Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council provides a range of group supports for people who have lost a loved one to suicide. Click here to learn more. To see a list of resources for the greater Waterloo, Wellington, Dufferin, Guelph areas, click here.
We also invite you to share your thoughts, insights or experiences with us. Post a comment on this article or join in a conversation in our Chat Room.