A Letter to My Younger Self on Understanding Suicide

Dear Lynn,

You will be blessed with a good marriage and three incredible children: a boy and two girls. The love within your family will stand as a testament to the raw beauty of human experience. Hold tight to this bond, as it will provide solace during life’s most difficult times. As a young mother, nurturing your children’s unique strengths will be your most satisfying achievement. Watching them grow into independent and compassionate adults will be your greatest joy.

Life holds no promises. On a spring day without warning your 23- year old son will die by suicide. The news will change your lives forever. In mourning you will slip into your own grief driven depression. The world without your son will be unfamiliar to you. It will be difficult for you and your family to see beyond the suffering. Only time and understanding will guide this journey. There are no words that will console or ease the pain. For a very long time you will feel isolated and without purpose.

Months will go by before you begin to understand that your son was living with anxiety and depression. His inner world hidden from everyone. He felt that he’d become a burden to the people who loved him most. The undeniable bond you shared was no match for the shame he experienced.

Your son will be remembered for his kindness and humour. You’ll hear his voice in your head and be reminded of his broad smile. He had life long chronic health conditions and you advocated for him as a child. As the veil of shock lifts you will berate yourself for not being able to save your son. But you could not help what you could not see or comprehend. His absence will be a constant reminder of how quickly life can change, however your biggest regret will be that you had absolutely no understanding of youth depression and suicide. You will share his story so other families might be spared. Another young person might seek the help they so desperately need.

Time heals and grief remembers. At times you will feel completely immobilized by sadness. I want you to know that the most difficult days will be followed by moments of grace and you will be grateful for the respite. You will begin to recognize that your pain has shifted. Everything you experience — the yearning and the questions surrounding your son’s suicide will support your search for understanding. There will be light. I promise. You will find an inner reservoir of strength, but what will matter most is your capacity to face this tragedy. The days and months spent in reflection and remembrance will eventually allow you to accept the loss of your son to suicide.

Life is for the living. In the years to come you will wake thinking about your son and not his suicide. In accepting loss, your mind will search for memories of life before depression and suicide became part of your lexicon. There will be much work to do in your son’s name and in support of youth suicide prevention. This will be the beginning of knowing that the mind can change — even when the heart cannot. Your son’s last written words and the research will be your guide to understanding contributing factors in his depression and suicide. Life will never be the same for your family but in sharing your son’s story you will change attitudes about youth mental illness.

You are stronger than you think. One day many years from now you will find yourself in front of a large group of students who have come to hear your story.

You will speak about life experiences, chronic health conditions, possible head injury, self-medicating behaviour and a sense of not belonging — all part of the litany of factors that led to your son’s depression. The students will be reminded throughout the presentation that there is never one reason in suicide.
You will develop a strong desire to impact young lives. Your passion will be evident every time you speak about your son. As a former journalist, writing will be a healing outlet and provide a platform to educate others about the stigma that is mental illness. As a mourner you will be a beacon of light. That even in tragedy there is hope.

When you feel your voice is not being heard, keep going-someone will be listening. Researchers will take note of your advocacy as they acknowledge the importance of lived experiences. Your perspective as a survivor (#SOSL) will help inform future research on suicide prevention.

Throughout life grief will never be far from the surface. Take comfort in knowing your memories will sustain you. Your commitment to youth suicide prevention and message of education and compassion will engage those who seek to better understand mental illness. Above everything, your courage in sharing your personal experience with the hope of changing outcomes for youth will be your son’s legacy.

Wishing you much peace on this difficult journey…

Close up of antique love letter on parchment

September 10, 2015 is World Suicide Prevention Day #WSPD15

For more information: https://www.iasp.info/wspd/index.php

For more information on Suicide Prevention / Where to find support: