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Carol's Columns

Suicide and Loss

I was asked the question, “What do you tell parents who have suicidal thoughts after their child dies?” As you all know, the death of a child is one of life’s greatest pains. I think the only pain greater is losing more than one child, and too many of you parents have. When filled to the brim with pain, we may feel the only way to get rid of the pain is to get rid of ourselves. We can’t imagine living without our child. Suicide may seem like the only option when the light at the end of the tunnel is either nonexistent or very dim. A suicidal person’s perspective on life can narrow to the extent that she feels she has nothing to offer. The world is better off without her.

I remember well those suicidal feelings after my daughter Kristen’s death and mention in my book how, when taking a bubble bath, I wanted to slip under the water and disappear. Exhausted from the pain, I saw this as an easy solution. Thank goodness an equally strong feeling overtook me: I could never do this to Michel, my son who was nine at the time. He had just lost his sister. He didn’t need to lose his mother.

Still, living a life of pain would be like living a death. That wasn’t an option. The only option was to somehow turn the pain into something meaningful.

This is the challenge we each face as bereaved parents if we are to live a life of meaning. Grief demands patience and a trust that we will find a way through. As impossible as this feels, we must try to reach deep within ourselves beyond the pain to the gifts our child gave us. Even in infant deaths, our babies gave us one of the greatest of gifts. They gave us love. We need to use the power of this love to create their legacy. Suicide robs them of that.

We do not “get over” the loss of our child. We will never be the same. We will always miss them but, with the right support, we can recover from the anger, sadness, isolation and despair that threatened to devastate us. We heal and often become a better, stronger person.

From The Compassionate Friends to MADD, many wonderful organizations began with the death of a child. Great art, literature and music were created out of grief and have benefitted us all. The late Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who pioneered the field of grief and loss often said, “Remember, the purest gold comes from the hottest fire.” When you feel yourself giving into the desperate feelings of suicide, I challenge you to look for the gold. What will your child’s legacy be?