I have become friends with someone, Randall, that lost his own 15 year old son to suicide 1 year ago today. Our children share so many similarities; the intelligence, the achievements, the kindness, the potential, and unfortunately the gift to be able to hide a horrible depression inside of them which ultimately killed them.
He wrote a beautiful tribute to his son on his page and I wanted to share it here with you today. Another heartbroken parent who is now able to take his grief and try to help others even though he suffers greatly himself. I hope to attain that ability one day. Here is his message:
“Reflections on the One-Year Anniversary of My Son’s Death by Suicide
One year ago, my first public statement about my son’s suicide began with the following words:
“Two days ago, my precious 15 year-old only son, Samuel P. Robinson, scrawled a hastily prepared handwritten note in his bedroom and then quietly retreated into the cool autumn night at the bottom of my ex-wife’s large backyard. I have replayed in my mind hundreds and hundreds of times what might have been going through his tortured mind when he finally raised the barrel of the handgun that he pressed against the very center of his forehead before squeezing off a single round that instantly killed all of my dreams and aspirations for my youngest child.”
In the year that has passed since then, it would be an understatement to say that things have changed in my life. It might be more accurate to say that my old life ended on October 17, 2012 — the day my son, Sam, ended his life. When my only son died, a part of me died with him…perhaps, the best part of me. The world, as I knew it, ceased to exist when my child breathed his last breath. On that day, my entire world slipped off its axis, leaving everything in chaos and confusion.
Sam’s suicide was as sudden as it was unexpected. There was no time to prepare or brace ourselves for what has justifiably been called “every parent’s worst nightmare”. The pain of losing a child to suicide is more horrific than the most terrifying nightmares. Grieving the suicide death of a child is like living in a recurring nightmare from which there is no waking. Indeed, peaceful slumber evades the newly bereaved parent who learns that their child has taken their life. Sleepless and fitful nights become the norm when your dead child is the last person that you think about before drifting off to sleep and the thought of your dead child is the first thought that enters your mind when you wake up in the morning. Throughout the day, not 10 or 15 minutes go by without intrusive thoughts of your child’s suicide. The most painful thoughts are those that recall every grisly and bloody detail of the scene where I reacted in horror at the sight of my son’s lifeless body.
I’m sure that it took me every bit of six months, if not longer, for the shock and the numbness to begin to wear off and the awful reality finally began to set in that I would never see my son again. (Not in this lifetime, anyway.) That’s when the real work begins in grieving the loss of a loved one. Fortunately, by the time the thin veneer of denial and disbelief began to fade, I was already involved in a support group that was meeting me at my point of need. Meeting once a week at my church, the Survivors of Suicide support group gave me an opportunity to discover that my grief was neither extremely uncommon or unique. In fact, I have discovered that suicide crosses all ethnic, socio-economic, religious, and cultural barriers. No one is entirely immune from either suicide, itself, or the effects of suicide which are far-reaching upon the families that it touches.
Surrounded by so-called “survivors of suicide”, as we refer to those who are bereaved by the suicide death of a loved one, it does not take long to discover that we survivors share many of the same questions about the deaths of our loved ones. Of course, THE central question is usually simply “Why?” I.e., Why did you choose to leave me? Why didn’t you get help? Why didn’t you tell me you were in trouble? Why couldn’t you have found another way? Why wasn’t my love good enough to keep you here? Why?! Why?! Why?!
It also does not take long to discover that the only person who could satisfactorily answer any of these questions is no longer talking. Even those who do choose to leave suicide notes (who, curiously, are statistically in the minority) generally leave many questions unanswered and their motivation unclear. It soon becomes apparent that we will never have completely satisfactory answers to the questions we have about why our loved ones chose to leave their bodies. Partial answers and some strong clues are sometime capable of being gleaned from the behavior and activities of those who have completed suicide; but, as with all suicides, there is simply a mystery about the unknowable that must be accepted and embraced by those who are trying to make sense of what amounts to a senseless act. There are some questions for which we will not find satisfactory answers…at least, not in this lifetime.
A close cousin of the “why” questions is the whole category of speculation dealing with the “what-ifs”. I.e., What if I had only done this, that, or the other? What if I hadn’t done this thing or that thing? What if I could do this over again, what would I change or do differently? There are hundreds of what-if questions that constantly undermine the thinking of survivors of suicide, forcing them to re-examine every angle of their prior interactions with their loved one with the hope of identifying something that might have or could have made the difference. Mostly, the “what-if” questions that we survivors bombard ourselves with are an exercise in futility since nothing that we could say now or nothing that we have said or done in the past is now going to change the outcome. Still, it is human nature to assume that we have a great deal more power or control over the actions of people than is actually the case. Ultimately, my son and my son alone is responsible for the choice that he made for himself. Obviously, I would have chosen a different outcome for my son or at least a different approach to the handling of his undisclosed problems. But I was not permitted the luxury of any input, advice, or counsel concerning my teenager’s unilateral decision to end his life. I regret that, but it does not change the outcome.
