Hi, my name is Nancy. I am a suicide survivor. My son, Justin, at the age of 28, took his life on June 23, 2007. Nothing could have prepared me for this, nothing in our life said that this could ever happen to us. Our children were raised in a home so full of love and faith. They were brought up with respect and a very strong work ethic. They were forever encouraged, and to my knowledge never discouraged. They were always allowed to speak their mind and more importantly to be able to come to us with any problem and discuss it with us. And they did. And we always listened. Our children were taught to dream and to follow their dreams. It was never a question of, what will our kids do with their life or how successful would they be, it was utterly important that they were happy in whatever they chose to do. We had a great family life. Our children came from a good stable home. How could this happen to me?
I lost my son. Who could possibly understand this, and more so, how could I possibly understand how he could do such a thing? But he did. I remember the day Justin ended his life. Friends and family had gathered in our backyard. I made a public declaration that I would choose life, even though Justin had chosen death. What I meant by that is that I would find a way to live through this and find life again. I had to find a way to live with this, to deal with this, and to understand this horrific death called suicide.
Suicide has no boundaries! It does not care about race, gender, or age. It doesn’t care about social or economic status. It doesn’t care if you are a son, a daughter, a husband, or a mother. Suicide is different than other deaths because you have no one to blame but the victim. When someone you love dies, it’s instinctive to blame someone for that death. In illness, you can blame whichever illness has taken your loved one’s life. In homicide, you place the necessary blame on the perpetrator. In accidental death, it is the one who caused the accident. But in suicide, no matter who you try to blame, it always comes back to your loved one. At this point you must take a close look at who he was, or who you thought he was. You must face a truth about your loved one that you do not want to face. The image you had of them is now forever changed. You painfully have to look at the truth, that they were depressed, alcohol or drug addicted, or suffered from some other mental illness. That they held secrets, secrets that could not be shared with anyone, secrets that would ultimately take their life. Burying my son was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but finding out what caused Justin to take his precious life was almost as hard.
I remember after Justin died I was asked several different times to bring a picture of Justin so a face could be given to the boy I loved so much. But when I went to find a picture of Justin, I was in pure agony, pure hell. I felt myself wondering, “How can I bring just one picture of Justin? Justin was not just one picture, he was a thousand pictures!” And I found myself somewhat in the same agony while writing this speech. I wondered, “How can I describe Justin. He is not a few words, he is a thousand words!”
So I will do my best to share who my son was to me. It sounds so cliché but Justin was an amazing young man. He was educated and highly intelligent. He was a hard worker, respectful and polite to anyone he met. He was very loving and loved deeply. He was tolerant of all people. He was articulate, a planner, and forever learning as much as he could. He was amazingly funny with a laugh that was infectious. He was focused and dedicated. He was a hero. He was a leader and the kind of person everyone wanted to be like. He was a friend, in the deepest sense of the word. Justin was a dreamer, but unlike most of us who dream, he lived his dreams. And each dream was bigger than the last.
Justin traveled continents, loved the outdoors, climbed mountains and crossed deserts. He was an explorer and a writer. With his adventuresome life he hoped to be an author some day. Justin’s last dream was to travel the world. For two years he saved his money, paid off his bills, and planned his world adventure. In May of 2006, with $25,000.00 in his pocket and a backpack on his back, he left for Iceland. He traveled to places that I did not know existed. He spent time in the slums of India, the deserts of Egypt, and the war torn country of Kosovo. He wandered the streets of Cambodia and Vietnam, and enjoyed learning to scuba dive in Thailand. He returned back home in February of 2007.
Justin loved life and lived it like no other. I lost so much the day Justin died. I lost Justin! I lost my life as I knew it. I lost the trust I had in life, now believing that more tragedy was looming close by. I believed that something might happen to one of the remaining of us. I lost my church and almost completely lost my faith in God. I lost a sister, who needed to blame someone for Justin’s death, so she blamed me. I was in a world that I didn’t feel that I belonged. Nothing was even remotely familiar to me. It was a struggle to breath, to understand, to feel, to think. I needed to survive, but I was numb and couldn’t conceive what was ahead for me.
Healing and hope comes to each of us differently in our journey. For me it was in people I met, my son’s friends, angels sent by God, a little girl next door, a book, a song, or just being held by my husband or daughter. Healing came from a minister’s words about losing your faith. It came from going to the Survivor Resources weekly group sessions, and in finding a counselor who would walk with me every step of the way.
