How Laughing Was a Way to Survive After My Mom Died by Suicide
Recently I got a friendly email reminder from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) that Survivor Day is coming up on November 18. Survivor Day is a regional event for those who have lost a loved one to suicide, to join others in their area and talk. It’s for the ones who may feel left behind.
I attended my first Survivor Day in 2015, only two months after I lost my mom to suicide, and I was in shambles for the rest of the day. I did not know at the time it was too soon for me to come to terms with that loss, and now, two years later, her loss often feels like an open wound. But I’m still here, on Earth, doing my thing and making my way through life. So when I received this email recently, living as a mostly well-adjusted 23-year-old, I thought, “It’s true that I’m a survivor of suicide loss. But how did I survive?”
Two years ago, I could not really imagine getting through one day and had no idea where I would be in two years. If you’re a believer in the five stages of grief, I can confidently say that the “shock” stage lasted for months. I was in a fog trying to get through each day. Though I’m usually a very emotional person, I did not often cry in front of others or at all in the beginning. I also didn’t laugh much. I just was.
Taking things day by day was the first survival step for me in order to process my scary, post-mom life. Her funeral was the day before my senior year of college started. So, not only was I facing the daunting fact I had to start a new five-class quarter while holding down a job, I also had to face that my mom would not be there to celebrate with me in the end. As I stepped onto campus at UC Davis in September of 2015, with the recommendation from plenty of friends and family members that it might be better if I take a break from school, I remember deciding it would be better for me to get it done. But I also remember not knowing how in the world I was going to do that.
Now I can look back and realize the next stage of survival involved feeling. And the way I felt was through comedy. When I wasn’t talking or studying with friends, I often had my headphones in, listening to music; I listened to my mom’s faves: Tom Petty and U2, and my own faves: Father John Misty and The Beatles and… Taylor Swift. But songs began to make me sad and irritated. I had heard everything before, and every sad lyric could be traced back to a sad memory. At home I could escape through watching “Scrubs” or “Parks and Rec,” but on campus I felt trapped in a negative head space.
I had watched episodes of the silly IFC interview show “Comedy Bang! Bang!” and soon found out it had a podcast by the same name. I started on the newest episode available, and it was like turning on a light in a dark room. I was giggling on the morning bus, laughing audibly as I biked home, even snorting into my pillow before bed, trying not to wake up my roommate. At work when I could not handle the noise of other people nearby, I sneakily plugged in a headphone to take a happy, mental break. I felt like I was supposed to be sad, I told everyone I was OK, but what I needed was to laugh. I missed laughing. I’m not even sure if those episodes of “CBB” were the most hilarious ones in the world, but they gave me a reason to crack up when I needed it. When I felt pressure to be sad because of this huge loss, I had a reason to laugh. And laughing gave me more permission to grieve. The thought of crying and sitting with my sadness didn’t feel so endless when I knew I could turn to an episode of “How Did This Get Made?” or “Who Charted?” (lots of podcasts that are questions!) afterwards. Comedy and podcasts gave me a way to be happy when I felt I was not supposed to be.
Now, I’ve gained my taste for music back. I still listen to my mom’s faves, and I still listen to my faves. But I am also subscribed to several funny podcasts I listen to on my commute, in the shower, on a walk. I go to shows and I watch stand-up specials. Comedy keeps me happy, and when I ask myself how I survived, and how I continue to survive, comedy is my answer. I don’t want to minimize the support I received from my dad, friends, roommates, professors, co-workers and my therapist, because they are also how I survived. But since graduating college, I’ve moved back home and then moved out on my own, and comedy has been the constant excuse I have to laugh. On bad days, when anxiety tells me not to get up, the prospect of a new podcast is what takes me out of bed.
Whether you are a recent survivor of suicide loss or you lost someone to suicide years ago, the pain can often feel fresh and full. And just because comedy worked for me as a way to get through some of my hardest days, does not mean it will work for everyone. But I hope you can find something — a book to read, a song to sing, a therapy group to talk to, a TV show to watch, an article to catch up on, a dog to pet or a sweater to knit that will help you survive. Whatever it is that gets you to your next destination, I hope you find it. Because looking back and saying, “I survived and I’m still surviving,” is worth it.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.
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Lead photo submitted by contributor