To be clear, my father did not die by suicide. My son Charles did but this is a question I hear often. Why would a dad who had children take his life? Why would a mom kill herself when she has children? How could a parent not realize what their death by suicide might do to their child? How could my dad (or mom) leave me like that?
The problem is that people think of suicide as a choice
The myth of suicide is that someone is pondering their future and decides to take the easy way out and end it all instead of working through whatever adversity they are facing. That’s where the notion of “suicide being selfish” comes in.
But that’s not what suicidal thinking is at all.
It’s more irrational, invasive and intense, usually the result of mental illness, addiction, head injury, physical illness or trauma.
That moment is not selfish. It’s desperate.
That’s why suicide is considered a death of despair. Over time, people get worn down from fighting those thoughts which on average can last anywhere from twenty minutes to 2.5 hours. I’ve worked with hundreds in active suicidal intensity and when they come out of it, it’s like they’ve woken up from a trance.
So the question is often asked, “Weren’t they thinking about their children?” Often they are not because they are experiencing a kind of tunnel vision. When the thought of family does come to mind, they are in the frame of mind where they think they are a burden.
The following is an excerpt from a letter a mom left for her daughter. It might help you understand how intense, irrational, and convincing that moment is for the person suffering.
“She deserves so much better than the mom I can be for her. How can l explain that the worst possible thing I can do to her is the only way to give her the life that I had but couldn’t hold onto…..She deserves so much more.”
This one from Debbie. As a side note, Debbie is from the U.K. and comes back every six months to let me know she’s gotten treatment and doing better.
“I have suffered from depression since I was 19. I’m 45 now I can not go on like this anymore I’ve got a 13 yr old son who has autism ADHD. I’m a rubbish mom I hate myself….i do feel he will have a good life without me. Cruel i know but it’s not fair. if i tell my mental health doc they will take him. I’m not emotionally fit …. He deserves to be with a good family”
This from a young man with whom I corresponded for a while and finally got treatment and started to recover. The nature of the disease and our culture often prevents the person from seeking help.
“I see suicide as bad but I’m starting to see why it’s like at some point I won’t be able to care anymore about how it would make my family feel. It doesn’t matter how tough I think I am. It just gets to you and I feel like I want it to stop so badly I’ll do anything in that moment.”
I want you to know that moms and dads don’t “do this” to their children. They do it to themselves and in that moment cannot fathom what it would do to others. Tunnel vision takes over in that moment of suicidal intensity.
I’m asking you not to judge or blame but to learn more and talk about suicide. Only then will people suffering be more willing to ask for help. Only then will we be able to prevent children from losing a parent or visa versa.
Great Free Resource: Children, Teens & Suicide Loss– This guide includes age-appropriate scripts on what to tell a child who has lost a parent or loved one.