TW: suicide, depression, grief
Losing a child is crushing. 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. At the bottom of the page I’m sharing resources that feel helpful to me in case they help you too.
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.
>>You can also connect with me on FB at Holding Your Breath
My beautiful son has ended his life after a long, hard battle with severe depression and persistent suicidal ideation. I’m so PROUD of my three kids – how they’ve loved and supported each other this past year. We know community matters but ask that you not message me or drop by our home unannounced. This is devastating and we need to focus on family right now.
In honour of Jairus, laugh with your family. Belly laugh. Love without condition. Meet each other where you’re at. Talk about mental health with your kids – and about what lights them up and makes them afraid. Listen well. Take care of yourself so you model health to the people you love. And remember, life is so damn short so don’t waste a day on things that don’t truly matter.
I would give you my breath
To hear you laugh once more
And I would offer up my life
In one heartbeat for yours
I would pour out my life blood
To buy back your peace
But I don’t know how to live
I would trade all pleasure
To end your pain
I would carry your suffering
If I could
I would give up my freedom
To release your chains
But I would never trade
Jairus was a deep thinker and challenged me to consider and see differently. He was playful, loved to tease, and loved when I’d play video games with him that scared me. He was also a deeply sensitive soul who wrestled hard and wasn’t sure he was good enough.
He wanted to live. Wanting to live and knowing how are two different things. And mental illness, just like cancer, is not something we choose. It is not shameful or a reflection of character. And it is not the fullness of who we are.
As a mom, one of the best gifts is for your child to have friends who like and love them. Jairus had a solid crew who will help us celebrate the gift of knowing him. He knew he was loved.
If you want to share a story about him – or about your relationship with him- please do so here. And please share this post so other extended friends and classmates know they are welcome to share here too. xo
How is it possible that one day we drove our baby home from the hospital, so in love with him and excited, after 22 hours of labor and birthing. Then yesterday, only 23 years later, drove the remains of him back home in a small rough-hewn wooden box.
How is it possible to express the fullness and beauty of a life bursting with laughter and personality, joyful memories, hopes, fears, anguish, desperate prayers, and unconditional love and acceptance when there are no human words to meet the need.
How is it possible to condense our son’s existence into rows of rubbermaid containers, to discard the less important, to sift through his life and make judgement calls about what we keep and what we share and how to keep breathing through it all.
How is it possible to find our way forward when one of my favorite people – the one most like me – was ripped violently from my life but I still want and need him. And I know many parents have done this before but it feels like a cruel impossibility.
How is it possible to not lose hope, to find light or trust or believe that there is any rhyme or reason in this world when it seems that every one I love gets picked off slowly, one by one; I rise above and get beaten down.
Where is hope in the midst of this.
I hear someone spinning their tires
somewhere in the neighborhood
fighting against the thick blanket of snow
that has fallen in the two days since
I woke up enraged
that I had to say goodbye to my son
long before I’m ready.
They spin their tires
to find their way forward
and I am spinning too.
Reeling in response to what
my heart cannot bear to accept
Railing against the injustice
of his beautiful life
fallen through the cracks
our pleas for help unheard.
Remembering, over and over,
with a harsh and jarring finality
he is not coming home again.
Yet I must find my way forward.
Beauty looks like old friends who don’t ask, they just come in the night and love you in practical ways when you aren’t able to walk or breathe alone.
It sounds like family gathering, belly laughing together, a whiskey shot in celebration and crying together, in the middle of the most inconceivable storm.
Beauty looks like your kids showing up for each other when one is hurting badly – never giving up on each other. No judgment, only love and acceptance.
It feels like a friend willing to lay aside her own needs and hurts to listen, no advice, no talking over you, but sitting with you when your heart is crushed and your life irreparably fractured.
Beauty is also community – community rallying together, imperfectly but determinedly, to lift up one of their own.
It smells like your sisters’ perfume and shampoo that lingers after they’ve returned home.
And a young man who comes and rakes leaves in the dark, wet snow falling, because that’s what he has to offer.
Beauty looks like friends who loved your child, their friend, and are willing to stand up and share stories about him after he is gone, even though it’s really hard.
It feels like memories – aching but also joyful memories – of the fullness of a life laid to rest.
Remembering that we are not just one thing. And there is never any shame in being human.
It looks like one faltering step forward. One meal, one cup of tea, one hug, one venture back out into the world even when you’re afraid and nothing will ever be the same again.
The past 18 months have been
a long, wrenching goodbye.
The depth of fear, loneliness, and love
we felt as a family
too unwieldy and raw
to compress neatly into words
others could understand
and it wasn’t our story to tell.
So we sat here
in our living room
watching the little boy next door
with big curls so like our son’s
as he pushed his little plastic lawn mower.
