This past week, after my article was published on Scary Mommy, I thought it was was time to take a break from writing in order to clear my head and reconnect with my husband and children.
I am very thankful that Linda Sienkiewicz also approached me this week with her beautiful article about grieving for and learning to accept her son’s death. It hits very close to home for me and I felt it was very important to share her story.
When she sent me her article, it acted as great reminder why I started The Mama Nurse in the first place – in order to help other women – and it prevented me from throwing in the towel for a little while longer.
It took great strength for her to send her story to me. She is a survivor and an inspiration. Please give her a warm welcome and any comments that you have are much appreciated.
Tori Hamilton, RN
My eldest child, a son, took his own life in the fall of 2011. He was thirty-two years old. As a mother, no matter how many counsellors, doctors and friends tell you suicide isn’t the parent’s fault, you can’t help but wonder what you did wrong.
Didn’t I cuddle him enough? Should I have been stricter? Was I too strict?
The bottom line: I felt I had failed as a mother.
As a writer, my dreams of publication, my writing goals, everything I’d once aspired to seemed trivial. Derek often called me in the afternoon when I was writing to talk about philosophy, mythology, Egyptology, Jim Morrison, travel, whatever. I found it impossible to sit at the computer, knowing the phone would never ring with his call again.
I shut my computer down and let it all go.
I had to trust that the desire to write would return when I was ready.
If not, well, that was okay, too.
The first Christmas after his death was especially heart-wrenching. Every year I bought ornaments for each of my three children since birth to decorate their own tree when they left home. I couldn’t bear to even look at at Derek’s ornaments. My husband and I scaled back on holiday decorating. We picked out a live tree, a black hill spruce, in his honor, that we would plant in our yard in the spring. I looped a strand of lights on it and hung a handful of ornaments.
We were pleased at how beautiful his memorial spruce looked when we planted it in our front yard. The following spring, it had lots of new growth. I looked forward to watching it grow magnificent, tall and full.
I’m sorry to say this doesn’t have a happy ending, though. But stay with me. I need to tell you what happened.
Two long years passed. It was time for me to return to my writing. My husband accompanied me to a July writer’s conference in Texas, where I hoped to find inspiration. When we came home a week later, we were shocked. The spruce looked severely distressed with brown needles and brittle branches, as if parched. What went wrong? Would one week of no rain have done this much damage? A landscaper suggested we water it daily.
I watered it every day, but it continued to drop needles, and every day I felt more distraught. I was convinced I had neglected Derek’s memorial tree. I had failed to take care of it properly and now it was dying. The metaphor was obvious.
It seemed almost fitting that the tree would die under my care.
By chance, my husband happened upon a news article about a spruce decline throughout Michigan. The needle cast and branch die-back that began years ago had reached epidemic proportions, and the previous year’s weather made them vulnerable to canker diseases. The article stated fungicides are generally ineffective.
All you can do is remove the infected branches and hope for the best.
I ran out to look at our son’s spruce and saw blue fungus on the trunk. It had a disease. I hadn’t neglected it after all. There wasn’t anything I could have done to prevent it from succumbing.
Similarly, our son didn’t like taking medication, and you can’t force-feed an adult, although we did strong-arm him into a hospital once. After that, his depression seemed to improve, but it never went away. When he moved out of state for a new job, we hoped it would give him focus and a new outlook. He even found a new doctor he liked.
Then he stopped taking his antidepressants and shortly after quit his job. We were distraught and, I have to admit, a little angry, too. Didn’t he know better? What was he going to do now? If we rescued him, were we enabling him? As his mental health declined, my husband and I sought the advice of a counsellor, who told us to take him to a hospital, again, for an evaluation. We knew he would be furious with us, but we made a plan and headed out to Ohio, a three-hour drive.
We were about 12 hours too late.
There’s no way of knowing if we could have helped him. Maybe the doctors could have put him on different medication, but, once left to his own devices, he might have stopped them. There’s no guarantee that he wouldn’t have tried to commit suicide again.
I’ve come to accept that the psychic pain from his illness was too great for him to bear.
The loss of my son is an ache I will always carry with me, and I’d be lying if I said I don’t have dark days. Just like the spruce, it’s a sad truth that, as parents, we can’t always prevent everything, and we can’t blame ourselves.
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is a published poet, writer and artist with a poetry chapbook award, Pushcart Prize nomination and and Masters in Creative Writing. Her award-winning debut novel, In the Context of Love, is about one woman’s journey to find the strength not to live in shame. Linda and her husband live in Michigan where they spoil their grandchildren and send them home. Connect with Linda at her website http://lindaksienkiewicz.com.