Archive for March, 2010

The Suicide of a Child: A Tale of Survival

March 8, 2010

By Joel S. Copeland

This is a rebuttal of sorts.  My daughter made a statement by taking her own life, and I must refute her reasons.  I know that people might say it is callous of me to speak against my deceased girl, but suicide brings pain to the survivors and makes them victims of depression, loneliness, and a complete destruction of one’s personal self esteem.  Since it happened, I lost a good job, a wife and family, and became homeless.  Since I haven’t killed myself, I’ve learned to survive.  Maybe I can help you survive, too.

My journey has been long and sad since she passed away, but I have managed to learn a few things since she left.  First, the hardest and most important thing:  I didn’t kill her.  I didn’t inject her with a dangerous drug.  I didn’t raise her the wrong way.  I’m not to blame.  Believe me, when someone close to you, especially a child, takes their life, you tend to think you had a hand in killing them.  You obsess, taking yourself to task over everything you said or did.  You can engage in this behavior for years afterward.  One might easily turn to drugs and/or alcohol.  Don’t be surprised when you find yourself seeking professional help, or dialing 911 to keep from doing yourself in.  It’s okay to survive.

None of this is designed or intended to sublimate grief, in fact, I mourn frequently.  I mourn the loss of someone I loved so dearly, the loss of my dreams for her, the loss of times together, of a bright future ahead of her.  Mourning is only natural, but what I hate is how that mourning refuses to heal.  You have to fight to heal; your psyche refuses to heal on its own.  Sometimes amidst our grief, we ask ourselves: Where do I go from here?  All of our work seems to have no meaning:  What is there to live for, to work for, to retire for?  Losing a child seems to bring out the worst in our philosophical choices.  I’m for kicking philosophy to the curb and getting the worst of your grief out of your way.  Losing any loved one is difficult; losing a child is sheer hell.  Finding a reason to carry on is your number one priority.

Try to keep in mind that when a loved one commits suicide, they make everyone who loves them a victim.  Anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one, especially if it is someone’s fault, feels victimized.  The suicidal person, with or without realizing it, will make victims out of every person who loved them.  And when you are a victim of such a sad, often violent loss, your grief is no less than one who has lost a loved one to murder.

The argument may be made that the suicidal person isn’t in the right frame of mind to comprehend such effects on others, that they are wrapped up in their own pain.  I defy this argument, having been in a suicidal frame of mind myself more than once in my life.  I always thought about those it would hurt the most, the ones who really and truly loved me.  My depression went on, but I held on to life.  There was a line, quoted by Tom Hanks in the movie “Joe Versus The Volcano.”  He was replying to Meg Ryan’s character who revealed that she was considering taking her life.  He said (and I hope I’m qouting him properly) “Why do that?  Why kill yourself?  There are some things that take care of themselves and death is one of them, so why the rush?”

My daughter’s death has plunged me and my ex-wife into such depths of despair, but we have have each handled our survival differently.  The important thing is that we have survived.  Yet, there are times when survival is no great shakes.  Imagine that your mind is like your hands, a group of interdependent appendages, that all work together to make oneself complete.  Now imagine doing all of your daily routines while wearing mittens.  You tend to struggle with so many simple and basic things that way.  That is what depression and shock do to some.  I cannot say all or many, but myself, yes, I understand how hard it is to not only survive, but to turn my face into the wind, if you will pardon the sailors parlance, and sail on with my life.

All I am trying to do is connect with other survivors of this, unfortunately, growing phenomena; and to help them heal.  I have included an Internet posting on teen suicide rates, according to www.familyfirstaid.org, for 2001 reads as follows:

Teen suicide was the 3rd leading cause of death among young adults and adolescents 15 to 24 years of age, following unintentional injuries and homicide. The rate was 9.9/100,000 or .01%.

The adolescent suicide rate among youth ages 10-14 was 1.3/100,000 or 272 deaths among 20,910,440 children in this age group. The gender ratio for this age group was 3:1 (males: females).

The teen suicide rate among youth aged 15-19 was 7.9/100,000 or 1,611 deaths among 20,271,312 teenagers in this age group. The gender ratio for teenage group was 5:1 (males: females).

Among young people 20 to 24 years of age, the youth suicide rate was 12/100,000 or 2,360 deaths among 19,711,423 people in this age group. The gender ratio for this age group was 7:1 (males: females).

Attempted Teenage Suicides
No annual national data on all attempted teenage suicides are available.
Other research indicates that:
There are an estimated 8-25 attempted suicides for each teen suicide death; the ratio is higher in women and youth and lower in men and the elderly.
More women than men report a history of attempted suicide, with a gender ratio of 3:1.
Four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warnings.

Pay attention to these teen suicide warning signs:
Suicide threats, direct and indirect
Teen depression
Obsession with death
Poems, essays and drawings that refer to death
Dramatic change in personality or appearance
Irrational, bizarre behavior
Overwhelming sense of guilt, shame or reflection
Changed eating or sleeping patterns
Severe drop in school performance
Giving away belongings

(Here it is 2010 and the statistics have gotten worse.  I included the latter part of the article to help give people an idea of the kinds of signs your child, friend, partner or spouse may show prior to suicide.)

In my daughter’s case, according to her mother, she had created a collection of dark-themed poems about herself.  My understanding is that her mother didn’t find them until afterwards, too late to have acted upon my daughter’s angst and to prevent her from killing herself.  (Her mother and I were separated, and I lived out of state at the time.  A factor in of itself?  Maybe.)  I’m not blaming her mother or myself for what my daughter did.  Obviously, between the two of us, we didn’t see it coming.

So what is left for me to do with my life?  It has changed forever.  Now, I hope to reach out to those who have lost-and maybe get through to those who are about to lose.  If I could have seen this coming, I would have tried anything to stop her, even to the point of forcing her into a mental care facility.  Those who destroy themselves either aren’t thinking about the ones who love them, or they want to hurt their family members to the utmost.  Either way, it is a mind-bogglingly selfish act that plunges whole families into the depths of despair, and nobody deserves such pain.

Look for the survivor in yourself.  Ask yourself: What is most important in this life?  For me, it is the ability to start over, to give it another try.  As a survivor of suicide, for that is what I am, I have had to re-think every aspect of my life, but more importantly, act upon my new-found strength.  I work more, interact more, live more.  Maybe I’m not a better person than the one I was before my daughter died, but at least I am trying to live to the fullest.  It is my sincere desire that you will, too.

At this point, what is the worst that can happen?  It already has and I encourage you to become a stronger survivor and a bright light for those who suffer with you.

Joel Copeland is a member of the Yuba City Chapter of The Compassionate Friends.  He currently resides in Reno, NV.  You can contact him by e-mail joelscopeland@hotmail.com.

Update, August 11, 2015:

I look at my previous post here and I realize how little my own words have helped.  I recently visited a psychiatrist to get a change of medications to help me sleep after a couple of devastating episodes where I dreamed my daughter was still alive; and that she and her sister had helped to fake her death because she hated me.  A wound like this goes places it should not.  Suicide is so fucking selfish, even if it seems justified to the person doing it.  I’m still in pieces after eight years.  Bleeding pieces, and they never seem to heal.

~JSC~