I met the father of my two oldest children when we were teenagers, around age 15. We ended up in a very long, very difficult relationship. If I had to pick three words to describe it, they would be abusive, toxic and unstable. When we were 17, we found out we were pregnant, and we were forced to marry. Our families decided that was what you did in that type of situation. Both of us knew it wasn’t the best idea up until the minute we said “I do,” but we figured they knew best, and we were scared teenagers.
Austin arrived in July 1995 after a very long and stressful pregnancy, but he was healthy and happy, as were we. As an 18-year-old new and still very naïve mom, I thought the baby would make everything better – that Dad would become the husband and father of my dreams overnight. I was wrong.
Things only got worse, and now I didn’t just have myself to think of, but a baby as well. Throughout this time, the word “suicide” was brought up quite frequently. Should I try to leave, he would threaten to harm himself. Should I do anything he didn’t approve of, it would always lead to a threat of suicide. I was still very much a child myself.
I never had any special training to deal with this. I’d never found myself in any place like this before, so I believed him. It was only after years of doing this on an almost daily basis that I realized I was being manipulated.
Two years later, we welcomed the arrival of our second son, Alex – the one who would end up saving me. Had I not had Alex, I’m not sure if I would have ever gotten the strength to walk away and stay away. It was only after having him that something clicked inside me telling me I had no other choice. They didn’t deserve this hell they were living in. So after seven years, two babies and lots of turmoil, I gathered my strength and I left, in search of a “normal” life for my boys.
Three years later I met my current husband of 16 years – my rock and a very important part of our story because he has loved us through it all. And by “us,” I mean my boys as well as myself. He took them in and raised them as his own.
In March 2004 we moved our family to California for a job opportunity my husband couldn’t pass up, but more importantly we looked at it as a fresh start and a chance to take the boys away from the chaos they had seen with their dad, who was now seeing them very little, and who had gotten into some not-so-great things.
This day in March was like any other. The kids were riding bikes outside with the neighbor kids, and I was sitting in a chair watching them and the phone rings. I still remember this day like it just happened.
Chad had taken an overdose and was not going to make it through the night. My mind couldn’t even process what I had just been told. No way! This has to be another one of his “stunts.” He won’t really die. I mean, how could he after all the unstable years we had together? He never actually tried to do it then. I just couldn’t accept it. I took myself into the bathroom, away from the kids and I cried, begged, bargained, cursed, prayed, anything I could think of to somehow convince God not to do this to my boys.
It didn’t work.
Just before midnight, I got the call. He was gone. Now I had no choice but to tell my kids. What would I say? How would I say it? I went over it in my head all night long. I thought I found the perfect words to soften the blow so to speak. Then morning came. There they were. Happy, “normal” kids ready for school.
I said, “Sit down. We aren’t going to school today.”
This was where I should have said all those words I planned during the night, but I couldn’t. I froze. No words would come out, only tears. So my husband said the words I couldn’t.
And then he held them, and he cried with them, and there I was frozen in time, watching the children’s innocence leave their little bodies, never to be seen again. That is why I can’t forget this day. It started our nightmare. They were 6 and 8 years old, and from this day forward, they carried an enormous burden, the burden of suicide.
It was clear from the very start that Austin was going to suffer quite a bit more than Alex. He was a bit older. He had memories of his dad, and he couldn’t understand why. Alex, on the other hand, was a little more resilient. He didn’t remember much about his father and had come to love Jeremy as his dad. I believe it was their bond that helped Alex to move forward without as many issues as Austin. He is our hero. He stood beside us when we went through the loss of their father. He was there for Austin as he had his own walk with suicide later.
From the start, Austin had an unbelievably hard time. His little mind just couldn’t figure out why someone he thought of as a superhero could do this to him. We started doing everything we could to help him through his grief: counseling, medication, doctors and eventually a few hospital stays, all without much success.
Looking back now, I can see how the legacy of suicide really took hold of our family. It was as if Austin believed his dad’s fate was also his fate, and nothing we did could convince him otherwise. During these extremely tough years, I had many ups and downs. I had lots of anger toward Chad. I blamed him for selfishly checking out and leaving all this to me.
