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Holidays, Losing a Child

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is coming…

When I learned for the first time that I was to become a mother, my husband and I called our parents, siblings, friends, and anyone we knew who would rejoice with us at the news. My son’s birth-day was a time of pure joy and celebration. Over the years, we repeated the ritual when three more sons were born.

Mother’s Day was a special day. It was a day to honor family, to get together, share a meal and celebrate motherhood.

On February 19, 1977, that changed abruptly with the suicide of our second born son Mitch. Our happy-go-lucky son, talented minstrel, popular, life of the party, Romeo, had unbelievably died by suicide. The unthinkable had happened. In those days, suicide was not on the public’s radar. Nobody talked about it and most people didn’t even know a family that had experienced it.

We knew secrets were deadly so we told the truth about what happened. We knew that after his girlfriend broke up a yearlong relationship, Mitch became depressed. Several perceived failures added to his hopelessness. He felt humiliated at his workplace when he made a mistake about his schedule. He couldn’t find a job performing on the piano and the guitar, which were his passions. He was conflicted as he experienced the dilemma of having four girlfriends and promising to marry three of them. He must have felt the world was closing in on him. On a Saturday morning, he shot himself in his bedroom of our home.

The rest of my story is shared in my first book My Son … My Son … A Guide to Healing After Death, Loss or Suicide. First published in l983, it was recently revised for its twenty-third printing. In it, I fully share my agonizing journey from guilt, shame, and depression to healing and hope.

As time passed and I began to reconstruct my life, I started one of the first support groups in the country, learned about untreated depression and became an advocate for suicide prevention, intervention, and aftercare. I helped create national training for S.O.S. facilitators and outreach programs for the newly bereaved through The Link Counseling Center in Atlanta, GA. I supported every suicide prevention organization I could find. I went to Washington, D.C. every year with hundreds of other advocates teaching legislators about mental illness and suicide. I was healing and I was hopeful. Without knowing it, I was beginning to give meaning to Mitch’s life and death.

Mother’s Day is coming…

For years, this special day was painful to await, and painful to experience. I was relieved when it had passed. But today I have a wiser, more mellow perspective. Today, I am grateful I am Mitch’s mother. I appreciate the twenty years I had with him. He taught me to revere life, to know how precious and fragile it is, and to cherish every moment.

On Mother’s Day, I am now reminded that it is through suffering that we humans meet one another, knowing no strangers and that life can regain its meaning through that precious kinship.

Mother’s Day is a day to honor all mothers, including birth mothers, foster mothers, surrogate mothers, and women who give care by mothering those in need. It is a day of mixed emotions –especially for mothers whose child, of any age, died by suicide. Knowing your child is no longer here to celebrate your day may be agonizing, yet at the same time, you are grateful for knowing your child for as long as they lived.

For those whose mother ended her life, the wounding is indescribable as well. There is the pain of that loss, yet you too are grateful she was in your life for as long as she could be here. Gradually, as time softens your grief, you may remember the good times with your child or your mother, and not always associate them with the way she or he died. In other words, we don’t want to let their last act color their entire life. Many years after the suicide of my son Mitch, I can truly honor his life. I am deeply grateful I knew and loved him for twenty years.

With love for all who grieve on Mother’s Day.