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When You're Constantly Worried Someone You Love Will Die by 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.

I remember her red puffy eyes, her chapped cheeks from her tears, tears that continued to run down her face and soak her neck. I recall her agitation, the slump of her defeated shoulders, her hands that she was wringing and the fact that she couldn’t look me in the eye. I stood there, as an 8-year-old, staring up at my distraught mother, unable to calm her. Instead, she demanded space, space that I obediently gave her. I honestly do not know how I was able to conjure up the word in my head, but it was strong and blaringly clear to my little girl self then that my mother was contemplating suicide. I suddenly felt the need to speak up and tell someone, so I did.

I told an older teenage sibling that our mother had pleaded with me to tell her where the key that kept all weapons in our household locked up was, how she became upset when I told her I didn’t know even though I did, in fact, know. From here, the memories are a bit blurry and blend. I recall finding this family member struggle to remove something from my mother’s hands as she screamed that she wanted to die, that she had the right to. I recall feeling terrified and stunned, holding my breath till my chest hurt and my breathing burned my lungs. My mind often flashes in slow motion as each of my mother’s fingers were forcibly removed until her grip was finally released. Then, I hear her bewildered cries and the screams that followed that she wasn’t successful at taking her life as she returned to her bedroom, locking herself inside it for hours.

I stopped counting all the times something like this occurred. It was over the course of a few years that I continued to witness moments where my mother was either a threat to harming herself or others, including me. Those years are extremely difficult to unbox and ones that I don’t tend to share with just anyone. Only those closest to me are privy to what that was like and how much it impacted me as a child and even into adulthood. The fear of being abandoned by way of suicide by those I loved or were my sense of safety to me became my boogyman, that monster hiding under my bed. So did the incredibly heavy burden to be the one person to rescue those I loved from it.

I consistently found myself worried and afraid that a friend, a family member, sometimes even acquaintances that were more like strangers, would experience suicidal ideation and eventually make an attempt. And sometimes, sadly, those worries and fears were warranted.

As a prolonged trauma survivor, periods of anxiety and depression occur. There were some years were I lived with a heavy darkness around me, blocking out the sunlight. But it wasn’t until the age of 25 that I considered ending my life. These thoughts shook me to my core as I had always been one that considered myself mentally grounded. In fact, while others around me fought suicidal ideation, I was the one who supported them. Suddenly, I needed support. Those six months were a very difficult six months in my life, but I walked away stronger and determined to take better care of my health, physical and mental alike. It meant taking more time for myself, saying “no” more often to projects that, although I felt incredibly passionate about, also couldn’t take a front seat while my overall well-being took a backseat. It looked like getting more sleep, immersing myself in nature and looking at professional options to help me heal from that time. It meant examining where my energy was going and how much was spent actively on myself. It meant facing head on what that day nearly 20 years ago did to me. No, my mother didn’t die by suicide that day; she passed a mere two years later due to a car accident. But the trauma that I came away with after that event and all the others that came before and that followed, deeply impacted the way I viewed the world and those I loved who are in it.

Here’s what that can really look like…

Sitting outside of a sibling’s bedroom door as a teenager after a family disagreement that left them locking everyone else out. Keeping your phone on at all hours, ready to take a call from a friend or relative that had a bad day, worried that maybe you missed something in their tone of voice when they shared about it. Maybe I heard them say life was not only horrible, but they wanted it to end? It’s lying in your boyfriend’s arms sobbing that they won’t leave you and at the same time, begging they do if the relationship is detrimental to their mental health. It’s pleading with those you love to get some help and inwardly panicking when they won’t do it. It’s hopping in the car to be a reason that they reconsider. It’s carrying that burden from childhood of what if. What if I didn’t say something? What if I did but my mother still died? What if she didn’t actually die from a car accident after all and suicide was the real cause? What if I end up just like my mother did? What if everyone I love dies? What if I am left all alone?

Suicide prevention shouldn’t be just the prevention of a deadly suicide attempt. It’s about preventing a mental health crisis in entire families before one can unfortunately occur. It’s about offering them hope, before it even seems there is none.

I can’t begin to imagine the grief that those who have lost a loved one to suicide face day after day. That pain must be unbearable and their strength immeasurable. Support is vital, just as support for those who experienced the trauma of witnessing a loved one attempt suicide. There is hope. Hope from suicidal ideation and hope for healing. Suicide didn’t have to be a boogyman, that monster lurking under my childhood bed. It didn’t have to be a fear that plagued me throughout my teenage years. It didn’t have to be an insecurity and worry that I brought into new relationships as an adult. It didn’t need to be something I felt afraid of. There was always hope, just as there always will be.

Photo by Edgar Hernández on Unsplash

Originally published: November 18, 2020
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