After walking through this with Austin, I now understand mental health, addiction and even genetics so much more and have been able to let go of the anger and solely focus on the here and now. The credit for this change goes to God. I had come to realize it was only He who could guide me through this, and I had to start trusting him and stop bargaining with Him.
Feb. 12 – The Second Call
And the absolute worst day of my life.
Austin, who had been at his grandparents, his real dad’s parents, had hit a new low. He decided he wanted to join his dad and picked up a loaded shotgun, put it to his mouth and pulled the trigger. He was critical. I needed to get there NOW.
As disturbing as this feels to write, it was like all the years after his dad’s death, all the years of trying to help him, were a dress rehearsal, and this was the moment we had been building up to.
Every doctor we ever saw told me he would do this. Just based on family history alone, he was a greater risk. And with his own inner turmoil over his dad’s suicide, it was almost guaranteed he would do it as well.
“Prepare yourself,” they said.
But how can any mother just accept that and give up? You don’t. But here we were. This time, I didn’t bargain with God. This time, I trusted Him. Don’t get me wrong, I was still a complete basket case and a mess, in shock, and not able to stop the crying for one single second.
But I also had a huge wave of peace come over me. This was God. He had us. I trusted Him. I knew that no matter what happened we were going to get through it. We were given a chaplain the moment he arrived at the hospital who immediately took us to a private room where he tried to prepare me for what I was about to see. There was absolutely no way to prepare anyone for what was ahead, but he tried. My husband, Alex and I were taken to see Austin before they took him back for emergency surgery to try and save his life.
This would end up being another moment that feels frozen in time. A moment I saw in my dreams for years. A moment I never, ever, ever wish upon anyone. The moment responsible for my telling of this story. My child lying on a bed with half of his face missing, swollen huge, unrecognizable and suffering. My knees went weak and buckled, and I let out a cry that I didn’t even know I was capable of. On one side of me, my husband held me up, and on the other the chaplain held me so I wouldn’t hit the floor. The encounter was brief because he needed surgery ASAP. That moment didn’t look survivable. Still there was a sense of peace in my heart. God was with him. I just couldn’t believe anything other than “His will would be done.”
He made it through surgery. As a matter of fact, he made it through many surgeries – many grueling, torturous days in the hospital and many months of recovery after the hospital. He’s here, and he’s alive. God worked a miracle right in front of our very eyes. There is no other reason for Austin to still be here other than God’s mercy.
God’s plan for him is so much bigger than he ever even imagined. I personally believe that part of that plan is to break this legacy of suicide that he was left.
As for my plan, it has taken me years to even come to terms with what has happened in my 40 years on earth – years to accept that my son attempted to take his own life. That’s a hard thing to admit – even harder to say out loud. Writing about it has been just what I needed. It has made me realize that all those moments frozen in time in my head are there to use to help others, not to torture me. I would love to know that just one person reads this and changes their mind about taking their life, or even that one person reads this and changes their view on others who have tried taking their own lives.
People are complex and carry baggage that not everyone is privy to. Be kind. Be compassionate. You never know when you could find yourself in a similar situation with someone you know and love.
Make no mistake. We do not have a storybook ending. No one is perfect and living happily ever after, but we are living. We have a different outlook on life. We have more positive attitudes, but most of all we have a stronger faith. Austin still struggles, both medically with his injuries and mentally with his choices.
I still worry every single day that there will be another call, but I live today like there is no tomorrow, and I know that God will see us through anything that comes our way. No one could ever convince me otherwise.
In closing, I’d like to give out some non-expert advice from a mom who has walked through hell to find peace. Suicide is not the answer. What suicide does is takes your earthly struggles and gives them to the ones you leave behind: your child, your spouse, your parents, etc. Whatever you are going through right now, you can make it. There have been moments in my life that I thought I just couldn’t endure but I dug deep and I trusted God. There is peace out there. Seek it through God.
Please think of the legacy you leave when you choose to take your own life. Choose to live. Seek help.