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There is Hope After Loss

My nineteen-year-old son, Nick, died by suicide when he jumped from a bridge just outside his
college campus. His body was lost for almost five weeks. The week prior to its retrieval, I
received a call from a coroner who had misidentified another teen’s body for my son’s. That boy
and his girlfriend jumped just two weeks after Nick. Meanwhile, my family tried to remove two
cruel videos posted online after the suicide—one making fun of Nick’s death. Losing a child to
suicide is horrific, and these events certainly compounded the pain.

It is now seven years after my son’s suicide. It’s important for other parents who are just starting
the grief process to know that there is still hope. Life as you once knew it may be over, however,
your life is not over. Your family’s life is not over. You can get through this. The grief process is
grueling and requires a lot of work, but you will find joy again. I’m not going to lie, some of the
pain will always be there because you deeply miss your loved one, but you will be happy and
engage in life again.

At first, all loss survivors toss and turn in anguish, wondering what you could have done
differently, what signs you missed, what things you could have said or done to prevent the
unthinkable. You mentally try to rewrite your tragedy. Remember, the suicide was not your fault,
so stop blaming yourself or anyone else. Blame only hinders the healing process and cannot
bring back your loved one. As you make your way back into society, you will be faced with
stigma and people’s misconceptions about suicide, like your loved one was selfish, lacked faith,
or was a coward. None of these are true, of course. He/she was in pain, a pain so unbearable that
it overpowered and extinguished any instinct to survive. No living person can truly understand
the exact level of pain it takes to end one’s own life. You will eventually learn how to politely
“call out” people’s misconceptions in a way that offers them information in hopes of changing
their views.

The anniversaries and birthdays will always be tough days, as well as the days leading up to
them, because your anticipation triggers memories, reminds you of your loss, and can even
reopen some wounds. The good news is that even those days eventually get less painful over
time. You learn to make them days to celebrate your loved one’s life and not special days of
mourning.

Each year gets a little better. For example, you will learn what works best for you when you have
to answer that painful question, “How many kids do you have?” Over time, you will learn how to
live with your loss. You are a survivor. Your tragedy has most likely made you more empathetic
toward others while giving you a better understanding of what is important in life. Use all of this
knowledge in your relationships and interactions with others. Some of you may even choose to
use your loss to help others. I know this continues to give me joy.

After my son died, I founded Nick’s Network of Hope (nicksnetworkofhope.org), a suicide
prevention nonprofit. Our website is an information portal to raise awareness, provide resources,
and offer hope. Recently, I wrote and published a help book for those struggling in life or
suffering the aftermath of loss, as well as for anyone wanting to help these individuals. Saving
Ourselves from Suicide—Before and After: How to Ask for Help, Recognize Warning Signs, and
Navigate Grief will help grieving families and people like my son. Knowing this allows me to
see Nick’s death as more than a tragedy. I can’t change what happened, but I can use it to help
others climb out of a dark hole and find hope.

You will find your own meaningful ways to honor your loved one. Picking up the pieces and
rebuilding your life in a productive way that is loving and kind certainly do that. It takes time for
it all to come together, so be patient with yourself. Grieving is hard work, especially the first two
years, but you’ve got this. Don’t lose hope because better days are ahead. You will smile, laugh,
and enjoy life again.

Linda Pacha

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Comments (5)

  • Linda that’s amazing, thank you so much for the hope. It’s 23 months since my son Matt took his life by hanging whilst on a trip in Cambodia where he was searching for a better life. I think I can say now that he found the peace he needed but that’s not always easy to say or think, especially on my darker days. I would add to your thoughts about the guilt I feel when I talk to people who have lost someone to cancer, or a road traffic accident or some other way where there was no choice and I realise Matt was actually lucky to be able to decide for himself when he left. We’re moving soon to another part of the country and will hopefully be leaving behind so not so good memories as he had struggled for many years with self harm and attempts on his life. In the same way as I have met grieving parents I wonder if our children meet up as well? Thank you for your strength. I wish you and your family well.

    • No age limit, Nancy. No matter the age, no matter the cause, The Compassionate Friends is here to help. Warmly, Cathy, Nina’s mom and Chris’ Stepmom

  • Hi Tina,
    I am responding to your July 8th comment that said when talking to someone who lost a loved one in a traffic accident, cancer, or some other way, you sometimes feel guilty because when your son died by suicide, it was his choice to leave. First of all, thank you for your comment and for talking about that guilt. Many loss survivors feel the same way from time to time. However, I think I can help with that. Most of the time, when people die by suicide, they are in such excruciating pain. The only thing they can think about is making the pain stop. Their mental health problem, which is causing pure anguish, is often an illness. It is an illness that caused a death, like a terminal cancer.

    Likewise, other times a person with no known mental illness can have a sudden mental breakdown that results in suicide. It’s like something inside their brain snaps. It’s as sudden and tragic as a fatal traffic accident.

    Most of the time, what causes suicide is the same thing that takes away a person’s ability to make sound decisions or choices. We can’t see a mental health illness or breakdown like we can see a tumor or a dented car, but they can be just as lethal. The person suffering often no longer has the mental ability to make a rational choice. So, please don’t feel guilty. I write more about the misconceptions and stigma in Saving Ourselves from Suicide—Before and After: How to Ask for Help, Recognize Warning Signs, and Navigate Grief. It contains a lot of information about the grief process and suggestions to help.

    I always smile at the expression RIP because I don’t think loved ones who cross over are resting or sleeping. I think they definitely have peace; however, they are very happy and are busy (in a good way) helping others, checking in on us, and having fun. I wish you much happiness in your move. You will bring all the fond memories of Matt with you because they are forever in your heart. When you think of the past, remember the good times. When you think of the present, know Matt is still with you in spirit, and when you think of the future, smile and keep faith because we will all be together again.

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