Trigger warning: This post discusses suicidal ideation.
When people you love struggle with suicidal thoughts, it is one of the most painful things to deal with. When it is your child, it is devastating on a completely different level. Watching your child fight depression and hearing them say they want to kill themselves crushes a mama’s soul. It exhausts you in a way that people cannot understand unless they have experienced it for themselves.
It is a battle that you cannot share because you will hear everything from, “They just want attention,” or “Wow, you must be a really horrible parent for your child to feel that way,” to “That kid is just messed up,” and worse. It’s not a physical illness like cancer, where people tend to see children as the victim of a horrible, ravaging disease and often rush to help. Yet sometimes there are angels along the way. Recently, I have experienced the blessing of two of them.
Last week, a friend gave me a precious gift. We were riding along, and she asked about how my children were doing. I have two beautiful boys, who are 8 and 9 years old. I briefly told her how my oldest son, who has autism and other challenges, recently signed a safety plan with his therapist due to suicidal threats. My 9-year-old boy, the sweet baby who came to live with me at 7 months old and became my forever son, my “moon child,” wanted to die. His younger brother, who joined our family when he was 2 months old, also struggles with suicidal ideation and has already been in inpatient treatment for self-harm gestures. He is my charming, dimpled, “sun child,” intense and bright, haunted by a severe mood disorder.
My friend looked at me with compassion and said, “My God, how do you deal with that?” It was the first time anyone had ever asked me that question, and I struggled through the sudden lump in my throat as I verbally processed my answer. It was only afterward that I realized the impact of the gift she gave me — the opportunity to work out how I do handle this, when the loves of my life want nothing more than to die, to leave me and this world behind. If you have a child who struggles with these thoughts, maybe you can relate to my answers.
1. Parent with no regrets.
My kids can be challenging, and I must consciously stop myself often — sometimes many times a day — before I react, set a limit, or a consequence, and ask myself if it is going to leave me with regret. I still mess up a lot. But I always admit it, and I always go back to my little guy and fess up, make amends, and end with reassurances of my love and support. Many days end where I still feel like I have failed, but I am confident that I have done my best to instill the knowledge of my love in my children’s hearts
I will never give up advocating for my boys and seeking help for them every way I can. It seems they came into this world with a deep-seated sense of shame and unworthiness, and I will continue to fight that and teach them to fight it for themselves. They have a strong team, a village that supports them, and we will hold the line for them when they cannot. The therapies, the appointments, the research, the prayers, the sleepless nights — whatever it takes to make those flames of worth and esteem grow and burn away that deep darkness that threatens my sons, that is what I will do.
3. Have hope, faith, and grace.
Hope that this will pass. Faith that it can and will. Grace for if the unthinkable should ever happen. I know the statistics. I know people who have gone through this heartache. Yet I remember dark days when I battled my own demons of deep depression and suicidal thoughts. In fact, I don’t know how I am still here.
If either of my children ever reach the point where they can no longer fight the battles they were given and they choose to do what seems to most people an incomprehensible action, they will receive nothing but grace from me. Life is but one grain of sand on the beach of eternity. My sons have faith in God, faith in heaven. One often speaks of heaven longingly, and the other has told me wistfully how he just wants to be there so he doesn’t have to worry about being out of control anymore.
When my oldest boy was going through his last suicidal phase, I called his therapist to see how he was doing at school, so I could evaluate whether he needed to go inpatient. She also gave me a gift, a gift I didn’t know I desperately needed at the time. We discussed how my son was doing well at school and decided he would be safe at home, and then she said, “I am so sorry he is going through this, and I am sorry that you are too. This is so hard.” Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe or speak. A few days later, when speaking to my own therapist, I said, “That’s all I needed someone to say.” Not advice or judgment, just acknowledgement and empathy. It takes so little to mean so much.
Parents of suicidal children will tell you, no one rushes to our door when our babies scream in pain, yet they are just as much victims as the children enduring more visible physical illnesses. Their illness is one of the brain, but our society has not yet reached the point of accepting that as a whole. Hopefully, someday we will.
So don’t count on casseroles, gift cards, fundraising sites, or encouraging social media posts, my fellow warriors. Dig in your heels, build your village strong and true, and be grateful for the few you find who you can be honest with when they ask how you and your sweet children are doing. I wish you love, and above all, life.