Sunday (June 24) was a special day for us. One year ago Sunday, our lives were torn apart when we discovered that our youngest daughter, Anna, had taken a bunch of pills the previous evening with a serious intent to commit suicide. One year ago Sunday I was sitting next to her in the ER (and then for days in PICU) wondering what I had done wrong, how my beautiful, intelligent, friendly, and — I always thought — happy girl had gotten to this place. In the coming days we discovered more painful things. She had been cutting for three years. It had started out fairly casual but quickly gotten serious, and quite regular. She had gotten messed up in a bad relationship. She had abandoned most of the people at school who loved her. This didn’t happen overnight, but was a long, slow slide for Anna into the oblivion of depression and eventually attempted suicide.
We lived through these horrible days in stunned silence — or wracked by sobs. We had told a small group of people who love us, and they were amazing, but words just fail in those times. Nothing took away the sting. To this day I’m not sure what was the worst part. There probably wasn’t a worst part because everything was so awful.
a. Knowing how close we had come to losing our daughter
b. Wondering what we had missed, what we might have done wrong
c. Knowing how deeply our daughter had been hurting for so long, right under our noses, and we were mostly unaware
d. Fearing that this was just the beginning, that she might attempt again
e. Burning with anger at our daughter for causing this pain to our family and friends, and then feeling guilty for being angry with her, and being so thankful she was still with us
f. Wondering how our lives would ever be normal again
g. Going through the experience all over again every time we saw a picture of our daughter from the previous three years and realizing that she wasn’t the girl we had thought she was
h. Feeling like so few people could understand — that if we talked about it, people would look down on us, or on our daughter — and that if we didn’t talk about it, we were going to be consumed by the pain and confusion
i. Feeling like even when we talked about it, relief didn’t come
j. Add nauseum
Several months ago I wrote an enormously successful series of posts that explain this brush with suicide in detail. I invite every parent to read those posts if you haven’t already. Most of you who read this blog don’t know me personally, but I can assure you that if this can happen in our family, it can happen to any family. We are not perfect parents, but we had, and have, outstanding relationships will all three of our girls, including the one we almost lost. So I encourage you not only to read this series, but to tweet it out, Facebook it, email it, and otherwise get the word out to as many people as you possibly can. We sat in church feeling so overwhelmed and joyful as we watched Anna leading worship up front. The tears came again for both of us because finally, a year later, we feel comfortable that suicide is probably off the agenda as an issue in our family. Please do everything you can to educate yourself. To Write Love On Her Arms is a national organization that is trying to educate people about depression, cutting and other forms of self-harm, addiction, and other dangerous things that could easily affect your child right under your nose, no matter how aware you are, or how good of a parent you may be.
We finally decided to speak out (with Anna’s full support, and control over the content of every post in the series) because we know that, though we are not famous, we have enough influence to assure that we can keep a few other families from experiencing what our family experienced. We also want to make sure that if you have a child who you are worried about, you are not alone. Really good, deeply loving, involved parents lose children to suicide every day. Don’t be one of those parents. It’s great that our daughter didn’t die and we are overjoyed, but don’t underestimate the pain caused by near-suicide.
There is probably little, if anything, we could have done to prevent what happened to Anna. But most of the time there are warning signs. Know what they are for the sake of your child and yourself.