We laughed and cried
And now that our beautiful boy is gone
we sit here watching still
as our sweet little neighbor follows his daddy
and they shovel our sidewalk together.
I think about all the mamas
whose sons left to war
willingly — or not
how they kept living in the waiting
and desperate pleading for safety.
They kept living but
not for themselves, likely,
but for those left behind
and because there was yet work to do.
This is what mamas do.
I think about how many mamas
never saw their boys again
or they came back
in a box
or forever changed
yet a mom never stops loving
even when her hands are tied
and all her yearning and wailing
cannot change the reality of what is.
Still, she will attempt to
move heaven and earth
for those she loves.
Because this is what mamas do.
I think about all the mamas
whose boys grew into men
and fought battles
of every kind —
Battlefields come in many shapes and sizes.
Of how she carried an ache within her
and suffered silently
because others could or would not understand.
I bet they were so proud
of the children they bore
and wanted the world to witness the beauty
they already knew.
This is what mamas do.
ON GRIEF AND LEARNING TO KEEP LIVING
A handful of weeks ago a driver sped across our path leading to a sickening realization that we may never return home again. We rolled over and over after the fierce impact, just enough times for my brain and heart to plead for the care of my children. And though we were pulled from the wreck, my body panics at movement as I drive and I no longer feel safe in the world.
A few weeks ago after many long months of calling hotlines and hospitals, loving and walking alongside, pleading for help from a faulty system with so many gaping holes I’m surprised it catches anyone, my son’s life ended only 23 years after we met. I don’t sleep and when I’m awake I remember. He is really, truly gone. I’m filled with pain and anger and I don’t feel safe in the world.
I’m not a stranger to loss or letting go and while I want to keep them close, my girls still have to live a full life. I drive one back to university and the other will return to school and I’ll need to learn once more to parent from a place of hope not fear. The world has already moved on while I haven’t even begun; every choice to leave my home requires tremendous effort. And I don’t feel safe in the world.
I know that I will find a way because I always do. My husband and I will fight for wholeness for each other and our girls. I’ll mine for the beauty in every day because it keeps me alive. I’ll return to work before I’m ready so I don’t spiral down. But for now everywhere I look I see people going about their ordinary lives and I wonder if they need a small kindness or maybe just a smile – and if it would help them feel safe in the world.
I feel shattered yet get out of bed in the morning and clumsily make my way through my morning routine because it keeps me moving. I don’t taste my coffee anymore. But I drink water, tidy my kitchen, and think of three things I’m grateful for.
I feel like a critical part of me – something of enormous beauty has been violently ripped from my body and this world yet I answer texts, pay bills, wash my hair in the shower. I don’t do this for myself but as an act of love for my daughters.
I feel afraid, afraid of feeling afraid forever, and wonder how we’ll survive this day and the day we clean out his apartment. And if I’ll ever again be happy with him gone. But I pick up my daughter from school and listen for how I can suppport her.
I feel so deeply angry I could scream for days but instead I pull open my laptop and search for words that might help me find a speck of light or keep me from exploding. I have nothing to give but my brokeness right now and I hand that over willingly.
I feel lost yet attuned to the suffering in this world so I look for purpose in this day or hour – in an art scholarship, a smile, in modeling what it looks like to keep living. I couldn’t save my son but maybe I can stop one other person from drowning.
I feel alone. This is a solitary journey. I’m grateful for the meals and help, love and support, yet no one can travel this road with me. I wonder if my parents met him when he took that last breath. I remember to keep breathing myself.
I feel grateful for the gift of loving him – I’d do it all over and over again for him. I’m grateful that he knew I loved him and for his beautiful laugh. Now I determinedly turn my attention to loving my girls and helping build a kinder future for them.
I have lived 28 days without you
and really I just want you back,
not to pull you back into your suffering
but because you were not JUST suffering.
You were laughter and teasing and
challenging me on political issues.
You were beautiful and talented and
when you talked about your art
your face lit up.
And because the world needed you.
I need you.
Your voice and heart and personality
and frustration with the way things are.
I have lived 28 days without you
and every day I awaken and
realize again that you’re not here
I have to say yes to life all over again
or else I too will die.
HOLDING YOUR BREATH
When you lose your 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 StarWars 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.
This message circled loudly, persistently, in my heart and mind this past year as I did everything I could to help my beautiful son live.
“If we have no peace it is because we have forgottent that we belong to each other.” -Mother Teresa
I wanted to remove shame, eradicate the idea that he wasn’t good enough, help him see the truth that we had his back (we’d always had his back with joy – not out of obligation), his friends had his back, and we all have permission to let others carry us for a while when we are not OK.
This is part of what it means to belong to each other.
