Surviving my son’s suicide with depression

by Gray Maher

It has been 6 years since my only child, Whitten, died by suicide. I am still seeing a grief therapist every 5-6 weeks. When I started seeing her, I was still in shock. I had barely started to process what had happened and what it would mean for my life. A dear friend got me in to see her, because she knew that if I didn’t get help, things could go very badly for me.

Surviving suicide is considered traumatic grief and is more complex than most. Losing a child is also considered traumatic grief. And all this with my own depression and anxiety?

I hit the trifecta.

My therapist is a lifeline for me and keeps me focused on surviving. She told me she would let me know when I no longer needed to see her. She hasn’t said it’s time.

Why am I still seeing her?

Because I feel so much better about life in general after talking to her. Or maybe because I suffer from the same mental illness that my son had, and I need to be on medication and in therapy.

I suffer from depression and anxiety, and I fight the same battles he fought. And surviving this level of loss with that load, makes the journey tedious and cumbersome. As Anne Moss reminded me, I’ve really had to fight.

It seems as though people I have met along the way, have “bounced back” much faster than I that I am “behind” in healing. I beat myself up for that, regularly. I have to remind myself that I have this extra “thing” to deal with, and I am doing my best. Some days very well and some days, not so much.

Most people who suffer from depression are deep thinkers and feelers

They stay inside their heads more than most. They are self-centered, but not in a selfish way – they are also very empathetic. Many are perfectionists, holding themselves to the highest standards of all. They think through everything, everything has huge consequences. There is a constant self-dialogue, with a very harsh inner critic. 

I surround myself with people who see the battles within me, and choose to hang with me and help me fight them. I surround myself with people who will let me talk about my son and my situation. I try to get outside my head as much as I can.

It’s fortunate that I can focus on creative pursuits- gardening, decorating, writing, painting, piano, coloring, lettering, and travel. (I recommend travel  – it is really taking me out of my head.) I am adding blogging and graphic design to this list. And yoga, exercise and massage are also really good stuff. Self care is hard for people like me, and it must be forced.

All these things, along with my strong husband, supportive family and sweet little dog, help me to cope. I try to remember how lucky I am to have these healing aspects in my life, even when I don’t feel very lucky.

When you’ve not been able to have other children, then lost your only child to suicide, you feel like you’ve lost life’s lottery.

On the other hand, since I feel it all so intensely, I am starting to enjoy little things I never would have noticed. In the middle of gardening, I will lay down on the patio and stare at the clouds.

A few weeks ago, I was taking some prunings down into the woods behind my house, and just stood there quietly and looked around. It was late afternoon on a warm day in February, and it was so nice. Maybe little things are what I have now. I will have to learn how to make them be enough.

In a society where everyone wants bigger and more and better, it’s tough. 

Sometimes it feels as though my life left with Whitten and I am living another one. Whatever life I’m now living, it might as well be a good one.

You might wonder why I would go into this dark discussion in public.

Some of my more private family and friends might be horrified. Is this just a sob story from a depressed, grieving mom? Hopefully not.

I do it to help someone. I do it for the same reasons that Whitten wrote some of his most wonderful pieces–someone may identify with my situation. They may feel acknowledged and know they are not alone. As private as Whitten was, I don’t think he would mind.

Gray’s website: The State of Gray, Relevant and Relatable Conversation of Reinvention.

coping strategies for grief and loss

Free eBook Coping Strategies for Grief & Loss

Short, easy-to-read strategies for managing the pain of grief by Anne Moss Rogers, Karla Helbert LPC, and contributing author Charlotte Moyler. Download Now.

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14 thoughts on “Surviving my son’s suicide with depression”

  1. Gray, Your story was filled with such love, heartbreak and strength all in one. I know it has touched others as it has reached out to me. How could it not as it has come directly from your heart. Both you and Whitten have such a gift. It will definitely help others heal as they read and feel your words. I want you to know that as I go through my daily life with my interactions with others, Whitten’s sharing of an Act of Kindness remains with me in my mind, in my heart and in my actions. Love to you and Chip.

  2. Wow Gray. I love how real and open this is. I, too, suffer and always have with depression and yeah, i think, “really God?” He Knows how fragile i am so why allow my child to die?

    I really liked what u meant about how it feels like you’re living a second life now. I look at pics and think i don’t even know that woman anymore. I’ve becone such a different person.

    That’s a beautiful picture of you. I hope that one day we can meet.

  3. This is not a sob story. I can’t believe anyone could be horrified by your honest and open sharing of your extremely painful story. It does help to feel less alone. And you have wisdom to share. Small moments. Big love to you. Whitten. ❤️

  4. Carole thanks for you kind words. No one can imagine what this is like. You have to live it. Hopefully it will help someone to feel less alone. I believe that loneliness killed Whitten. He felt so alone, even when surrounded by others. Another hideous symptom of depression.

  5. It will be 6 years on April 28 since we unexpectedly lost our 22 year old son, Mark. I still go to therapy every week. I tried not going for awhile, but realized I needed that support. Please don’t beat yourself up. It’s NOT your fault. It’s none of our faults that our children died. Bad things happen and I realize now that I couldn’t “fix” my Mark. Thank you for sharing your story. My thoughts and prayers for peace and comfort. Take care of yourself. I believe Whitten would want that.

    1. Thank you so much Kathy – such nice comments. Glad to know that I am not the only one in therapy years later. God bless you and your sweet Mark.

  6. Gray, even though I don’t know you personally, I am so proud of you. Just like Anne Moss, you are willing to share your struggles as the mother of a child who died by suicide. You recognized your need for professional help to deal with your loss and sought it and are not embarrassed to share that with us. You are one brave survivor. Thank you for being willing to help others.

  7. “It’s not fair” are the words that pop into in my mind as I read your story. Saying, “I’m sorry” to you seems so inadequate. He was handsome and sounded like such a good child. I hope that you will continue to find peace and some joy in each day. Thanks for sharing. Your story is truly heartbreaking but inspirational.

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