Updated: Jan 4
Trigger Warning: This story contains subject matter relating to suicide.
It was a cool November morning. I was cleaning up the kitchen after breakfast, while my two-and-a-half year old and sixteen-month-old daughters played on the kitchen floor at my feet. With my hands in the hot, sudsy water washing the dishes, I leaned into the countertop and felt a familiar thump, thump in my belly. “Maybe just a spasm,” I thought to myself. I had just started introducing table food to my daughter while breast feeding her full time, and still had a bit of my baby belly. I was in the throes of a difficult marriage, sex was far from my mind most of the time. I had not yet started menstruating since my daughter’s birth, and had faithfully used a diaphragm on the few occasions of intimacy. I couldn’t possibly be pregnant. Right?
Later that week, I called to set up an appointment to see my doctor. During that visit, I discovered that I was five-and-a-half months pregnant. It was a shock to me.
My beautiful baby boy was born February 4, 1978. He was perfect in every way, long and lanky at 24” and 7 lbs, 8 oz. I signed us out of the hospital and took him home when he was 4 hours old, as I didn't have the luxury of health insurance. It was the third time I had made the decision to avoid a hospital stay. I knew what I was doing.
My son was an extremely bright baby, but slept on average four hours in any 24 hour period. I was exhausted with no sleep and three babies, but so are many mothers. I exclusively breast fed him but even at three and four months old he was so distracted that I could only keep him at my breast for two or three minutes at a time, with him wrestling away from me constantly to see everything around him. At six months old, he could barely reach the top crib rail with his little fingers, but still managed to lift himself up and out of the crib, drop to the floor with a thud, and make his get-a-way. He was walking confidently and beginning to run between six and seven months. His athleticism was incredible. It was a shock to me.
Later, I watched him struggle in school, as the busy work bored him. He quickly became labeled, and then lived up to that “problem child” label. I used every resource that I had available, but I watched this handsome, athletic, brilliant child failing to fit into society’s required agenda. He was such a talented boy. Surely he would find his way as brilliant and mechanically inclined as he was. (At five he had quickly mastered the Rubik's cube, pulling apart an electrical outlet -Argh!- and any other puzzle he could get his hands on.) Yet, every day felt like a fight. I was desperate to help this boy that I so deeply loved, but there was no help. It was a shock to me.
In time, he developed into a kind and generous man despite years of adversity and his inability to meet society’s expectations in school, relationships, and career. He loved to teach others about anything in which they showed interest. He had an insatiable appetite for learning, especially all things mechanical. He and I would spend hours discussing options for building, remodeling, and creating. His eyes would light up with brilliant ideas as we brainstormed. It gave us both such joy. As an adult, channeling his gift was difficult for him, but he most often used his ability to help anyone in need, even if it meant his own immediate obligations weren’t met. He desperately sought the reassurance that he was valued. Helping others who were so grateful gave him momentary pride in himself. Daily, he still struggled with insomnia and a brain that was so overactive that I could see the pain in his eyes. Alcohol became his answer to the pain and spinning, yet he continued on despite that destructive choice. He fathered two beautiful children. Relationships fell apart, but he built new ones. Jobs fell apart, but he would find another that excited him with the hope of a new opportunity. But things never lasted with this wonderful man. It was a shock to me.
February 1, 2017, the sheriff’s car pulled up in our yard. The sheriff slowly walked to the front door and knocked. As he sat down in my living room, he told me he had to share some bad news for me. My son had been found that evening. He had died of suicide by hanging. It was three days before he turned 39. It was a shock to me.
We held a gathering of family and friends on his birthday, February 4th, 2017. Hundreds of people gathered to honor him. Everyone talked about how much they loved and respected him. Many told of their gratitude for the endless kind and generous things he had done over the years. My son left us, never feeling that love, value and gratitude. Our society needs to value all people even if we have to search hard to find their gifts. We need to be flexible in our expectations. We need to love people for who they are, just the way they are. We need to honor, respect and care profoundly for all people. We have a very long way to go as a society. It’s all still a shock to me.