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My Mission to Remember After My Son's 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 741-741

“Caution – Contains Sensitive Material.”

That was the sticker attached to the outside of the envelope that contained my son’s autopsy report. It went on to advise me to open the envelope with the support of family or friends and also to touch base with my doctor if I needed help with some of the terminology used.

So what did I do?

I say on my couch at home — alone — and I opened that darn thing. Not because I lacked family or friends to sit with me. I know numerous people would have been there for me in an instant. In my own stubborn way I was offended by the sticky label and the accompanying letter and I wanted to do this by myself. To read through the report by myself, because when it comes down to it, Harry had only one mother and I was it. I received the report two months after Harry’s death by suicide and a month before his father also died. I really do hope that Harry’s dad didn’t get the same report or if he did, I hope he wasn’t able to read it. No parent should ever have to read an autopsy report.

I was looking through my “Harry Mountain” today, the massive stack of paper I have collected over the past three years as Harry’s death is investigated. The autopsy report reminded me there have been many instances since my boy died where I felt as though I had been transported into an alternate universe.

The surreal three days we spent in ICU often return to me as flashbacks. Usually at the most inopportune moments, when my brain relaxes the steel-like fist it usually clenches around those memories. My brain does this so I can function in life without falling apart crying at the drop of a hat. When the grip relaxes, memories slip through the mental fingers and whisper behind my eyelids. I see my mouth so close to his ear so I can focus my unconscious son’s attention on the words he needs to hear.

You are loved, my beloved boy. You are loved, you are loved, you are loved.

In my mind I push through the doors of the ICU ward and out into the corridor where the waiting rooms are packed full of family and the beautiful young people who held vigil with Harry, as his body was shutting down. I walk again into the massive, love-filled hugs and I feel the dampness of salty tears seep through my clothes and into my skin.

I see the chocolate sludge seeping into a collection bag under his bed, the evidence of the last food he ate. A red foil-wrapped chocolate heart I had given him earlier in the evening. Every time I see those hearts now I remember the way he nibbled it gently, to check the quality, then scarfed it down in a couple of big chomps, declaring it to be “goooood.”

I dreamed about Harry’s feet often in the months and years after he died. He was wearing compression stockings on his legs in the ICU and his big feet were stuck out at the end of his bed. I remember mindlessly massaging those feet, trying to coax movement back
into them, determined I would see them dance again. And I would cover them over, tucking in the edges of the cotton blankets so he wouldn’t get cold.

And when my boy died and I held him in my arms, I felt the last breath leave his body and his soul flutter beyond my grasp. I’m not sure how I’ll ever really recover from that moment. Ever. I can appreciate how blessed I was to be able to hold my baby when he entered the world and when he left it. Very lucky. The flip side always comes back in the flashback though.

He left me.

I felt him leave me. I couldn’t hold on to him.

He left me.

Sometimes I wonder whether my memories should be tagged with that sticky label too: “Caution – Contains Sensitive Material.”

If they were, would I heed the warning to leave them alone until I was in the company of family or friends?  I don’t think so. My stubborn streak is still very much alive and well inside of me. I don’t want to be scared of the sensitive material lurking away inside of me. I want to be able to release it, to share it, to live with it. Hiding away behind a sticky label may work for a while but it’s not long term though. Long term, I am living with the loss of my son and with my flashbacks.  He left me way too soon. I’m broken in ways I could never have imagined.

He left me and I lived…

And it is my mission to remember, to feel and to love.

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Originally published: February 6, 2017
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