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My Role as a Mother Whose Son Died by Suicide

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The night our son Tom died by suicide, his father and I spoke about how we were going to talk about his death with his brother, our families, and our community. We very quickly made the decision to be transparent about Tom’s taking his own life, in hopes we might make a difference for others. In hindsight, the fact we even had that conversation reiterates the painful reality of the shameful feelings attached to mental illness. If Tom had died by some other ailment, the decision to disclose it would have been a non-issue.

In the days after Tom’s death, I remember being fearful others would talk about me behind my back, discussing my poor parenting skills, my lack of connection with my son, or how his passing was somehow my fault. And although I have heard some thoughtless things about my son’s death, no one has ever told me any of those things. In fact, someone said, “You are the best mom I know. If it could happen to your son, it could happen to any of our children.” Those words gave me great comfort while also planting the idea of telling our story.

Part of me does not want to be defined as a mother who lost her son to mental illness. But on the other hand, the words come easily to me, and it seems I am allowed a little more grace than average when I passionately broach the topic of the need for more prevention or mental health services in our rural area. Other survivors tell me they are glad I speak up about the topic because they cannot find the strength to do so. People also seem forgiving when grief overtakes me, and I cry in the oddest of places or at the most inopportune moments. I appreciate having the freedom to express my emotions in connection with this important message.

As my students, our children’s friends, and my work colleagues move on to other life chapters and adventures, their knowledge of me and Tom leaves our little town. I fear soon Tom will be forgotten and the grace afforded me throughout the last year and a half will wain. But I also realize as new people enter my life, I will have the opportunity to talk with them about Tom’s life and death, and in doing so, become an education ambassador about mental health topics.

I love Tom in life and death and feel no shame about how he died.

Pain, yes.

Shame, no.

Tom was a kind, sensitive, and helpful young man with a warm heart for those he loved. I am not an expert in the mental health field, although I am much more educated than I was 522 days ago. However, what I lack in education I make up for in my passion for both Tom and the subject of mental illness. Tom lives on in my desire to help educate others.

family of 3

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

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Originally published: January 26, 2017
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