My 16-year-old son’s suicide changed me
I can't understand it. My 16-year-old son, a year 12 student, had never displayed signs that anything was wrong. He was a great kid, did well at school, was genuinely respected by his teachers and friends. He was fun-loving, popular, kind and a really nice all-round person.
His suicide hit me like a freight train. If there had been a history of mental illness or indications something was amiss, perhaps this could have been predicted. Believe me, it wasn’t.
Facing my son's death from suicide was once the most remote situation I could ever have imagined finding myself in. But the reality is that I am. Forever.
Life changed in an instant, and the worst part is that I'll never know why he did it.
Part of me went with him five years ago. I can't even find the words to describe the pain. I still can't believe it happened, that it was real and that he is gone forever. That is by far the hardest part. For months after he died, I kept listening for the sound of his motorbike. I still expect to see him walk through the door or to hear his voice calling out to me - even though I know I won't.
He was such a nice person. I don't say that because he was my son - he really was great. He was a conscientious school pupil; all his school reports featured the traits every parent hopes for - he applied himself, worked hard, was always respectful to teachers and peers.
He received his mid-year report the weekend before he died, in July 2012. Honestly, it was so good. I told him I wanted to reward him for continuing to do so well. As usual, he was quite humble and told me not to waste my money, but the day before he died I bought him a small TV and DVD player for his room.
That evening, his brother had asked if he wanted to go to the movies, but he said he wanted to get his room all set up. It was a normal night: we watched TV, finishing up with the two of us enjoying music videos and at 11pm he leant over, hugged me, said goodnight and went to bed.
That was the last time I saw him alive. I still remember that last music video we watched. I feel so sad now every time I hear that song.
He was mature beyond his years - a real thinker. He had such an amazing memory. He had a cheeky but mature sense of humour and really 'got' all the jokes - he was quick witted and funny.
Quite often I would arrive home after working at the office all day and he would perch himself up on the kitchen bench and chat to me while I prepared the evening meal. I still smile when I think of those times. I was a very proud mum and conveyed that to him on many occasions.
We found out after he died that he had a girlfriend. We also found out that he had alluded to suicide to her. They hadn't fought or anything like that - but we discovered they did have deep conversations via text.
We also found out that two months previously he had tried to kill himself and had texted his best friend telling him he didn't want to live. Both the girlfriend and best friend were only 15. How I wish they had told someone.
He left a suicide note (more of a long letter) saying how much he loved and respected them, as well as another very close friend - how they all had beautiful hearts and he wished he was more like them. He apologised to his dad and to me for what he was about to do. He thanked his step-dad for teaching him so much and told him that he was the best thing that had ever happened to his mum. He told his brother he loved their relationship and how much he enjoyed the fun they had together.
After his death, we discovered he had often been sneaking out late at night for the last few months of his life, meeting his friends, returning in the early hours of the morning. He was obviously extremely careful. We never knew and nothing seemed amiss.
I felt cheated, totally gutted. He had been leading a secret life. He had deceived me, and I am not easily fooled. I still feel an emptiness inside that is hard to describe.
I loved my son, I felt I could rely on him without any doubt. But something must have happened inside his head, it must have. Because carrying out this destructive act to end his own life really was not him, how could it have been? He had so much to live for. He really did have a bright future ahead.
I really don't know how I have coped. I only took three weeks off work. Going back was therapeutic, it helped me pass time, kept my mind occupied.
I wanted to find out why my boy died. I challenged the Coroner's office and the police. I challenged ACC regarding the funeral grant, which I was initially denied. I wanted answers. I didn't want my son's death to mean nothing. I didn't want him to be just another statistic.
I really hope my actions have helped change how teen suicides are investigated. It can't become 'normal', because it just isn't. I needed to fight, for my own sanity. It was very difficult, but I felt I had to try to make a difference, to honour my son's life.
There isn't much assistance out there for those of us left to cope after the suicide. I refer to myself as a “victim of suicide” - because those of us left behind are the true victims.
In my case, seven months after my son's death I did seek help. A doctor was typing up a prescription for antidepressants and sleeping pills before I had even properly described what I was trying to deal with. I never took any medication. I wanted the hurt to stay - to keep it real. I guess it was a way of punishing myself. It was truly awful. I was referred to a counsellor, but I only managed one session.
The first year was the hardest. I ploughed through the anniversary of every special occasion, dreading each one.
I cannot forgive him for the impact his death has had on his brother (just over two years his senior), because his brother was the one who found him. I know it was unintentional, but it should have been me. I wish I could have protected my older son from that terrible experience.
I don't have any answers for other mothers who find themselves in this situation. Everyone has to find their own way of coping.
Death is final and it is real. I understand death now and I am not afraid of it. Having my son die was awful and the way he died made it even more horrible. But it has made me strong - far more practical, and somewhat immune to emotion.
It has made me respect the life I have. I know it’s finite, so I need to do things now rather than wait. I am changed; I am nowhere near the cautious person I once was.
I travel a different track now. My son changed my direction five years ago. He pulled the lever.
WHERE TO GET HELP
Lifeline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 354
Depression Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 111 757
Healthline (open 24/7) - 0800 611 116
Samaritans (open 24/7) - 0800 726 666
Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
Youthline (open 24/7) - 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
0800 WHATSUP children's helpline - 0800 9428 787, Open between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at www.whatsup.co.nz.
Kidsline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy, who are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.
Your local Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)
Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.
For more information, contact the Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service on 09 623 4812.
- Stuff Nation