Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away.
So he said to his mother, “I am running away.”
“If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you.
For you are my little bunny.”
— MARGARET WISE BROWN
This post may be too difficult to read, especially if you have lost a loved one to suicide. I have been putting much thought into how I would write about my daughter’s suicide attempt, or if I should. I don’t like to think about it or dwell on it but it has forever changed our lives. I know that it is not because of anything I did that she is alive today, any more than another child’s loss was the result of anything his/her parent did to cause it. We do the best we can as parents, and at some point in our lives it becomes clear that we cannot control everything that happens to our children, nor protect them from every illness.
Since my daughter wrote her post, From Darkness to Sunshine, I have been contemplating how to write about her suicide attempt from my perspective. We decided when she wrote her post, that it might be helpful to share my feelings about it as well. So here goes….
Three years ago today, I received the most frightening phone call of my life. Growing up I had become accustomed to getting summoned to the office at school because they had received a frantic phone call from my mom during one of her delusional episodes. This was different. It was also different from the many phone calls I had received during the previous 2 years from my daughter’s friends, fellow team mates, her coach, or her doctor, concerned about her state of mind. This was the call I had been fearing most. I felt the blood draining out of my head and sheer terror as I listened to her doctor telling me she had been greeted with a disturbing e-mail that morning, sent from my daughter in the middle of the night. I could hear the panic in her voice as she explained that she was unable to reach my daughter and feared the worst had happened. It felt like a darkness had descended upon me, like the dark shadows that blanket the earth during a lunar eclipse.
The hour before I knew whether she was still alive were unbearable, as were the hours it took for me to fly there and actually get to see her 12 hours later in the corridors of the psychiatric unit at Johns Hopkins. She was unable to look me in the eyes and hung her head in shame, whimpering sadly. I embraced her frail body and held her face in my hands, forcing her to look at me with her sunken blue eyes.
I took a two month leave from work when my daughter got out of the hospital so that I could be there with her. It rained most of the days I was there. She and I lived in my sister’s basement and she was able to complete most of her courses that semester and work part-time. I had never been off work for this long and didn’t realize how exhausted I had become. This journey had begun many years ago, when she had her first episode of depression as a teenager, and I had become increasingly obsessed with making sure she was okay. The 500-mile distance between us when she left for college did not deter me from keeping close tabs on her and resulted in many trips back and forth. Sometimes when I hadn’t heard from her for a day or two, I felt like I couldn’t breath and would not feel relief until I heard her voice.
Now my days were spent keeping myself occupied mopping floors, organizing my sister’s pots and pans, going through my daughter’s things, waiting for my niece and nephews to come home from school each day, running in the neighborhood, and sleeping. I slept on a couch in the room next to my daughter’s and clung to the moments when I would see her face again. I spent many hours just sitting on the couch, attempting to understand what made her feel like taking her own life. I knew she had been struggling for a couple of months, but she had sounded optimistic when I had talked to her the day before her attempt, leaving me to wonder what I could have done differently. I am glad she was finally able to put into words how she was feeling, although I am still looking for answers about how to recognize clues that it might happen again some day.
For weeks I dreaded the time when I would have to leave and go back to work, returning to the same pattern of fear and uncertainty, only this time it would be more intense. I didn’t know how I would ever be able to leave her again. By some miracle, at the end of two months I was finally able to go back home with a new understanding that I am not able to control someone else’s actions, no matter how much I try.
I know that we are blessed that my daughter is still here with us, and I cannot imagine the pain that so many parents have had to endure after the loss of their child to suicide. The reasons for suicide are complex and there are no simple answers. What I can do now is to learn as much as possible about the issues that lead to suicide, reach out to those who have been touched by the loss of someone, and to open up to others about our experience. Most importantly I hope to know the signs well enough to be able to reach out and help her if it ever happens again. I pray that it doesn’t.
After it happened, I didn’t want anyone to know. It was strange going back to work after spending two months away with a very sick child. Nobody asked and I didn’t tell what had happened. If she had another type of illness, the reaction would have been very different. People tread lightly when their peers are dealing with any type of mental health problems. After my daughter and I started opening up and sharing, I was surprised at how many people have had similar experiences. By sharing our stories, we learn from each other and remind others about the importance of strengthening mental health care systems and treatment options.
I am very grateful for my sister and her family, who opened up their home to us and helped nurture my daughter (and me) back to health. I know it was not easy at times, but their love and support were a vital part of the recovery process.
I thank one of my good friends who took my daughter under her wing and provided her with an internship that summer. It was wonderful knowing that she was looking out for her. I greatly appreciated the love she gave my daughter and her reassuring phone calls when my daughter was struggling.
I am so thankful for my wonderful friends whose names I will not mention for privacy reasons. They provided a voice of reason when I wasn’t sure how to handle things. I felt vulnerable and didn’t always know the right answers. They listened without judgment and helped me to work through a lot of my fears about the future.
I am grateful for my oldest daughter, who has such a gentle, loving spirit. I know it broke her heart to see her sister suffer, and she has been a great support to us all.
Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to.
Don’t try to see through the distances.
That’s not for human beings.
Move within, but don’t move the way fear makes you move.