Since my son, Jairus, died in 2019, I’ve received countless messages either asking for support or sharing stories of losing a loved one to suicide. Suicide loss can feel incredibly isolating – and no matter how we lose a child, our world is turned upside down.
You can’t change the world but you can change someone’s world.Jared Escobar
We need each other
We need each other as we journey through grief yet it’s hard to find the energy or emotional capacity to find safe places to talk and regulate together. I don’t know how I’d have survived this journey and incredible pain without the company of other moms navigating the experience of child loss. Women ahead of me on the journey.
My friend Leith lost her daughter Hadley 10 years ago. I’m deeply grateful to Left of Center, the online grief circle she created for women walking through child loss of any kind. It’s a compassionate and safe space. You can learn more about Leith and her group here.
One day, when I’m ready, I may start a grief circle of my own centered around suicide loss. Suicide loss brings with it some unique layers of pain and experience.
As I write this, Jairus has been gone 27 months. I hate saying this. I don’t want this to be my reality. But I’m now at a place where I feel ready to take tiny steps beyond survival into living more fully again around my deep grief. I have a lot of healing/trauma work left to do and I can’t image ever being “ok” with Jairus’ suffering and death. But I can’t change this.
What I can control is speaking openly about my experience and creating space for other brave and weary people to truth tell and learn to feel safe and at home in their bodies and their lives.
We cannot choose to have a life free of hurt. But we can choose to be free, to escape the past, no matter what befalls us, and to embrace the possible.Edith Eger, The Choice
TOOLS for child or suicide loss: or what HELPED ME SURVIVE THE FIRST 2 YEARS
Every story is unique so keep that in mind. Jairus struggled hard and we experienced trauma before his death as we tried to keep him alive, not only after. In addition, my husband and I were in a traumatic car accident only three weeks before he died. I experienced severe panic disorder for 17 months and my youngest child also experienced severe anxiety and panic too.
The most important thing I want to share is: do whatever the heck it takes to stay above water the first two years! Here are the tools for child and suicide loss that stand out to me as most helpful for my journey:
- Friends (mine and his) and family: to help bring his memorial to life, clean out his apartment, make some of the hard initial phone calls, and make us eat. I still haven’t finished closing all his accounts or going through all his belongings. Do things in your own time;
- Community: especially the grief circle of other women navigating child loss and meeting Kathy whose son Jared died by suicide just 5 days after Jairus and companying each other, reaching out to my close friends when I was in despair and the circle of women in my Brave + Beautiful Community (I highly recommend a grief circle specific to child loss and ideally led by or co-hosted by someone with lived experience);
- Micro-dosing with Psilocybin: in just two days it stopped 17 months of severe panic;
- Writing: my journals and grief journal, this resource page;
- Self-Trust + Self-Compassion: ample rest, Netflixing, lowering the bar, asking for help, going at my own pace;
- Really strong boundaries: I ended unhealthy relationships (those that did not feel safe) and forged others;
- Reading memoir of loss and learning to thrive again;
- Doing things that felt like honouring Jairus: talking openly about mental health and suicide loss, starting a scholarship in his name (it no longer feels nourishing), co-creating a book about child loss to help other parents;
- Wellbutrin: grief and post-concussion syndrome made it hard to focus and concentrate; this medication helped me “get my brain back”;
- Somatic Embodiment work (and I chose to dive in and study this for my benefit and that of my clients);
- Removing all expectations for special holidays; it isn’t your job to make it OK for anyone else (you can’t!) – Just show up;
- Making space for everyone to grieve in their own way. My husband and older daughter grieve very differently from my younger daughter and me;
- Walking, walking, walking: friends became my walking partners to get me out into the wooded trails three times each week in rain, snow, ice, sun… walking helped me process, to move pain and grief through my body, to be surrounded by moss and trees and be reminded that joy and grief, beauty and suffering, live side-by-side in a messy and beautiful life.
I share honestly about child and suicide loss, about PTSD, boundaries, and finding hope and joy in the midst of profound grief in this episode with Jen and Tesha of the nowwhat? podcast.
OTHER forms of support or connection As you navigate child or suicide loss
1. Brave, growth-minded Community
I started my Brave + Beautiful Community four weeks before our car accident, 7 weeks before our son died. This is a beautiful, compassionate, growth-minded community and it served as a lifeline for me in the worst season of my life. It’s not for those in crisis or for mental health support but if you have other health support in place and you’re feeling ready to engage in community as you practice continuing to show up fully to life, reach out.
The B+B is a paid community and I offer a number of equity “pay-what-you-can” spaces to the people on my email list with preference to those in marginalized communities. I also offer a special rate for people on a fixed or lower income.
2. grief has no rules: a not-for-profit book about child loss
If you want to share a short story about your experience of child loss, learn how you can be a part of the not-for-profit book collaboration, Grief Has No Rules. The intention is to use profits to support a mental health or grief organization and to get this into the hands of grieving parents.
3. grief support that doesn’t suck
Megan Devine has a book, podcast, writing circles and other forms of support for grieving people or those who want to learn how to better support their grieving loved ones. I appreciate her work. Learn more here.
4. The best and worst things to say
People often say hurtful things in times of grief, not because they’re trying to be hurtful but because they want to ease their own discomfort, most of us are kind of awkward around people in pain, they think what they’re offering us is helpful, or because they simply share very different beliefs about life and death. David Kessler and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross share a short list of some of the best and worst things to say to someone who is grieving. Read the list here.
5. discharge stress and feel more empowered (free) workshop
This workshop (offered FREE to you) will help you understand the different parts (and experiences) of your autonomic nervous system. It will help you become more familiar with what it feels like to be AT HOME in your body and your life, how to recognize when you shift into chaotic or anxious and overwhelmed energy (when you feel like you’re searching for home), and what it’s like in your body and your life to feel unmoored, collapsed, or shut down (or when you feel disconnected from home) and how to COME BACK HOME. Enjoy the workshop here.
If you’re navigating child loss and/or suicide loss, I send you so much love. You may feel at times like this is impossible, that you will not survive. I hear you. I felt that way often. But all you have to do is to focus on one breath at a time. Then one hour at a time, and one day at a time. This is the only way to do the impossible.
Feel free to share this page with people you know who are navigating child or suicide loss.