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Why I Write About Losing My Daughter to Suicide

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

When my 15-year-old daughter ended her life, life as I knew it ended as well. Her desperate act impacted so many lives in an irreparable way. Compounding my grief was the stigma surrounding suicide and the heavy burden of guilt as a mother unable to protect her child. I blamed myself and suspected others did as well. What the hell kind of mother could I have been for my child to want to die?

The first few weeks I was in shock, not quite believing that this could have happened, even though my daughter had been hospitalized and on medication for severe depression. Even though I knew how she suffered, I believed she would get through adolescence and things would be better. She would be happy.

Weeks after her death, I still expected her to walk in the door. Each time the phone rang, my heart quickened, hoping it was her calling to tell me she was waiting for me to pick her up.

I needed to talk about it, but it hurt to breathe. I wanted someone to tell me when the pain would end. I found a support group for survivors of suicide. I wish someone had told me the truth. That I would never get over this. That 20 years later there would not be a day that I didn’t think of her and while many memories were indeed a blessing, others were like land mines. I had a dog that could sniff them out, get closer and try to guide me around those memories. But as careful as I was, trying to step around them, sometimes, especially in the dark, they would explode and take another piece of me, leaving another jagged, severed end. Another open, festering wound.

When I began to write about my daughter and share that work in my writing group, I sensed some people were uncomfortable with the raw emotion that spilled like blood and tears onto the page. I tried to write more palatable things. Anecdotes about my children in the Before Time. I wrote humorous stories, essays about nature and tales about my dogs. I wrote fiction about my work as a home care and hospice nurse. But I kept coming back to writing about my daughter.

The stories were difficult to write and often left me spent, exhausted by the effort. Is there a therapeutic effect, a catharsis? Possibly. Or would I be better off not giving the memories the time and space to surface, tying them up as I did for many years, throwing myself into a frenzy of work, garden and exercise to bind them inside me, too tired to notice them trying to escape.

I know I am not alone in carrying the trauma of her death with me for over 20 years. I’ve spoken with many other bereaved parents still roiling, years later, from the blunt force impact of a child’s suicide. The one thing we have in common, these parents and I, is the thing we hate most about our lives. And yet it is our collective sorrow that makes us recognize one another and reach out for connection. For understanding we’re never getting over this and that’s the way it is. We suspect others are saying we should have “healed” by now. We should move on, come to terms with our loss. Sometimes we are actually subjected to hearing those pep talks from our friends and family. One friend in a writing group advised me to give up my nonfiction and write thrillers.

“Use your nursing background, write what you know. Write a thriller about a nurse who’s killing off patients.”

He even went on to outline the plot for me. The one that he thought I should write. But that’s not what I write. When I’ve written myself free of the suicide writing, when I’ve written that well dry, maybe then I’ll write more stories about the Before Time. I’ll write nature essays and more stories about my dogs. I’ll write for the fun of it.

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Getty image by stefanamer

Originally published: December 6, 2020
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