Suicide and Grieving – A Personal Perspective

September 28, 2015

With over 20 years of experience, I have helped numerous hometown funeral directors with out of town deaths. I have seen causes of death ranging from old age, accidents, homicides and suicides. Even though I deal with death on a daily basis nothing could have ever prepared me for when a loved one decided to take her own life.

September was Suicide prevention month so I feel that now is a good time to talk about my personal experience. My hope is that this article will help someone dealing with the death of a loved one who took their own life.

My personal journey started when my daughter Shannon was a teenager and just could not adjust to the changes in her body, her mind and her personal living conditions. She started saying things about wanting to end her life. She started doing things like taking a lot of aspirin and making superficial cuts on her arms.

Being the love of my life, I did and said everything I could possibly think of to alleviate the pain she was feeling. I had 5 other children living at home who also needed my attention. I thought I gave her everything I had, but maybe she felt that I didn’t.

Time went on and Shannon became a beautiful adult, got married and had children. Her relationship with her husband was not good and they were separated more than they were together during their marriage. She was a single mother raising children on her own with no financial assistance from her husband and no job. She was struggling with health issues and was addicted to pain medication. I urged her to be a strong person and to tackle her struggles but she just did not have the strength.

On December 28, 2010, Shannon hung herself in her apartment bedroom. Her oldest son found her and called for his great grandmother who was in the living room. EMS came and was able to artificially keep her breathing while transporting her to the hospital.

In the emergency room I held her hand and told her how much I loved her. I told her how she can’t leave her children that they need her. On the morning of December 29th, after being told there was no brain activity, my husband and I chose to take her off of life support and she arrested shortly there after. There is no way to explain the feeling in my gut as I held my deceased daughter in my arms. I have never experienced this type of pain.

We had to go home and tell the three children their mother died. Her oldest son was only 8 but understood. The other two ages 2 and 5 did not understand. They did not understand what she did and how society would see it. All they knew from us and all they will ever know from us are that their mom loved them more than anything and that she was sick. And that the illness in her brain caused her to take her life.

Why did she leave? Why did she leave her children? Why did she do this at home when her boys were there? I am still mad at her. She didn’t leave me a note? She didn’t tell me what I could have done for her that I hadn’t already done. She didn’t think that since she was still legally married that her boys would have to go live with their father and that he would get full custody even though my family and I were the ones in their daily lives helping to raise them. After the funeral Shannon’s estranged husband took my grand kids who I wanted with me. I contacted several attorneys but to not avail. I not only lost my daughter but I lost the close relationship I had with these beautiful boys she created.

There is no way to be there all the time with some one with suicidal tendencies and that there are no perfect parents. Remember that it is not your fault. Even if you did something to upset the person, there are ways to handle it but the person with the suicidal mind does not think this way. Looking back there was nothing I could have done to avoid this from happening. I think her mind was set from an early age.

What I have learned and am still learning is don’t say that the person was selfish. That was the first thing that a counselor told me and I did not want to hear it. My daughter was a beautiful soul with a broken mind and selfishness had nothing to do with it. I could not think of my daughter as being dead – I could not make arrangements. I felt guilty but I asked my sister to make Shannon’s arrangements and Shannon’s husband just sat in the meeting to sign the appropriate paperwork. All I could do is lie in bed with some of her clothes and hug them. I admit I lost it for a few days.

I wish I would have had more time to decide on how to memorialize her. I wish I would have incorporated into the service more about how she lived her life, worked, her hobbies in order to celebrate her life. My daughter had the most beautiful eyes and did her makeup to perfection. That was the one thing I wanted to be perfect, but nobody could have done it the way she did. I let her 17 year old brother decide if she looked okay for an open casket and he said yes. This past year he told me he wishes he would have had a closed casket. He too hated the way she looked and thought she didn’t look like herself.

I would like to encourage families to take the time to really decide how they want their loved one to look at the funeral. That is your last memory. I personally would suggest not to bury important items to that person with your loved one as you may find you want them later as a keepsake and they are gone.

I had great colleagues and friends who supported me through this time and I am grateful for all their acts of kindness. I thank my co-workers for covering my shifts and for understanding my breakdowns. It has been almost five years and I still break down.

As a friend or a family member of someone who has chosen to take their life, keep the good memorials alive. Tell the good stories and repeat them. We love to know that that you remember our lost souls and care enough to talk about them. Ask questions about our loved ones. Anything to let us know that they have not been forgotten. We want you to tell us because that makes our heart sing instead of break.

Mary Kurdila


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