DATE: January 1, 1999
TO: Any Suicidal Young Person
FROM: Tony Salvatore
RE: Being a Parent Left Behind
Just over two years ago, in 1996, my oldest son, Paul, completed suicide. I do some pages on suicide in his memory (see The Suicide Paradigm) that a few people visit.
I hear from kids, teens, and young adults who have been suicidal. They say that my stuff lets them see what may have happened had they completed suicide. They feel that maybe if others thinking about suicide could see what happens to those who love them they might reconsider.
I'm going to tell you what it is like to "be left behind." Maybe it will stop you from doing something stupid. Where I'm at right now comes down to three little words: Loss, Anger, and Pain -- lots of each. This the eternal triangle of paternal grief. I live right in the middle and can't move out. It's a lousy neighborhood.
Loss is what happens to someone when you die. Paul's death left me incomplete. It tore something out of me and I will never be the same again. Loss isn't passive or arithmetic -- subtract one son. It's active, it grows, it's a "black hole" that pulls everything in. I'm not whole and the hole won't close. All loss is shit, suicide loss is the worst shit. Losing a kid to suicide is off the shit scale.
My anger came on when the shock wore off -- when the attitude of the police, other official types, the medical examiner, etc., hit home. (Don't make your family have those people in their face.) I got madder as I realized that my son's death didn't have to be. After I learned that those who could have prevented it didn't care came rage. My anger has stopped growing but it hasn't gotten any less intense.
My anger is also self-directed. I feel very responsible. I'm not angry at Paul, but I'll never forgive myself for missing his suffering. I'll never forgive those whom he told of his pain and his plan and who did nothing and who made damn sure that I knew it. Want your "friends" telling your folks that "we knew he was gonna do it." Want your father to think about hurting them every day?
And then there's pain. Pain comes on when loss starts boring into your soul. It gets worse as the inescapable reality of what happened sinks in. Then it becomes chronic. It still hurts, but in a different way. There are times when it still gets very bad. It's always there. It's something that I live with. Something that I don't need.
Dealing with pain has nothing to do with being strong -- nothing about this has made me better or stronger. It's totally trashed me. My memories hurt, my thoughts about my son's suffering hurt, the futility of his death hurts, seeing what it has done to my family, places that I associate with him hurt, interests that we shared hurt, seeing things he liked hurts, enjoying anything hurts, watching other men with their sons hurts, any family event hurts, holidays hurt, the anniversary of his death hurts, looking at anything that belonged to him hurts, and hearing about somebody else's kid doing it hurts too, a lot.
Sure, you know about a "world of hurt." But the hurting just spreads out after suicide. I don't know how your folks will feel if they lose you, but I know for sure that it won't be good. You think nobody cares? Think that they won't give a damn? Listen: It's not what you think of them or what you think that they think of you that matters. It's what they think of you. You may not feel that they care, but you could be, and probably are, very, very wrong.
[I know that some of you may be in family situations where what I said really just doesn't apply. If so, I'm very sorry. You may read on if you like, but please read the very last paragraph. Thanks!]
Should you tell them? Yes, absolutely. It may be hard to do so, and your folks may not know how to react. Trust me, it is better to be told that your child is suicidal (or anything else!) than that your child has completed suicide. That is the single most horrible thing that anyone can ever hear. Don't put it off -- ask for help. Being suicidal means going down the tube. In a few hours, days, or weeks you may hurt so much and care so little about yourself that you can't do squat.
If you do it, all they'll ever do is ask "why?" and never, never, never get the answer. You take that with you even if you leave a note. And they'll play the "if only" game over and over and over again. It goes "what if we had done this" and "if only we'd done that" and "why didn't he do whatever." They'll come up with a million "could of's" and "should of's" but they'll always lose because they lost you.
Get some help N-O-W!!! That will drop your parents' odds of joining my sad company. Don't make them "suicide survivors." It freaking sucks! First, get help with being suicidal. Next, get help with what took you there. Then get help to keep you from ever going back. Do it!
Suicide is like that bunny on TV - "it goes on, and on, and on and just keeps going." Somebody said that those who complete suicide "leave their psychological skeletons in the survivors closets." One thing's for sure, suicide always leaves something messy, awful, hurtful, and unending behind. Suicide does nothing but screw things up for everybody forever.
All of this isn't about me. Its about you. Its to get you to look out for yourself. You don't have to die, but if you don't fight it you will crash. You don't decide to do it, you do it to end the pain. Suicide isn't a choice, but you can make choices before you lose the ability to do so. Choose to care about yourself right now. Don't do it. Nothing or nobody's worth it. Screw 'em! Live!
Postscript: What I wrote above reflects how I felt a few years after losing Paul. Many who read this for the first time may think that I still feel that way. I'm not "over it" or "past it" or "healed," but I am at a different place now. I have rebuilt my life around my loss. I haven't forgotten but I've channeled my energy into things that maybe help keep others from following my path or Paul's. Take care!
Copyright, Tony Salvatore, 1999-2010