In memory of Tyler James Dudek who died by suicide

by Christine Dudek

Tyler James Dudek
Tyler James Dudek

My only son, Tyler James Dudek, died by suicide.

He was born on October 6, 1997. I adored him from that very second and will continue to adore him until I stop breathing. I get up every morning and grieve him over and over again.

When I was 23, scared and insecure, his birth breathed purpose into my life. I would love and protect him from the cradle to the grave. I just figured it would end at my grave many years down the line.

Instead, I have a jar full of ashes

And questions that will never be answered.

He was a beautiful boy with greenish eyes and the most amazingly long eyelashes that made his sisters envious. They are younger – his sisters. He was my first born so we grew up a little bit together as he learned how to walk and talk and I learned how to mother. My heart is filled with regret and my soul is so tired and worn from the consuming grief. With everything inside me, I miss my son.

On the day that he was born I cried. I suspect that most new mothers do that. I just couldn’t believe that I had been blessed with such perfection and beauty. I wanted to be good enough to be his mother. So I prayed for the first time in my whole life.

I was raised in the Catholic Church, went to Catholic school my entire life so I had recited those rehearsed and monotonous prayers from rote memory a million times; but I never really prayed with my heart on the line.

I was utterly clueless as to how to be a mother

I guess when we reach the end of ourselves we look up. New life and fresh death are similar in that way. I know this because I became clueless again when my only son took his own life. His birth and death both brought me to my knees.

The years in between seem to be punctuated now by those two events.

I am certainly no holy roller – for lack of a better term. I just believe that there has got to be something bigger and better than us mere and fumbling mortals.

Honestly, I would have gladly sold my soul to the devil if it would have brought back my boy and ensured that he lived a long and happy life. The first thing that I learned, however, is that there was absolutely nothing I could do.

I wanted to be dead so that he could live; but there was no such deal to be made. The tiny control freak inside of me hates this stupid loophole that unfairly exists in the universe, despite the fact that we are hardwired to love those we birth with greater ferocity than we value our own survival.

Letting go of my child, my son, was counter-instinctual and I object to this outcome! I want to declare a Mulligan and get to redo his entire life.

I would buy him the superhero shoes he wanted and read that ridiculous Dr. Seuss book just one more time. I would let him go without a bath so that I could catch just one more whiff of that sweaty-headed-boy smell. There are so many things that I would do differently.

This is the hellish state of outliving my own child

It is so unnatural that finding the desire to continue living became the first obstacle. I can’t do anything differently because it is all said and done. Death changes everything. Living without someone that I absolutely cannot live without has humbled me.

In the immediate wake of Tyler’s suicide, my daughters were the only reason that I did not escape the excruciating pain by joining him in death.

Although I didn’t want to live without my favorite son, I really really didn’t want my girls to suffer anything else. Therein lies the ferocity of loving our kids with greater depth than we even feel pain. The pain was awful. It still is.

There are crazy moments when it just sucker punches me in the gut demanding to be felt. Grief is like that proverbial giant elephant in the room. You can try to ignore it, but, well, an elephant is kinda big. So as big and bad and utterly consuming as the grief and pain were in the first weeks, I knew that my not surviving wasn’t going to be an option. I am still the only mother my daughters have. They deserve one and, just like me, they are still here.

I wish I could take all of the grief so they had to carry none; but if you are paying attention to what I am saying then you already know there is no bargaining your way through this disaster. Trust me, I tried.

I think it was about three days after my boy’s death that I finally ventured outside of the house. The four of us – myself, my husband Joe and our two daughters – were holed up in the house like hostages in a foreign land. Time and space stopped existing. I guess that’s what happens when the universe is upended.

Joe would go out on brief supply runs, mostly getting our daughters ice cream or chocolate at whatever ridiculous hour their hearts desired such things. With time and space ceasing to exist, we slept when sleep came.

Had to get tampons

So when Kayleigh, the now oldest child in my home, realized that she needed tampons, Joe was asleep. My still-alive child needed something. So I brushed my hair and remembered shoes and I drove her to Walgreens. It is in the most seemingly insignificant things where living began to happen again for us.

If I were trying to be funny, I would say that I was saved by tampons. But I am not ready to be funny yet. I miss my beautiful son too much for that.