It was only one week after Justin died that we came to Survivor Resources. I have to admit, the first three times we attended I was in such shock and disbelief that, I couldn’t completely comprehend the reason we were there. I knew that Justin had died, but I kept telling myself, this just couldn’t be happening to me. Monday after Monday, my husband, my daughter and I attended, and as the shock wore off, I knew I needed this resource. This group gave me hope. It was a safe place to say anything that I felt.
There were times that I could not believe that I was thinking or feeling a certain way. But, in Survivor Resources, nothing is too strange; most everything you say has already been said. I took comfort in knowing that the friends I had made at this group have lived my nightmare and survived.
Justin’s friends were critical in my healing process. I mentioned earlier that Justin was someone who loved deeply. It was no exception with his friends. I came to find out after his death how he made a lasting impression on his friends and how much they loved him. They have stayed in contact with me since that fateful day. They honor him by sharing with me the immense love they still hold for him. He was important and more importantly loved. I feel that Justin’s life did hold purpose and meaning, something I was not sure of immediately following his death.
I had come very close to abandoning the God I had known all my life. I was angry at God. I knew that God did not take Justin’s life. Justin took his life. But, what I could not understand was why God did not save him. I could not understand why this God of love would allow me to suffer in this way. I searched, I read books, I studied, I looked for a new church, but there were no answers! I had all but given up, I had told Dan, no more. No more church. No more searching. No more God! But Easter Sunday, as I had watched my husband get ready for church, I felt guilty. I thought, what would it hurt, just one more time? The sermon this Easter day was about an individual in the same place that I was.
The minister talked about suffering and holding on to any truth you knew, and that that truth would sustain you. This minister was the first person to tell me, to give me permission to be angry, to question God. I walked away knowing only one thing; that I knew there was a God. That is all I knew. But little did I know, that little bit of truth is what ultimately brought me back to my faith. That truth brought me to know above all else, that God is God and he is holding Justin tightly in his arms until we meet again. I don’t know why God needed Justin, but what I do know is that God needed him more than I did.
During my healing journey, I found out how important it was to keep on moving. Not running, but moving. I set aside part of my day to grieve, but I then tried to structure my days. Therapy for me was riding my bicycle or walking. I have always enjoyed these things and I guess you might call them a passion. Having a passion was of the utmost importance. My husband, my daughter and I also decided it was time try something new; something we may have dreamed about but never tried. We felt that we could focus some of our energy on something else beside the horror of Justin’s death. I chose to learn the piano. I remember concentrating, learning, studying every note which took me away from the pain, even if it were only one hour a day. I learned to stay moving, not so fast that I ran from Justin’s death, but fast enough so I didn’t get stuck.
The little girl that lives next door to me was instrumental in healing. Sometimes we are sent angels, and we are not aware of it until a much later date. This little girl adored me, and after Justin died, I can’t explain why, but I just didn’t want her around. She had no idea or concept of what had happened in my life; all she knew is that she wanted to spend time with me. Every time she saw me she would run over with a smile and a giggle. She would give me the biggest hug. Day after day, she would come until she eventually softened my heart. It wasn’t long until I needed her to come see me daily. She filled my time with unconditional love and she took my focus off of Justin, just long enough to give me a much needed break from my grief.
One evening, my husband, Dan and I were in a bookstore. He was looking for a particular book and I had no interest. While waiting for him I browsed the discount rack. My eyes focused on a particular book, so I picked it up. The title of this book, was Falling Into the Face of God. I quickly read the back cover, and it was, as far as I could tell, about a man who had many struggles in life so he went to the Judean desert in search of God and a renewed faith. I bought the book! It turns out that this book was about a man’s personal struggle with life, God, and faith, but it was also a book about suicide. This man struggled with taking his life and his best friend did commit suicide. There was so much insight on suicide. It was a first hand account of the inner turmoil and thought process of one who would commit suicide. This book helped me understand how Justin got to the place he did and how he could possibly take his own life. I read that book twice!
My daughter Molly gave me a CD by Allison Kraus sometime after Justin died. There is a song on that CD titled, “I Give You to His Heart.” I know it may seem strange, but listening to this song over again and again was a turning point in my healing. It was a pivotal point in moving forward. This song is a song about a mother losing her son. I could feel this mother’s pain, and she, like me, couldn’t find the answers to why her son died. Her answer to losing her son is that in God’s loving plan her son might be the missing part, so she gives her son to God’s heart.