I wanted to fix it and I couldn’t. We’ve read messages about how love fixes everything – but it doesn’t. Love matters – but love cannot repair everything that is broken. It cannot heal all illness or give hope where there is none or eradicate all the pain and suffering in this world.
It moves us to act and that is powerful – but in this world, we can pour out everything we have and still, it is not enough.
Still, we keep pouring. Because this too is part of what it means to belong to each other. Giving our own brokenness, our own meager loaves and fishes. Hoping against all odds that they remind another messy, beautiful human that they are loveable, wanted, needed, that they matter.
Belonging to each other means permission to be awkward, imperfect, afraid and still loved. To reach out our hands to lift up another even when we don’t have all the answers ourselves. To be slow to judge and quick to forgive. To remember that we are all fighting battles, many of which are not visible to others. To offer kindness.
It means talking about things that are vulnerable and risky – because unless we talk openly about trauma and suicide and mental illness and chronic pain or about learning to love ourselves, to practice showing up fully to life, about making mistakes, and how we are all gifted, on purpose… then we will isolate. We will pretend and mask and some will die long before their time.
There is no shame in being human. No shame in feeling lonely or broken or fucked up or afraid, in needing medication or therapy or moving home for a season or in not knowing how to find your way forward. There is no shame.
I refuse to wear shame. I will not put it on you.
Because we belong to each other.
I pretend for much of the day
because it’s too painful
to admit you are gone — forever.
My heart and brain struggle
to make sense of the finality.
It feels like my chest
has been sawed open
our family broken
and when I wake up
in the thick of night
my body reminds me — callously
of your absence.
You are not a statistic, Jairus,
but a beautiful, messy human
like the rest of us.
Loved and worthy.
You made our world better.
It isn’t fair that other families
live intact and we got a mere
23 years — to love you.
I’m not an expert on anything, just a fellow sojourner walking through a messy life, but I’ve learned to dream and envision what might be — and then to loosen my grip so that I’m not tying my happiness or wellbeing to one specific outcome. To one exact way that life must look in order for me to feel happy or whole.
I hate that life doesn’t go according to plan. I hate that there is suffering and injustice in the world. I wish sometimes my life felt easier. I wish I still had my mom and my dad. I want my son back. But wishing doesn’t help me.
Stubbornness helps me, though. Learning to just take one small step, and then another helps me. A daily practice of releasing comparison and perfectionism helps me notice what I’ve done well today and gives me courage to forge ahead.
Telling the truth about pain and fear and longing allows me to also keep speaking about light and hope and beauty. If I shut down one I will lose my voice. I need permission to be all in – to talk about all of it. Heartwrenching sorrow, incredible loss, deeply rooted compassion and acceptance, desperate hope.
I have nothing to offer if I cannot be real – if I cannot feel it all and give voice to it all. Anything else is hollow. An empty shell or shadow of what it really means to live awake and human in a world that doesn’t seem all that focused on our ease or comfort.
My happiness and wellbeing are not, then, tied to a specific outcome or one way life must look. And my job is not to paint the full canvas but to get out the paints. Nor to write a novel but to sit down at my computer willing to write out one sloppy sentence. Willing to be bad at it but to show up anyway. Not to guarantee a happy future but to simply show up today. To breathe in this moment and to stay present and open to the reality of what is. The beauty and the heartbreak. All at once.
It isn’t my job to find the rhyme or reason to it all – but simply to say yes, I’m in.
We make supper
and go to work and school.
We plan for Christmas;
it’s the right thing to do.
We wake up each day
I feel numb and this
makes me afraid
but also I don’t
wish it away.
A temporary respite,
my brain and heart’s way
of surviving this pain.
Your story has already
saved a life.
Doctors are sorry,
does not bring you back.
And no amount of love or care
restores our life
to what it once was
with you in it.
This is unimaginable,
there’s nothing about it
that is acceptable,
but you’d want your sisters
to feel safe and well-loved
so we try our best
to plod ahead
one heavy step
I’ll share resources I find that feel helpful as I navigate losing a child, in case some of them feel helpful to you too.
*Some links are referral links (as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases) but you may find books closer to home.
- Refuge in grief (I follow her on IG for “emotionally intelligent grief support”)
- It’s OK that You’re Not OK, Megan Devine (ordered but haven’t read yet)
- Everything Happens for a reason and other lies I’ve loved, Kate Bowler (purchased but haven’t read yet)
- The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel van der Kolk M.D. (purchased but haven’t read yet)
- We don’t move on from grief, we move forward with it: TED Talk, Nora McInermy
- John Pavlovitz – he has written many articles on grief which resonate with me
- Holding Your Breath – FB page (@alifeinprogress.holdingyourbreath)