Once you are left with the conclusion that you will never have full or complete information as to why your loved one took their life and once you have come to accept that all of the what-ifs in the world are not going to change the final ugly reality of the suicide death…it is at that point that we finally come full circle and return to the ageless question that so many of us must confront in facing any type of painful circumstance in life. Why did this happen to me and what can I learn from it? The noted French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said, “What is important is not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens to us.”
I have not yet fully determined how I will respond to my 15 year-old son’s death from suicide exactly one year ago today. But I have already seen a few profound changes in my life and I don’t mind sharing a few of those things with you before I close. My son’s death has helped me to feel profoundly more empathy toward other people who are suffering from bereavement. People who suffer in silence with debilitating mental depression that they either cannot or will not not discuss with others are now heavy on my heart. But the people with whom I feel a particular kinship are those who have similarly experienced the unimaginably painful loss of losing a loved one to suicide. There are no words to describe their pain; but, I have felt or experienced it, myself. I have seen the shell-shocked look of devastation on the faces of family members who have wandered into my support group shortly after the funeral of a spouse, a child, or a sibling who has died of suicide. I know how hard it is for them. I have the heart of a servant toward them now. I want them to know that they CAN survive the death of a loved one! Toward that end, I have poured myself into my local suicide survivors support group where I have received training and assumed a leadership role in co-facilitating our group at the invitation of our group’s leader. I’m also active in an online suicide survivors support group on Facebook which, sadly, claims almost four thousand members whose lives have been directly impacted by suicide.
Suicide – the very name is probably the ugliest word in the English language. Yet it is a word that describes the fatal culmination of a painful condition from which our loved ones were unable to free themselves despite their best efforts. My son was drowning in depression right before my very eyes and I didn’t see it. Nobody saw his head slip underwater repeatedly during the five previous suicide attempts he alluded to in his terse suicide note. Nothing is known about those five prior attempts at suicide. To this day, I do not know how those earlier attempts were accomplished or how close he came to succeeding with the plan that he eventually brought to completion. I have only my son’s belated confession in his suicide note that he had been “suicidal since the sixth grade” and that he had previously attempted suicide five times. Again, I just don’t know whether the earlier suicide “attempts” that my son recounted in his note consisted of holding a gun to his head and not being able to pull the trigger, swallowing a handful of pills without the intended effect, slipping a noose around his neck and not being able to follow through with it, or some other cause. It really doesn’t matter now whether his earlier suicide attempts came close to succeeding or if they were merely half-hearted trial runs. Since nobody knew anything about the earlier suicide attempts and the first time we learned about them was in my son’s suicide note, we were effectively denied the opportunity to intervene. The fact remains that Sam succeeded at just about everything that he set his mind to doing…and suicide was no exception.
Sam didn’t fit the profile of the kind of person that you might think to be at risk for suicide. He was popular and well-liked. He had good friends who came from good families. Sam was especially gifted academically. He was a straight-A student. Outwardly, he seemed reasonably well-adjusted. He was well-groomed and maintained good personal hygiene. He was conscientious about what he ate and he tried to maintain himself in good physical condition. If you were to describe a desirable type of son to have, he would possess many of the qualities and traits of my beloved Sam. But Sam was no more perfect than any of the rest of us are. His greatest defect was that which he managed to hide with the greatest of skill. I believe it was the pervasive sadness that, by his own account, took root early in his life while he was going through adolescence and increasingly debilitated him as he progressed toward high school. One of Sam’s best friends said, “He wore his mask well.” He didn’t breathe a word of his unhappiness to anyone.
Could anyone have made a difference with Sam? Could anyone slow that train of emotions before Sam allowed himself to derail? Would anti-depressants and cognitive therapy have made a difference in Sam’s life or would he have struggled for a lifetime with debilitating mental depression? Again, these are the kinds of questions for which there are no satisfactory answers. This is the mystery of suicide.
In the midst of all of the confusion and mystery that surrounds my son’s death by suicide, let me conclude with certain truths about which there can be no doubt. Samuel Philip Robinson was unique and precious in God’s eyes. He was loved by a mother and father who would have unhesitatingly sacrificed their own lives to save his. He had two older sisters who loved and cared for him as well. He showed great promise and potential during his abbreviated life. He had a great number of friends who cherished him. He also, in all likelihood, suffered from undiagnosed and untreated mental depression which ultimately claimed his life. The depth of his depression and unhappiness remained carefully concealed from view and was never honestly acknowledged or admitted. His passing will leave a permanent tear in the fabric of our family life that can never fully be repaired.
As I write this, it was exactly one year ago today at roughly this same time of the night when my son Samuel contemplated ending it all. Oh, how I wish that he might have abandoned his plans that grew in the Petri dish of hopelessness. How I wish I could have instilled at least some minimal sense of hopefulness in my lost Sam. How I wish I could have saved him…if only I could have seen him struggling. If only…if only…if only…”