‘Was I blind?’ The agony of scrutiny after suicide
I became a member of a club that I never wanted to join in April 2009, when my oldest son, Had, committed suicide a month after his 21st birthday. He was such a happy and contented kid, so full of life, joy and possibilities. He was smart, funny, kind to little children (at least the ones that weren’t his brothers) and always seemed to come out of every tricky spot in life smelling like a rose.
I never thought suicide would enter our lives. I never thought I would become a suicide survivor.
Looking back, I can see that somewhere during his teenage years, my son began to exhibit signs of depression, which continued through his short journey into manhood. It’s only hindsight that gives me clarity. I never saw it at the time.
Was I blind? Why couldn’t I see that some of the rebelliousness, apathy and anger we saw in him was not mere teenage angst but likely a manifestation of the depression that dogged him? Why couldn’t I save him? Why didn’t I say some magic words that would have convinced him that life was worth living?
I don’t ask myself those questions, although that’s the type of scrutiny suicide survivors are sometimes made to endure by those who don’t know any better.
My husband and I became Christians when we were in college, we went to church every week with our boys and tried to teach them about the love of God and what it meant to be a Christian. Had was a star Sunday School pupil. He went to church camp as a teen, was involved in youth group and helped teach Vacation Bible School.
I prayed for my boys constantly when they were growing up.
There is a passage in the Bible where Jesus teaches that if a child asks for a fish, a good father won’t give his child a snake; Jesus goes on to add how much more eager our heavenly father is to give us good gifts. After Had’s death, I wasn’t just struggling with one snake, I felt like I had been thrown into a pit of vipers.
My prayers were earnest and heartfelt, why didn’t God answer them? How could a loving God allow my son to sink into despair so deep that suicide became the option he chose? I never believed in the health and wealth gospel, which seems to suggest that the entire reason for Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection was to make us all healthy, wealthy and happy on earth, and I never thought that life would be all rainbows and sunshine simply because we were Christians. Nonetheless, when I was a young mom 20 years ago reading the story of David and Goliath to my three goofy, happy little boys, if someone would have told me that we’d end up walking down this heartbroken road, I would have told him he was smoking crack.
Our youngest son is now older than our oldest son will ever be. I delight in the adult relationships I have with my two surviving sons, but sometimes I’m overcome with melancholy about the adult relationship I’ll never enjoy with Had.
I’ve worked my way through the grief, loss, bitterness and bewilderment, although occasionally I find myself visiting those dark holes once again. I spent four years studying scriptures to come to a new appreciation of God’s grace and the overwhelming depth of love He has for flawed human beings, but Had’s death left me profoundly wounded and damaged. It’s OK, though, because the world is full of wounded, damaged people like me who are simply doing the best we can.
Had’s favorite high school teacher is a member of the same gym that I am, and I saw him out of the corner of my eye several times over the summer. I usually avoided his gaze and hurried on to my class. I have nothing against Ralph, who’s a lovely human being and a good German teacher, but it just hurts too much to talk to him and wonder what could have been. Had really had a gift with languages, accents and words.
I can’t listen to the song we played at Had’s funeral without crying. I don’t thumb through family photo albums anymore. Although my family has recovered and learned how to have joy in spite of the sorrow we share, at times we still grieve over our son and our brother. We simply miss him and wish he were here with us.
We’ll never get to watch Had beam with joy while he watches his son sing at a Christmas concert. I’ll never dance with him at his wedding. We’ll never laugh with him over the funny things he did as a kid.
Suicide is such a permanent and terrible solution to temporary problems. It leaves those left behind with such a sad, confusing, guilt-ridden tangle of emotions and it robs the person who commits suicide of life, in all its glorious joy, weirdness, hope and pain. Suicide isn’t an end to the pain; it’s simply passing it on to others.
For those who think it’s an option when life gets unbearable, remember that no one will be better off without you. No one will be glad you’re gone. You will be missed, grieved and your death will plunge those who love you into the same anguish you must be feeling.
Please don’t give up. Please don’t throw away life. Whatever pain, despair and anguish you feel is temporary, but life, with all of its beauty, awe and quirkiness, lasts a long time and there are a thousand reasons to hope and try again.
Mesa County has some of the worst suicide statistics in the country. I don’t have any solutions, magic wands or words that are guaranteed to convince those who are in distress to get help, but in Mesa County, one female commits suicide for every three males who commit suicide. Until we figure out a way to give men solutions, perspective and hope in dealing with the issues that plague their lives, we’re only kidding ourselves to think that we’ll end suicide.
Penny Stine has been married to Kent Stine for 29 years and has worked at The Daily Sentinel since 2006. Penny, Kent and their three boys moved to Grand Junction in 2000 after living near Seattle, Washington for 15 years. Had attended West Middle School and graduated from Grand Junction High School. He played soccer and football and wrestled. He loved to read and would often stay up all night just to finish a book.