Some days I feel like I deserve a pat on the back for just remembering where I parked the car. Then I remember that I would lose the car even in my before-the-train life. So maybe I get a pat on the back for brushing my teeth and wearing clothes.

I have no idea what’s normal any more.

If Kayleigh didn’t need something and Joe wasn’t sleeping, I wouldn’t have attempted to be a human who goes out in public.

After the tampons, I remembered that I have this beautiful younger daughter who lost her idol. I saw her. Jules is just 12 and was born 7 years after Tyler. He was an awesome big brother to her. Kayleigh is 17. She and Ty were separated by just two years. On a picture board that we made for Tyler’s memorial service, she wrote that he was her first best friend. That tore me open. The loss that they have to feel is more than my heart can handle. They have scars now. I never wanted that to happen.

All that I ever wanted was for my three to be okay. A long time ago we owned a house in NJ. We lost that house when times got hard and back then I thought this to be the most awful thing in the world. I remember thinking that my world was ending. Now I would trade everything that I have for 5 seconds more with the boy who stole my heart. I’d live in a cardboard box on a corner if I could have him back.

I guess I’m back to bargaining again. I have one dead child and two left behind with horrible pain. Please don’t tell me it is NOT my failure. It is and I will carry it to my own grave.

Tyler killed himself on February, 16th

It was 15 mins before midnight. I was in a hotel room in Albuquerque, NM and the girls were at sleepovers since the next day was a school holiday. My husband, Joe, didn’t know that he was home alone when the cops knocked on the door. He thought that our first born child was sleeping in his room.

He was already dead and I was sound asleep. A train changed everything. It ripped through my favorite son’s head and tore a hole in my universe.

Ten days prior to the train I was promoted to District Manager for a shoe company. I was on some kind of fast track. I have no degree and virtually no experience. I worked my ass off for that promotion and people kind of thought that I was a big deal. I bought into the hype.

I feel like I lost my train of thought here in this story of mine. Sometimes it is hard to think in a straight line. Everything related to losing my son is jumbled up together into some heaping pile of hot mess that never resembles a clear thought. It is vividly visceral and riddled with so much emotion that my mind becomes incapable of thoughts. The emotion is overwhelming.

I tried desperately to keep him alive. I tattooed his fingerprints and his name onto my body. I sealed up his t -hirts in freezer bags so that his scent would stay preserved in this world. I inundated Shutterfly with orders for pictures that I hung in every room in our house.

But nothing kept him living.

I went back to work. The girls went back to school. We muddled though our lives with the deepest pain imaginable pulsating though every inch of us in cruel and intolerable fashion.

I have no happy ending with which to wrap up this tale.

I have, however, learned that every single thing is a choice in life. Pain is a choice and I choose it. I’m sure that sounds completely masochistic but it isn’t.

I numbed myself early on in this unwelcome journey but I lose my son more and more in the numbing.

If I can’t feel, then I can’t remember

Everything is associated with feeling. So I choose the pain. The blinding pain of sweet remembrance is almost unbearable sometimes. I hear something or see something and it triggers the memories of the boy I love so dearly. I see him climbing trees or digging in the dirt. I hear his deep manly voice asking what’s for dinner.

I see his beautiful and sweaty hair under a ball cap. I remember him eating chocolate until it made him sick. I see him in football cleats or swinging a baseball bat. I see him watching Toy Story with awe. So many ages. So many memories. They fade in numbness and so I choose the pain because the only thing worse than the pain is the thought that he will keep fading and become never at all.

He left a note that asked us to take care of the dogs. So they get extra loving from all of us. He was a good big brother. He was kindhearted with big wide eyes. He had an adventurous soul and was sometimes a really deep thinker. He was a Yankees fan and a Jets fan. He loved superheroes and Buzz Lightyear when he was a little guy. He was quiet, but silly with the people close to him. He really didn’t have a mean bone in his body and so maybe only the good do die young.

There is a hole inside of me that will never close. My Tyler James lives in that hole and so I never want it to fully heal. It is his place in the world.

Something got inside of that boy of mine and I didn’t see it. Maybe we do that to our sons with our expectations of man-ing up in this f-ked up and difficult world.

He was tough as nails. He never complained when he was in pain. So, I guess the pain that took his life would be no different. I hope that he is at peace and I hope that someday I will find that peace too.

I’ll see ya again on the other side, Son.