Even though I desperately wanted to hold on to my son, it was time to release him. So, I released Justin to God’s heart. About a year after Justin died, my husband and I joined a small group from our church, something I never thought I would ever do. We met weekly. The second week we were asked to explain why we were there. I did not want to share my story, not to anyone, especially to strangers! When it was my turn, I blurted out that I was there because my son had died and I had little faith and I could not pray. I know that people could feel my pain, my anguish, but the room stayed silent. Several weeks went by when a woman spoke up. She spoke to me, to my heart. She shared her story of losing her husband several years earlier, how she had no family, how she endured losing her husband entirely by herself and that for two years after his death, she was paralyzed; paralyzed to leave her home and to make a new life for herself. But her story was one I needed to hear.
It was a story of incredible hope. And it came at exactly the right time. She went on to tell me that she met a wonderful man, and that she remarried and that her life was full of joy, and that there would be a day when joy would return to my life. I believed her, and in the midst of all my tears, I looked forward to that joy. I have had many experiences and stories that I could share with all of you, but I have time for only one more.
Justin died two days before my birthday. This was one of the hardest things to accept in his death. Justin did not make it home for Mothers Day, 2007 and he had promised me he would. So, when I talked to him on Mothers Day, he promised me he would be home for my birthday. He lied to me. Instead of celebrating my birthday with my son who I desperately missed, I was planning his funeral. As my second birthday approached, I was in agony. I had no idea how I would ever get through that day. I was angry at him for lying to me, angry that he was dead, angry that I had to have another birthday. The night before my birthday my husband and I went over to our daughter’s house to put in some air conditioners. When we got there I was prepared to help my husband, but he insisted that Molly and I go for a walk. So, Molly and I headed out. And as we were waking, I started to cry, and then to sob. I was in such anguish over my approaching birthday. She asked me, “Mom, what is the hardest part?” I immediately answered, “Justin lied to me. He said he would be here for my birthday but my present was to find him dead.” Just then, as I looked up, there was a red car parked on street. Painted on its windows in bright red paint were the words, “Have a great day mom. I love you.”
Now this was enough to stop us, and to chuckle to ourselves. Maybe it was a sign from Justin, but we were half laughing because we knew it was just coincidence. We walked another block to notice a young child standing on the corner; a boy maybe four, maybe five, holding a big yellow balloon. We crossed the street where he was standing. He walked up to me and handed me this giant yellow balloon. I told him I didn’t have any money so I could not buy it from him. He said, “It doesn’t cost anything,” and that it was especially for me. I took the balloon from his tiny little hands, and he turned to walk away, while I stood on this corner with this huge yellow balloon, tears streamed down my cheeks. Molly and I were both crying now because we knew this was no longer coincidence. We went back to Molly’s house and, when I walked in, Dan asked why I was holding a balloon. I told him that he probably wouldn’t understand, so I chose to not tell him. He told us to go out for another walk; that he still had things to do. So Molly and I left once again, but in a different direction. We walked several blocks from her house. When we rounded another corner there at my feet was yet another balloon. This one was red. I scooped up the balloon and I knew at that instant, that heaven was letting me know that Justin was wishing me a happy birthday. There is no question in my mind how, at times, when we need them most, miracles happen and angels are sent to do God’s work. My birthday is no longer sad. I will always think back to that day, those balloons, and the message I received loud and clear.
I remember clearly the first day that joy came back. My husband and I had sold our house and moved out to the country to a place that is probably one of the most peaceful places I have ever been, my daughter had found new love, and I was sitting on the porch in the still of a warm September night. I felt so much joy in my heart that it spilled over and I started to cry. So this is joy, I thought to myself. I had felt other small joys in my heart since Justin died, but this was pure joy, a joy that could not be contained. And as my friend promised, joy would return again some day. I welcomed it!
Losing my son is a journey I never wanted to be on. I am utterly amazed, that still to this day, I have survived! Blessings, healing, and hope, comes to us in very many ways. It’s our job to hold on to any blessings that come our way, to recognize them as blessings, and to allow them to help heal our hearts. I decided early on that I wanted to live, and this is truer today than that very first day. I want to enjoy this life, to find meaning, and to find purpose. I miss and love Justin very much and I still struggle with his loss, I have days that are sad, and yes I have days that are filled with joy. I want to live and enjoy my husband and see my daughter fulfill her dreams. I also want Justin to be proud of me. Justin was always my biggest fan, he was always so proud of how I lived my life. I want to live to make Justin proud.