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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How do I live with my son's suicide?

It was a lovely quiet Sunday morning, on 5 February 2006, when my life irrevocably changed in the blink of an eye. My husband and I were on our way to the shop when an emergency vehicle passed us with loud sirens and flashing lights. In my ignorance I said to my husband I wonder who died now. In the meantime the vehicle was on its way to the scene where my son Emile, 20, hanged himself during the Saturday night or early Sunday morning in a weeping willow tree in a park near our house. I will never forget those words I uttered. About a half an hour after we returned home children from the neighborhood called my youngest son to our gate. They informed him that a young man, who fit Emile’s description, committed suicide in the park. We quickly drove there. The area at the tree looked like a crime scene. Emergency and police vehicles and personnel were everywhere. The place where my son was lying was surrounded by police tape. I told the trauma officer I thought it could be my son. He led me to a body lying on the grass under the tree covered with an emergency blanket. I stood there looking at my son’s face in shock. It was like a dream, I could not believe my eyes. It couldn't be true. I kept asking my husband if I was dreaming, it couldn't be Emile lying there dead. Everything felt like a nightmare, the daylight was blinding and I heard a roaring noise in my head. The trauma officer spoke to us but I did not understand one word he was saying. We went home and I started phoning family and friends to tell them. Nobody believed me because I didn't cry and told them in a matter of fact way that Emile hanged himself. The only thing that went around and around in my mind was: “It can’t be, it can’t be, my son can’t be dead. This is all a nightmare and I’m going to wake up any minute.” On the Sunday evening I returned to my senses and realized it was true. I never understood the meaning of keening, but that night I keened for hours and the weeks following Emile’s death. It felt as if I was going insane. My thoughts were in disarray and I felt anxious the whole time. The next day we had to go to the mortuary to identify him. It was the most horrid experience I ever had to go through. I could not believe he was lying dead on that cold slab of cement. It didn't look like my beautiful son. My heart was torn into pieces and I felt like dying of a broken heart! Every day was a nightmare. A part of me died with my son on that fateful day and I couldn't function in a normal way. I stayed in bed for weeks and all I could do was cry my heart out. Every night I was on the Internet for hours searching desperately for somewhere, where I could share this unbearable pain I was feeling. I phoned radio pulpit every day and told my story to Christian therapists over and over in the hope that someone could make it better for me. There was nothing in South Africa apart from The Compassionate Friends who helped me tremendously. There is no help for the unbearable pain a parent experience after the suicide of a child. Nobody out there understands what you are going through. There is nothing anybody can do or say to make you feel better. For months I ate almost nothing and didn't cook or clean or did anything in the house. It felt as if I was all alone on earth. I couldn't imagine a future without Emile. I couldn't think properly or remember anything I did or said or what anybody else did or said. I didn't remember anything that happened to me, I was on autopilot the whole time. The worst thing was that Emile didn't leave a letter or anything to explain this to me. I searched everywhere like one possessed for anything that could explain why my son did this awful thing. I searched the area under the tree and in the tree for a clue. I scratched around in his clothes and searched every pocket and place for something to give me an idea why my son did this. The questions are still driving me insane. Why, what? What was wrong with my son I didn't see? Was I so selfish and self centered I never realized there was something wrong with Emile? I still blame myself that I didn't realize what was going on in his mind, what he was planning. What did I do wrong in his life, where did I fail as a parent?
I look at other parents with big sons and I can’t believe that Emile isn't here any more. I didn't just lose a son to suicide, but a friend. The sorrow and despair is indescribable, and if you don’t find yourself it that situation, you can never imagine what parents go through. Nobody understands this hell and they don’t know what to say to you. People in their ignorance say all kinds of stupid things to a parent in this situation. They say things like: “Your son committed suicide and that means his soul will never find rest, you have another child live for him now, you need to get over it now and carry on with your life”. And it does nothing to change the destruction in your mind it just adds to the pain and heartache. On more than one occasion I just wanted to scream out at them: “please just leave me alone, you have no idea what you are talking about. My son is dead and I don’t know why.” I was on a suicide mission of my own for months and landed in hospital after I tried to overdose with tranquilizers.
Nobody can come through this pain without any help. It is an emotional roller coaster ride and you never know how you are going to feel in the next moment. One minute you are in this deep dark hole of despair, and the next you feel so angry that this abominable thing could have happened to you. Then there are days when you feel quite calm. On other days all you can do is cry uncontrollably and feel as if you will never ever be normal again. My perception of life changed completely, and things that were important in the past don’t mean anything any more.
This tragedy made me spiritually deeper and I have learned that we live only once and to make every day count. Love your family with all your heart because we don't know what is going to happen to them tomorrow.