What is suicidal thinking?

21 thoughts on “In memory of Tyler James Dudek who died by suicide”

  1. My heart just breaks for you and your family. I couldn’t imagine the feeling of losing one of my kids. But I do imagine that pain never going away.

  2. Your painful travel brought back the same painful memories of when my son Anthony took his life 19 years ago. Your story is exactly the same as mine, the same feelings and experiences.
    It’s even harder because I knew Tyler as a first grade student in my class. I hoped anyone I knew would never have to go through this totally life changing experience. I wish your heart peace.

  3. I’m deeply sorry for your loss and when I saw this link my heart sank. Tyler was a great guy. I just remember sitting at lunch with him at school and just joke around and laugh all the time. I couldn’t believe this article when I first saw it because it wasn’t just 2 months ago he came to my mind about what he’s been up to and that I should find a way to get a hold of him so we could hang out but couldn’t find a way too. He was defiantly one of my favorite people to talk to at school and one of the nicest people I’ve ever meet. I was in complete aww when seeing this. He will be missed.

  4. Clueless. Me too. It has permanently altered my sense of self. And the every morning grief spell – forever. Good post Christine.

  5. Christine, you are an amazing communicator. I swear you walked with me as I grieved my brother John’s suicide. I won’t pretend that it’s the same as a son, but I knew him in the womb , I fed him , changed him and loved him as I do all my siblings , especially the 6 younger ones. I hurt for you and your family since i knew Tyler as a little boy for a while. He was sweet and beautiful. I find it hurts the most when I look at pictures of him as a little boy. It was a time of so much hope for the future and in our wildest dreams we couldn’t have imagined how things would turn out. It has impacted the way I love and deal with every problem I face with my kids and now grandkids . My faith in God and His mercy is about the only thing that has brought me this far. And the need to be there for the ones who need us and our hard won wisdom.

  6. Hey family and friends, I am deeply sorry for your loss and I lnow that doesn’t mean much. For what it is worth tyler was an amazing kid man! I remember sitting in class the first few days of school. The class i was in was super boring. No one was talking to me. But there tyler was, making Jokes. Made my day. He was always so happy in class and don’t let it go. Tyler is with you in your heart. I know it isn’t the same. I can’t imagine loosing my son. But for what it is worth. He made me smile when I had no idea who he was. Those kind of people are the ones to cherish. They make the world a better place when there is darkness. I am so sorry for your loss. Just know that he touched a lot of people. No one should ever feel this is the escape. I pray you find the people who were the reason to this sadness. May he forever be in your hearts and your memories.

  7. Whenever I think back to those days, I smile. I remember hours and hours of playing superheroes and the hot lava game.

  8. I am so sorry for your loss. I to lost a child. So I get it! If you ever want to talk please contact me. No one put another mother who has lost a child will ever get it.

  9. My dear friend Chris, I want to write so much to you, but I feel no words can ever take away your pain. Tyler will never be forgotten. It always brings me back to our boys that became each other’s 1st friend at 3 years old in pre-school and they were best friends until the age of 11 than it slowly faded. But til this day at the age of 20 Nicholas has never forgotten Tyler & never will, & neither will I. ❤️

  10. Christine, I know your pain. My first-born son also died in February, on the 13th. I know that hole you speak of. I have many sleepless nights imagining that he will fade from this world, in fact, that is my worst fear in all of this. I will never understand why this happened and why his life was meant to be only 25 years short. Our mother hearts are forever changed and when people say to me, “there was nothing more you could have done,” I don’t believe them. There must have been something more I could have done, which would have changed this outcome, this unbearable, unthinkable outcome. Thank you for your rawness and for laying it out there. I do the same in my own blog: nfsaid.blogspot.com in hopes that it will heal me, but it never will.

  11. Christine, I totally get these beautiful sentients and your story. My only child, Whitten, died by suicide in 2012. And his birthday is also October 6. Thinking of you.

  12. “Sorry” just does not do your pain justice. My heart truly hurts for all who have lost a loved one by suicide. I wish nobody ever had to go thru the unbearable pain and agony of such a tragic event. (((Hugs)))

  13. Heart wrenching…… And I understand all too well. ( Search Josh Giannini on this site ). He was also my firstborn, my only son followed by two daughters. My sweet boy. I’m so sorry for your pain….

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