30 Years Strong: Becoming the Storm

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February 7, 2017 – Prior to December 4th, 2006, I don’t recall ever giving mental health any deep thought, nor do I recall the word suicide being a part of my language at all. Strange, considering I had a son who had been diagnosed with depression, and a daughter who also struggled with mental health.

If there had been a diagnosis of cancer, or diabetes – some serious physical illness – my husband and I would have been more diligent about educating ourselves to better support our kids. Instead, we had brief conversations with our health provider, and treated these illnesses much like high blood pressure: take your medicine daily and check in with the Doc every six months. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple.

In December of 2006, my son Kurt lost his battle with depression. He had been diagnosed as a freshman in high school, and died as a freshman in college. He was a rugby and football player. Looking back, I think his “tough-guy” personality prevented him from communicating his struggles effectively to us and to his doctor. I had no idea he was struggling with suicidal thoughts.

After the tragedy, I tried to make sense of what had happened to my precious son. Gradually,  many dots of what felt like a “suicide puzzle” began to connect.  For instance, I was shocked to learn that depression is the leading cause of suicide…yet suicide was never discussed as part of my son’s treatment over the course of four years.

I was also shocked to learn what the warning signs of suicide are, and recognized, too late, how they had manifested in my son’s life. They had been showing themselves right under my nose, but I hadn’t known what to look out for. Many of these signs I had accepted as part of his normal behavior; others I dismissed as typical teenage angst.

In the process of my devastating grief, I threw myself into the task of understanding depression and suicide in great detail. I needed something to make sense. How had this happened?  I also asked myself the even greater question: How could I continue to live after the loss of a child?

The more information I gathered, the more frustrated and angry I became with the illness of depression.  It disgusted me that a mental health condition could take such an unyielding grip on my child and twist his inner dialogue to the point that he believed he was a burden to us, that we would be better off without him. It was infuriating to me that depression had lied to him about his inner value, had told him he was never going to be “enough.” As I settled with these feelings, my perspective began to adapt to my current situation, to who I was now. I was a Survivor of Suicide Loss. My open wounds of grief gradually healed into battle scars of a war I was just beginning to fight.

In short: depression picked a fight with the wrong Momma!

The journey to finding my voice truly began the day one of my daughters found the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in an Internet search.  We were introduced to the Out of the Darkness Walks about eight months after losing Kurt. It was then that I realized I could tangibly get my hands on depression by helping to raise awareness so other parents would know the warning signs, as well as helping to fund suicide prevention research.  Getting to know AFSP volunteers and staff, I found a new community of folks who understood and supported my family’s journey. I was home!

I saw the following quote online once:

Fate whispers to the Warrior:  You can’t withstand the storm…

The Warrior whispers back: I AM THE STORM! 

For my Kurt, and for my daughter who still fights her battle, I will be The Storm every day of my life!

There is never a moment in the day that I am not aware that Kurt is missing from this life. My heartache is still present; I suspect it will be for a lifetime. Over the years, a few have suggested that I “get over it” and “get on with my life.” I don’t imagine a mother could ever get over the loss of a child. I have learned to ignore those types of hurtful uninformed comments.

This is part of who I am now. I will never be the same as I was before Kurt’s death…and that is okay. I have accepted that.

I take Kurt along with me in my life journey in many ways. I embrace the moments my soul needs to “ugly cry” because I miss him and love him so deeply; I celebrate him in the moments we are remembering him; and I honor him in what I do now. My husband, four daughters and I tell stories that make us laugh about all of Kurt’s antics and shenanigans. I want my grandchildren to know that their Uncle Kurt – which is hard to say because it’s a title he never got to personally hold in this life – is alive in all of our hearts; that we are who we are partly because we were blessed to have walked part of this life with him.

I have no doubt that I am surviving the loss of my child because I was able to connect with AFSP in the way I needed to in order to find my voice, learn to breathe again and embrace my life in the new normal. Some days are a bigger fight than others…. but I keep showing up! The dialogue within my family about mental health and suicide has transformed drastically.  We are all now strong advocates for mental health!

We are the storm.

For my Kurt… <3

This year, AFSP celebrates 30 years of service to the suicide prevention movement. Learn more about our history here.