Hushed voices from across the room piqued my curiosity, so I listened discreetly. Overhearing something about a man who had died, I considered shifting my attention, but their voices became more distinguishable.
“He committed suicide.”
My body cringed. “He died by suicide…the language you use matters,” I thought to myself. My opinion was unsolicited, and before I could speak, her question penetrated my thoughts.
“Why did he do it?”
Why? The question itself brought an ache to my heart.
It is not uncommon for us to grasp for answers as to why someone died; even more so when suicide is the cause.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says, “There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering with a mental health condition.” While many deaths are attributed to a mental health condition, other stressors may contribute, making what seems irrational usually feel completely rational in the moment.
A couple of years ago, my children were exposed to death by suicide. They were six and nine years old when they learned that their friend’s father had made his body stop breathing. Although the conversations were tough, we knew the importance of talking with them in basic terms and giving short and true facts. In opening up the topic of suicide, we were surprised to find that both of them had already been exposed to the concept by classmates at school.
Professionals say that you can’t prompt suicide by talking about it or asking questions. However, I’ve come to realize I won’t know for sure if my son’s exposure to suicide before the age of ten has impacted his thoughts and behavior. Most of us have no idea how to wrap our heads around the fact that suicide is a leading cause of death for youth starting as young as ten years old. We question what kind of crisis could be troubling them to the point of death. I can’t help but wonder if we really can comprehend what it looks like to struggle with suicidal thoughts unless we see the battle firsthand.
My young son had talked about wanting to die by suicide numerous times before he demonstrated a behavior that showed me that he was earnest. Each time we had taken his words seriously, and each time he said he didn’t know how he would do it; he just wanted his pain and sadness to stop. One afternoon, he was struggling emotionally, and in an effort to show me what he was feeling, he looked past me and ran towards the knife block set sitting on the counter. Maintaining a measured response, I attempted to reach for the knife, but he quickly lifted it up to his neck. My efforts were unsuccessful to recover the knife, and as his screaming and crying increased, we heard a loud and purposeful knock at the door. My son threw down the knife and ran to the door to see who was there.
I swiftly lunged for the knife and hid it behind my back before joining him at the front door. My body shaking, I looked into my neighbor’s eyes. She had heard the escalated encounter and felt compelled to check on us. I felt irritated because I didn’t want to explain what was happening. Yet, I needed her to know. Her knowing our previous struggles is what had prompted her to walk up to our door that day and knock. We needed her right then, and God knew.
I wish I could tell you that this incident was a one-time thing. My children experience life with great intensity, and this often leads to them expressing the depth of their pain with words and actions surrounding death. Are they lacking coping strategies? Do they not have the vocabulary to explain the intensity of their feelings? I often find myself having conversations with them that are uncomfortable and scary for me. I feel inadequate in this calling to listen and contain, as well as guide and encourage positive mental health choices.
Despite feelings of inadequacy, I choose to battle for life alongside my children every day. Some days I feel tired, unable to disguise my frustration with their thoughts and behavior. Shame creeps into my heart and threatens to silence me, encouraging me to hide our struggles and our story. Some days, the fear of losing them overwhelms me. There are moments when I reach for a camera to capture good memories, wondering if it might be the last picture we take. Are we doing enough, saying enough, listening enough? Honestly, I don’t know.
*1-800-273-8255 is the phone number for the American National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Bethany Cabell, a lover of simplicity, is often inspired to write by the relationships she holds as a wife, mom, and a physical therapist. Bethany, her husband and their boys returned to life in Texas after wandering off to the Midwest for a season. What she once pictured her life to look like has forever been changed by her two sons. Navigating this messy and beautiful path of parenting two children each with their own unique challenges, she finds grace and beauty in the gift of each moment.