Reflections on the Near-Suicide of my Daughter

 

My daughter Anna, left, who we nearly lost to suicide

My daughter Anna, left, with our family

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.

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The Almost-Suicide of My Daughter, prt. 7

The journey continues. That I have been able to write nearly all of these posts without a tear shows how far we have come.  Thank you for your time in reading and commenting on the posts in this series. I want to leave you with a few closing thoughts.

1. If this can happen in my family it can happen in any family. I’m not saying my family is perfect. But there is genuine love and connection between us.

2. In light of this fact, don’t spend your life worrying about it. If you or your teen are feeling sad more days than not, having sleep problems, losing interesting in things you used to enjoy, and other typical symptoms of depression, see a doctor right away. As I hope you have seen here, depression is dangerous.

3. If you do not have open lines of communication with your child, that is not good. Anna has always had extremely open lines of communication with Christy and me, and yet she chose not to tell us. That is the worst possible scenario. Generally if the lines are open, kids will come to their parents with this stuff. Make every effort to open those lines. If your child doesn’t communicate with you, consider that it may be related to your response when he/she tries. Do you find yourself feeling threatened or fearful, or frequently getting angry? This is your issue and if it’s getting in between you and your child, deal with it. Get help.

4. Know your child’s friends. Again in our case, Anna had/has amazing and beautiful friends, but often a child moving towards suicidal depression will ditch his/her old peer group and either remain alone or get new friends that you may have second thoughts about. When Anna started to receive visitors in the hospital, she called her best friend Sarah. Sarah came to the hospital (an intimidating thing even for an adult to do in this situation) walked into a room filled with people, sat down on Anna’ s bed and said, “You’re so stupid. I love you.” Every kid needs a friend like that, and Sarah is like one of our own. Many of Anna’s friends have been so gracious to her and have played a key part in her recovery.

5. Know that Anna’s case is not typical. Most people give hints or show signs. It is not often that people keep this secret 100% to themselves as Anna did. If you know what to watch for, chances are good you will be able to find something if something is there to find.

6. Take depression with the deadly seriousness it deserves. Do not ignore it, do not keep telling your child over and over to “cheer up,” and do not accuse him/her of simply acting this way to get attention. That is a risk you do not want to take. Have them evaluated by a doctor.

7. Be a force for goodness and love in the life of your child that he/she will have to contend with. Yes, my daughter attempted suicide and yes I have grieved and questioned myself a million times. But I have always been a force for goodness and love in Anna’s life that she had to contend with. When I saw Anna getting mixed up with someone that I thought was bad for her, I told her. She got grounded a few times. Sometimes I got angry, but I always told her it was because I love her so much and want the best for her. This is common sense for most people, but I needed to write it down.

8. Last and most important — you will be much more likely to miss your child’s darkness if you are lost in darkness of your own. Do anything and everything it takes to learn to live your life in the light. Read books about parenting, about being a better human being. Deal with issues of depression, anxiety, social isolation, repressed grief, denial, etc., that may be in your own life. Model good mental and emotional health. Your child is unique and no  matter how healthy you are he/she will still face their own challenges, but the more educated you are and the more healthy and whole you are, the more likely you will be able to raise a healthy and whole child. Or, in the nightmare scenario that we faced where a child attempts anyway, that you will have some idea how to help them find the light.

RANT
I don’t understand why our school system teaches reading, writing, math, and science, yet does not address 1) relationships; 2) parenting; 3) money, the three of which will have a far greater effect on our lives — and society — than anything else.
END OF RANT.

And with that, I bid you adieu. Please get these posts to everyone you can. Anna’s attempt was not preventable, but most are, if we have the right relationship with our child, and the right information. Peace to you.

 

The Almost-Suicide of My Daughter, prt. 6

Dan and boys and me and girls at Daniel Amos concert

Dan and boys and my girls at Daniel Amos concert

[This is the true story of the darkest few months of my life. I hope and believe others can learn from it. It revolves around my daughter Anna, and Anna has reviewed and given her consent for me to post each of the parts in this series. It is her desire for others to learn from her experience. She has blogged on this experience from her perspective this week as well.]

Anna spent four days at White Pines. The most important thing accomplished there was just putting some time between the suicide attempt and when she came back home. It was probably as important for Christy and me (and Brittany and Kyra) as it was for Anna. We were terrified of what would happen when she came back.

We were allowed one 30 minute visit per day. Every day we made the trek to Saginaw (one hour) to visit her. Every time it was surreal — checking in, waiting in the meeting room as a nurse went to fetch our kid, hearing her stories about what life was like on the ward. She wasn’t scared but it certainly helped her to continue to realize how good she had it. And she was put on medication at White Pines. She still takes it now. So do many other people in our family.  

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The Almost-Suicide of My Daughter, prt. 5

Kyra, Anna, and Erin carving pumpkin

Kyra, Anna, almost-sister Erin Webster

 

[This is the true story of the darkest few months of my life. I hope and believe others can learn from it. It revolves around my daughter Anna, and Anna has reviewed and given her consent for me to post each of the parts in this series. It is her desire for others to learn from her experience. She has blogged on this experience from her perspective this week as well.]

Christy, who until this time had been tense but fairly stoic, began to cry as we walked — stunned, through the sterile halls at White Pines. Things like this don’t happen in good, supportive, loving families. Do they? Her tears turned to sobs which turned to gasps and by the time we were outside she couldn’t go on. Literally. She doubled over there on the sidewalk, and for a time, could neither move nor be moved. She had taken charge and gotten our family through this terrible time on the homefront, and now was a time for grieving. I didn’t know what to say. I just stood there, numbly and dumbly, holding her hand. Decades of counseling experience, teaching, pastoring, critical incident work, and a lot of degrees on my wall added up to less than nothing as I stood paralyzed and silent. I had been insufficient for my daughter and I was insufficient for my wife. I couldn’t see signs of Anna’s depression, or prevent her attempt, and now there was nothing I could say to console my wife. I couldn’t hug Brittany and Kyra tightly enough to shield them from what they would have to walk through. I had never, and have never, felt so powerless, so ineffectual.   

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The Almost-Suicide of My Daughter, prt. 4

Anna with Brittany and Kyra

Sister love

The plan was to send Anna to an in-patient treatment facility after she was discharged from the hospital. The hospital had plans to send Anna to a place that her mom was not comfortable with. I shared Christy’s opinion, but there’s only one mama bear. Thankfully she stood her ground and insisted on doing research and finding the best facility we could find. We chose White Pines in Saginaw.

Anna was discharged and wheeled on a stretcher out the door and directly into an ambulance. It was as dreary as a day could be, cold rain coming down like sharp nails. Fitting, it seemed. I climbed up in the ambulance with Anna, and Christy drove behind us and we made the hour-long trip to Saginaw.

First the search. Anna was taken into a room and searched for weapons, substances, and anything else that was other than Anna. Nothing found, of course. Then intake began. We answered question after question after question. 

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