Losing a Child to Suicide
Bridge Over the River Why #11
In this episode, I talk with David & Deborah Cooper. Authors of “Bridge Over the River Why” about their experience losing their son Eli to suicide and the birth of Eli’s Place (http://www.elisplace.org), which will be Canada’s first long term rural residential treatment centre for emerging adults with mental illness – and learn about the benefits of applying the recovery model in treatment. They are courageous and poignant with their intimate understanding of their journey. You can find their book here – Bridge Over the River Why (https://amzn.to/2Y8eoZr) Please let us know what you think!! Peace
Excerpts from the Book & Interview
IF LOVE COULD SAVE YOU
We believe that our son did not want to die; he just could not go on living. Choosing to end his unbearable pain was his last measure of control. If love could have saved him, our son would be alive today.
ABOUT THE BOOK
In this guide, we offer hope and healing to parents where none may have seemed possible before. We have learned much in these past few years, and have come far on our journey to create a blessing from the darkness of watching a child suffer, and experiencing tragic loss and infinite grief. A child’s death is an instant in time that changes the course of every parent’s life forever. It is the beginning of endlessly questioning why? questions that may never be answered. In these pages, we have tried to bring a modicum of comfort, awareness and a compassionate presence to guide you. We hope to assist you to find courage and resilience within yourself as you cross the The Bridge Over the River Why.
We prayed for strength, understanding, and connection once again. The rhythms of intimacy seem to be absent, and we learned a very hard lesson that the bitter and the sweet each have their seasons. A life has come and gone and nature has not paused a second for it. The world has carried on without us; is this not truly inexplicable?
LABELS FOR LOSING KIDS TO SUICIDE?
We go from being a parent to being a bereaved parent, and even that doesn’t accurately describe the depth of our loss. One might use the word surviving parents, which alludes to the trauma. We have not yet found a label to adequately describe the identity of the parents in our society that have lost a child to suicide. Perhaps this inexplicable loss defies description. When our child dies, how do we heal the suffering? How do we balance the grief when death violates nature and the order of the universe? How do we know how to mourn? How do we get our control back?
We found that families who have not had help to understand and make sense of the death are far more likely to get stuck in repetitive talking about the death without resolution. Going over the events in detail allows family members to hear each other’s perspectives, to appreciate that everyone is in pain, and to realize that they may all be at different stages in their grief, with each attributing a different meaning to what has happened.
THERE ARE NO ANSWERS
Eventually we realized that a death by suicide is a result of factors too numerous to count. We thought we needed all the answers in order to cope with our new reality, but in truth we learned the answers were not forthcoming.
It is important to ask why and to consider why, because it is part of the grieving process. However, one finally exhausts all possibilities of discovering the why. A maze has an entrance and an exit, with a complex path between the two, a place where you are challenged to wander to find your way out. Mazes test the navigation and directional capabilities of individuals. In our case, our ‘maze of why’ had an entrance but no exit. Ultimately it was a fruitless search. Sometimes we think that staying in the question of ‘why’ while seeking answers may help us to feel better. However, the real challenge for us was to allow ourselves to actually feel all those emotions that engulfed us. The intensity may change but the hard thing for both of us was to have the courage to feel our feelings, and begin to move toward awareness and healing.
It took a very long time until we came to the realization that we could not have prevented his death.
Eventually, we learned to accept the journey even when we didn’t understand it. We trusted in something that was bigger than ourselves, larger than our own vision, and capable beyond our own hands, which led us toward some semblance of peace. When we let go of our need to know why, our struggle lessened and the healing began.
ASKING FOR WHAT YOU NEED & TEACHING YOUR FRIENDS AND LOVED ONES
We learned very early that if we wanted to keep our friends and family, we needed to teach them what we needed. Suicide is unique among losses, and friends and family usually do not have the life experience or the language of loss needed to comprehend the experience. Most do not know how to respond, so they simply don’t, while some may respond inappropriately. Emotional support is very subjective. What feels supportive to one individual may not feel supportive to the next. We found the most effective way to get what we needed was to ask for it.
FRIENDS & COMPASSIONATE SUPPORT
We will always appreciate a close friend who sat with us shortly after Eli’s death and said, “I care for you so much, but I don’t know what to say. I want to acknowledge your pain and be able to talk to you. How can I help?” We answered, “Don’t be afraid to talk about our loss and use Eli’s name whenever you are with us.” The greatest comfort is an accepting and compassionate presence, someone to nourish your soul.
GRIEF & TALKING, NAME YOUR CHILDS NAME
Give your grief meaning by talking about your feelings. Grief will never end because love will never end. We cannot heal what we cannot feel; talk about your child often, and use his or her name. When you acknowledge your feelings, you are able to begin to move forward. Honour your child’s life, family and yourself by making a commitment to work on your own grief, and thereby move towards healing and growth. Do not ‘should’ yourself or let anyone else ‘should’ you. In fact, consider removing the word ‘should’ from your vocabulary.
Anger is a natural reaction to the unfairness of our loss. Anger has no limits and can extend to family, friends, doctors and yourself. For some, anger can extend to your child, God—in fact at life itself. We learned that anger is an emotional connection from us to our child, as we attempted to hold on and not let go. Anger is a normal part of grief—a bridge of energy across the river of loss. It is known that, in mourning, people experience anger in varying degrees of length and intensity. Anger tells us that we are alive and we love someone very much. We are angry because our child is dead. We found anger was actually progress; it allowed us to feel the profound emotions of grief needed in order to heal. Anger tends to come and go before it is finally resolved. Yes, anger can be resolved. Rather than being held in the grip of prolonged anger, you can choose to deal with this powerful emotion in order to eventually be released from its control. If you hold on to anger for an extended period of time, it can become a stumbling block in your recovery. Even though it is normal to feel anger, it is important to deal with it purposefully and with awareness; resist feeding it with negative thoughts.
TALK ABOUT YOUR CHILD
Your friends and family may believe that the last thing a bereaved parent would want to talk about is the death of their child. The reverse is almost always true. We needed to talk about the death of our son. Grieving parents need to talk about their tragic loss, to express their sadness, to release their anger, to express their guilt, and have others understand and hear the crying of their soul. They need to confront the reality of what happened to them. Your loss is always right under the surface of other emotions, even moments of happiness. Others need to know that you would rather be moved to tears as they speak your child’s name while remembering them, than be shielded from the pain and live in denial. We
WHAT TO SAY
Sometimes the best way for friends and family to respond is to simply express their sympathy and be free to say that they do not know what to say. Statements such as “I’m so sorry, I don’t know what to say, but I want you to know that I too, am sad and I wish I could do more” or “We are praying for you and thinking of you,” are just fine. They are truthful, honest, and direct.
“I have had to join the club that I cannot ever leave, but this club is full of the most shining souls I have ever known. The survivors of suicide I have met over the course of a decade have become instrumental in re-shaping my new life; they are the life changers, the game changers, relentless warriors who re-define the word ‘brave’. Every day survivors move mountains in honour of their loved ones who have gone too soon. They have started movements, changed laws, and spearheaded crusades of tireless activism. They have learned to alchemize their grief into a force to be reckoned with. They have turned tragedy into transformation and loss into legacy.” Sandi Roher, Suicide loss survivor