Twenty years ago this past Thanksgiving, my 22-year-old son, Nuçi, took his own life after struggling with major depression for many years.
We have always been a close family. After Nuçi’s death, my husband, my older son and I clung to each other trying to make sense out of something that was very hard to wrap our brains around. It was completely surreal and excruciatingly painful knowing that we’d never see Nuçi again. We were wounded and we needed each other like a crippled person needs a crutch.
We’ve been very gentle with ourselves knowing that our grief would most likely last forever and yes it continues twenty years later. One thing we know for sure is that the only way to get out of the severe pain is to go through it. Grief is a necessary and healthy process. Also, we’ve learned that each of us grieves differently. There is no one way to do it. Let no one tell you that you’re not doing it “correctly.” Stay away from those who judge you and accept the support of those who care.
Those in the “suicide community” will tell you that there is a gift in all of this. It may not appear right away but never the less it will appear. Most of us don’t want to hear such a thing. When I mentioned this to my husband, he said, “I don’t want a gift. I just want Nuçi back!” Understood! But if we allow, good things can manifest after devastating losses. As for me, I’ve found my gift! I will forever try to help and support the many Nuçis who are still with us.
In my Survivors of Suicide Support Group, I run across many who experience guilt if they laugh or even begin to enjoy life after losing a loved one. I remember one time running in to a young woman who had lost her husband to a stroke, leaving her with two small boys to raise alone. She expressed how sorry she was about my loss and then she said something very wise. “You don’t believe it now but one day your joy will return. It may take a long time but it will happen.” I thanked her but deep down I was skeptical.
About a year or so after Nuçi’s death, on a beautiful crisp Fall day, I stepped out my front door. I was almost blinded by the brilliant reds and yellows radiating from the giant maple trees in my neighbor’s yard. At that moment, I was flooded with a sense of gratitude for being alive. My joy had returned.
Now that didn’t mean that at any moment I couldn’t dissolve in a sea of tears. It didn’t mean that my grief had ended. It didn’t mean that I no longer yearned to see and hug Nuçi again. It meant that I was moving through the healthy process of grieving and I was still standing.
A friend of my husband who had lost his brother to suicide, told him that the further you get away from the suicide, the more the bad memories recede and the good ones come to the fore. This is true in my family’s experience. We don’t want to define Nuçi’s life by the way it ended. There was so much more. He was a beautiful young man. Smart. Funny. Talented. And most of all he was kind and caring. We continue to tell “Nuçi stories.” We laugh at the funny things he’d do and every Thanksgiving we toast him. He is so much more than his illness.
I want to say to those who have lost love ones to suicide, we must speak out and educate those who continue to stigmatize those with mental health conditions. We as parents owe this to our children and we owe it to those who are still with us and still suffer and who in many cases do not seek treatment because of stigma.
We must be gentle with ourselves while also being strong. Celebrate when your joy returns. I know that Nuçi wants that for his mom.
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