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The Question I Dread as a Parent Whose Child Died by Suicide

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The dreaded question throughout my day: How many children do I have?

It’s time to meet new people. As a mother who’s lost a child, I stand in a crowd of strangers, a crowd of strangers who don’t know my grief and I hope never do. I have always been a pretty social person and now, four months after my daughter Brittany died by suicide, I am struggling to return to my life and my responsibilities.

I am waiting as I’m introduced for the questions. First, my name. I got this one. It’s easy. Then, what I do for a living. That’s easy too. Then, the dreaded ones. How many kids do you have? Seems easy. I have two girls. I’ve had two girls for more than 18 years now. So it just comes out.

How old are your kids? This is where I lose it. Tears well up in my eyes and I can see the uncomfortable look on the face of the people I’m being introduced to. I pause. Do I say Brittany would be 18 and Butchie is 16. Do I ignore the fact that my oldest has went to live in heaven and just say 17 and 16? What do I do when they are the same age?  Do I add the years on for my daughter who went to live in heaven just before her 18th birthday? Even more heartbreaking, do I say my Butchie is 16 and leave Brittany out of it completely?

I have always been open about my grief. Yet, this question is the hardest to answer. How much do I explain? I am typically a strong woman, but this hits me like a ton of bricks every time. If I do say I lost my Brittany just a few months ago, then comes the question, “What happened?”

I am also not shy or ashamed about making sure the awareness is there for mental illness and suicide prevention. If she died from any other disease, then it wouldn’t be looked at the way suicide is. This is why I need to choose to say she died by suicide. If I can show one person that mental health is the same as physical health, then it is worth it.

Now, I’m back to this battle in my head. What do I share? I don’t share about Brittany for pity or sympathy. I truly share about my daughter because I want things to be different for this terrible disease. This disease needs change behind it. It needs awareness. It needs a voice!

For now, I battle in my head for what seems like an eternity when someone asks me the simple question, “How many children do you have?” I will forever be a mother of two girls. One just lives in heaven now.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
Originally published: August 16, 2016
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