One Mom's Experience

Mrs. M. lost her oldest child, a son. The night he died a detective, who was the officer-in-charge on the scene, laughed in her face in regard to her son's death. Sometime later she called the detective, a woman, to inquire what was so funny about her loss. The detective's reply was that Mrs. M was "sick" and "needed counseling." Mrs. M's efforts to make a formal complaint to the police department and the mayor were ignored.

The night of her son's death Mrs. M and her husband provided all of the demographic information that the medical examiner's staff needed for their report. The parents asked about the whereabouts of their son's school ring, which he usually wore. They never received a straight answer. Subsequent inquiries met with responses like "the records are still out" or "the computers are down." Later it was reported that several staff in the medical examiner's office in the city where their son died had been arrested for stealing jewelry and other items from the bodies in their custody.

Mrs. M. asked for an extended unpaid leave after her child's suicide. This was granted, but she was called frequently, sometimes daily, regarding her "plans for returning to work." She was a part-time employee at the time of her son's death.

Like most individuals trying to cope with a suicide loss Mrs. M tried to understand what had happened to her son. She was aware that he had seen a psychologist with his estranged spouse. She learned from her son's spouse that he had voiced suicidal intentions, a plan, and demonstrated the availability of lethal means at a counseling session.

Mrs. M called the psychologist. Her intention was just to try to learn a little more about what happened, possibly through a meeting. However, the psychologist's first words after Mrs. M introduced herself were sharp: "I have no legal or ethical responsibility for your son's death - I checked!" According to Mrs. M the psychologist was incensed by her call, refused to meet with her and her husband, and went on a "confidentiality rant."

Mrs M fared somewhat better when she reached a psychiatrist who saw her son a few months before his death for a medical evaluation required by the managed care company covering the psychologist's services. The psychiatrist was supportive and answered most of Mrs. M's questions.

When she did return to her job after several weeks she was "urged" to accept a voluntary full time assignment. She thought that keeping busy would help keep her mind off of her loss.

Immediately upon beginning her new role she found herself assailed by comments from a co-worker that her child "wanted to die," that "he knew what he was doing," that she knew that he was going to "do it," and that she should hate her child. After many requests to be left alone, she reported the matter to her supervisor.

Nothing was done, and the harassment continued. Mrs. M then asked to return to her prior part-time assignment which would keep her from encountering this co-worker. This request was initially accepted. However, the next day she was called to the office of a partner. She was told that she had "disrupted the office with her grief" and must unconditionally accept an apology from her harasser or resign.

Mrs. M resigned.

Mrs. M reports that she regrets not getting into an "adversarial mode" at the time of her son's suicide. She said that she didn't expect or want sympathy or understanding, but was not prepared for people going out of their way to attack her or her late son. She feels that stigma is still an issue for those bereaved by suicide.