Holding Your Breath: When Your Child Dies

holding your breath

TW: suicide, depression, grief

I’ve started an art scholarship in my son Jairus’ name: there are three ways you can contribute to the scholarship. xo

I’m choosing to process some of my grief out loud. First, it is helping me when I feel like I’ll explode with rage or pain. Second, maybe it’ll help another parent feel less alone. This is a very personal journey. Please click away if reading about someone else’s loss – and particulary the topic of suicide – will be triggering for you right now.


When you lose your young adult child…

You let friends and family gather and keep you distracted as you plan a memorial. It cannot be just any memorial because it needs to reflect your beautiful child.

You want to make space for friends to share their stories.

You are so grateful your son was loved.

You talk with medical examiners and police.

You receive a ziplok bag with his personal items – there is blood.

You bring your child’s ashes home in a wooden box.

You clean out his apartment and share his belongings with those who loved him. It feels harsh and wrong to disperse a big, beautiful, important life this way.

You try to remember to eat.

You hug his little sisters, your beautiful daughters.

You cry for hours with your partner and sometimes force away the tears so you are not just sadness for your girls.

You file death certificates and close accounts.

You plan for Christmas though you’d rather just hide from it all.

You get out of bed and wash your hair.

You make coffee because it’s part of your morning routine, but mostly the coffee sits there untouched.

You start an art scholarship in his name. But really you just want him back – you want him to make more art.

You wander into his room and look again at the highschool memorabilia, the posters, the childhood toys.

You stare at the photos stuck to the front of the fridge. You will never again look into those dark soulful eyes, smell him, or touch him. He will never again cajole you to play a video game with him, he will never again snuggle up close to you as you watch a movie together. The guy who said he didn’t like hugs.

You will never see him playfight with his sisters or pull out his lightsaber with a friend. He will not fix your tech issues and warn you about online safety.

There will be no more conversations about politics, religion, or the latest disappointing Star Wars movie.

You wear his clothing but it doesn’t help.

You bring his bedding home, including the fuzzy blanket he had since he was a little guy; it smells like him so you can’t bear to wash it. Not yet.

You try to keep living and moving. A little bit each day.

People ask how you are but you ignore the question. There are no words for this. Only ugly, wrenching sobs.

You find a letter – a will – written before his first attempt. But now it’s too late and you’ve done some things wrong. You keep doing the best you know how in an impossible situation.

You notice yourself holding your breath – you exhale.

You’ve been holding your breath a very long time.

You pull your brain back from tomorrow over and over again because how can tomorrow be good without him.

You pull your heart back from the suffering, the what if’s, the pleas for help and raw conversations with him when you knew – even when other people talked over you and thought he was improving – you knew he was saying a long goodbye.

You knew your son in a way no one else did. But you couldn’t choose for him. You couldn’t fix it.

But you hoped anyway.

He never masked with you and his dad which is both privilege and pain.

You’ve been handed a cruel and impossible task: keep living, keep loving people. Keep talking about what matters.

Crack the door just the tiniest bit to hope or possibility.

You are proud of your boy in a way maybe others wouldn’t understand. But you know his fight. You know this was dreadful for him too.

You know he didn’t want to hurt you or anyone else and he held off as long as he was able.

You would never trade the gift of loving him. Of hearing his heart or even sometimes being at the receiving end of his great pain.

You love him. Not loved – but love. Actively. Wholeheartedly.

You look for examples of other mamas who’ve survived this. There is proof it can be done. It is not a club you wanted to be a part of.

You worry. What if – what if another child struggles too. What if you don’t know what to do.

You don’t know what you believe anymore – there is no certainty. No guarantee.

Right now there is only waiting and holding your breath.

Krista xo
34 days


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31 comments on “Holding Your Breath: When Your Child Dies

      • Nothing lifts the pain and sadness except time. It never goes away, but it softens at some point so you can carry on with living. In the moment nothing can convince you it will lessen, but it does. There is nothing easy about living. It is a journey with ups and downs until we leave this earth. Believe me, you WILL in time be able to move and breath again. Heartfelt wishes for you!

      • So very sorry for your loss, but so proud of you, your bravery, your rawness, your honesty and sharing. Walking through grief is the only way you will get to the other side … and be able to live life mentally, emotionally and spiritually healthy. Be kind to yourself as you make this walk. Sending you love, peace, comfort, healing and strength as you continue your journey.

    • Rhonda, I am so sorry for your loss. If you want to share anymore, please know you are welcome to do so. And thank you for sharing this with your friend. Maybe it will help, maybe it won’t. If anything I hope she’ll know that though we have to walk our own road, we are not completely alone.

  1. I too am in the club no parents ever imagines. Thank you for you willingness to articulate your pain for helping others. Sometimes only hugs and a friend to sit with you in your grief will hold the pain at bay. (((you)))

  2. Although you didn’t mention this, imagine that it would be agonizing, if it were me, to watch other people’s lives just carry on, when yours has been so utterly rocked. I wish I could protect you from that. I’m so sorry, friend. But keep writing; it’s a privilege to get a little window into your wholeheartedness.

