Page 9 - 2016 Spring-Summer Issue
P. 9

family; I was just trying to survive, but soon we noticed that  know the signs and when the symptoms of the illness are
many friends avoided us.                                        subtle and hidden, how can you know? Like many who die
We did have acquaintances who surprised us by being more        by suicide, Katrina was highly functioning and the symp-
supportive than some of our closest friends and family. Usu-    toms of her depression were well hidden from us.
ally the friends and acquaintances who stick with us have       With a stigmatized loss, grief can be complicated because
experienced a stigmatized loss within their own lives and       there is always a cloud of distrust, suspicion and ignorance
can relate to our pain.                                         from those who don’t understand. I accept that there will
Guilt, anger, and blame seem to be the three pillars of a       always be people who may think that Katrina’s suicide was
stigmatized loss. My days were filled with the question of      my fault or that Katrina was a flawed person and deserved
why. Why did Katrina do this? Why didn’t we know? I was         to die.
constantly second guessing myself with the “would have,”        I have turned my grief into advocacy for mental illness
“could have”, “should have” and “if only” game. Eventually,     education and suicide prevention. My advocacy helps me to
I had to work at accepting that I will never know all the       continue being a nurturing mother by sharing her life. On
answers to my questions.                                        those difficult days, I keep going because I know that I am
I have learned that feelings of guilt, shame and anger can      the only one who can tell Katrina’s story as only Katrina’s
scar us. In my situation, the biggest emotion was guilt. A      mom can. Katrina has died, but she had a life that mattered,
parent is supposed to protect their children and keep them      and I am still Katrina’s mom, forever.
safe. When Katrina left for college, I made sure to discuss
the potential dangers and how to keep herself safe, but         Sara became a bereaved parent when her daughter, Katrina aka Kara died
suicide was not discussed because we didn’t know it was a       by suicide. Sara’s grief has focused on advocacy for education about mental
possibility. I wondered if I was a bad mother.                  illness and suicide prevention which led to co-founding the Katrina Tagget
Feelings of guilt for those of us who have experienced a        Memorial Foundation. Sara is a founding board member of the Maryland
stigmatized loss are only exacerbated when people say, “you     Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention where she
must have known” or “why didn’t you know?” If you don’t         chairs the Loss and Healing Committee. Sara is involved with her local
                                                                TCF Chapter, TCF Patapsco Valley, and serves on TCF Stigmatized Loss

Since our 17-year-old son Zack died without warning by suicide two years ago, I’ve learned that grief will
simmer under the surface of all that we do for many years to come. We must continue to make a life on top
of that undercurrent of loss. I think I will look back on these years and be so grateful for time we spent as
a family, making intentional memories and attempts at joy despite the pain of losing our Zack. Even when
joy is impossible to find, we grow in the attempt. So far, I only regret the times that we didn’t try.

                                                                                                         Leanna Leyes, Zack’s mom
                                                                                                                             Bend, OR

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