    • Yes, it is agonizing, Erica. Part of me would like to run far away if possible (with my family, of course) and just pretend. But of course, running won’t actually solve anything. Somehow, I must find my way forward though it feels utterly unrealistic and also just plain wrong. xo

  3. Your writing is so raw and open and true. Such pain I feel for you. Your son was so beautiful and loved. I wish you comfort and love. Holding space in my heart for you. Xoxo

  4. Krista, there aren’t words for this. I’m so grateful you found some anyway. There isn’t a right or wrong way to go forward. If you need to duck and withdraw, you can. If you need to scream and cry, that’s more than right. Give yourself everything you need through this unthinkable season of grief and excruciating loss — especially given yourself grace and compassion. I am in awe that you could muster the wherewithal to write words like the poignant ones you shared. My heart is with you.

  5. Krista, I have four sons in their 20s and I have been holding my breath for you since I read about your son’s death. I am willing you to find light in the darkness and warmth in the cold and I wish so much that you and your family were not going through this appalling time. I bought four copies of the Winter journal. Please know they have already deeply touched the three friends I gifted them to and, through your words, online and in print, Jairus’s name and smile will travel like windblown seed to take root and grow in new places.

  6. Dear Krista,
    Thank you for writing these very honest truths. You speak to my heart. My daughter Céline died in 2018 of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 22. She struggled with depression and borderline personality disorder. She was creative and smart, just like Jairus.
    Love, Mary

  7. Honestly I do not know what to say – but you have taught us to speak up even if we’re unsure or imperfect. So instead of focusing on saying it correctly or incorrectly – I just wanted to send you and your family love and support during this time. I am also promising you that I am learning to listen to others better and be a safe place for them to talk with being judged. I will continue to do that in honor of Jairus.

  8. I Wish I could help you to breathe. Having two adult children and one adult grandchild with serious mental illness who endure a similar struggle, this is an outcome I constantly worry about. I had one of them tell me they will wait until after I die, as if that would somehow be more bearable for me… and I pray they will choose instead to keep fighting the noble fight that only those in it can possibly know and fully understand. Virtual Hugs… there really are no appropriate Words.

  9. How utterly beautifully expressed from the depths of beauty. You speak your journey in incredible ways. You place your finger on what it means to be woman, mother, human, frail, strong, timid, brave. May God wrap your family up in His Name, Jehovah Shalom, nothing missing, nothing broken, and give you peace.

  10. Ohhhhh, OUCH! Words are hard…
    Yes, your daughters need you more than ever. They have lost a sibling & are watching their parents go thru the worst pain possible (ask me how I know-ugh). The “sibling suicide club” is a rough road to navigate too. I’m so glad they have you, & you them. Keep care, you dear people.

  11. I love you for your raw honesty during grief.
    I love your bravery.
    I love that you face the pain of this head on.
    I love that you are wise enough to share with us.
    I love that I know you will heal and be stronger for it.

  12. Such a raw and real and beautiful tribute. Thank you for your words and sharing your journey. I can’t know your pain but I can feel your heart wrenching ache. Sending you love and healing.

  13. I lost my baby brother to suicide. I am the oldest of 7 children and he was the baby. I mothered him and I was his sister as well. He was 40 when he took his life in 2004. No one in the family will be ever b the Same . He is so loved. Some days I can talk about him without crying, some days not. I think of him almost every day. He wrote each of us a note. He said he was just so tired. I miss him. I felt his presence and his love for me for a couple of intense and loving moments two years after he died. It was so powerful. I feel like he watches over me .The experience helped me accept the horrendous loss. I pray you will b able to find peace and acceptance. I wish I could hug you and convince you that time will help. Be gentle with yourself. I feel tremendous love for you. Maybe it’s the loss and pain. I don’t know. Please just know you are loved.

  14. I have no words. My heart breaks with yours.
    We lost a friend to suicide years ago. I can still remember how stunned and surprised we were, because it seemingly came out of nowhere.
    I struggle with living a lot, but I also can’t bear to hurt my kids.
    I am adding your family to my daily prayers.
    As for your beloved son, may God grant to him eternal rest, and may light perpetual shine upon him.
    I am so very deeply sorry for your family’s enormous loss.

  15. It is the anger I find hard to deal with. My younger sister died very unexpectedly from a heart attack. The most surprising thing is I have anger towards her even. What a waste, tumbles around my head all the time. I am so grateful that you are sharing your time. I can tell from the other comments that you are very highly thought of and as much as one can love a person you have never met, loved…

  16. I am so deeply sorry to hear of this unfathomable loss. I stumbled across your writing; your words have been so grounding for me over the last year. I am in awe of how graciously and genuinely you are sharing this part of your journey as well. Sending strength and love, and deep respect. Your son must have been a very special person. ♥️

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