Phyllis with her sons, Ryan (on left) and Eric
My own experience with suicide started when I was 13 and my mother attempted to take her own life. This was certainly during a time when no one talked about the “S” word. Sound familiar? Kind of like the “C” word (cancer) back in the 50’s and 60’s? Thankfully, she did survive and lived almost to her 70th birthday. We were not allowed to discuss the exact circumstances with anyone: it was just a time when Mom was in the hospital for nearly three months. I remember being allowed to stay home from school for a couple of days, but there was no counseling offered from any source.
About 10 years later, I attempted to take my own life. There were many reasons I felt my children and my entire family would be better off without me. I knew in my heart that my boys would have a better life being raised by my parents. (Yes, even though my mother had attempted to take her life.) Everything, I reasoned, would be simpler if I was gone: I wouldn’t be in a dead end job, struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table. I would no longer be in pain. Not once during that time did I even think about how they would feel, even though I had experienced the raw emotions of my own mother’s attempt.
Without realizing it, and unaware of the struggle I was having, my boys saved me that night. I had made a suicide attempt, and as I lay there waiting to die, my head began to ache, and random, confused thoughts began to go through my head. I suddenly became afraid of hurting my sons physically. Afraid that I would do so, I called my boyfriend at the time — later my second husband – who drove over and got me help. I spent a week in inpatient treatment, and then two weeks in outpatient therapy. I learned so much about myself and the effect my mother’s attempt had had on me.
I wasn’t miraculously “healed.” Although I would go on to have similar thoughts of killing myself many more times in the future, I learned methods to help me through those moments of despair. I still have occasions where I don’t want to be in this world any longer. But I am not suicidal. I don’t want to die any more. There is a difference.
My husband Gene and I met in 2010. His life had also been affected by suicide prior to our meeting. His uncle had taken his own life when my husband was 10, and Gene’s older sister made an attempt when he was a teenager. Still, much like after my mother’s attempt, no one in his family talked about suicide. Gene contemplated taking his own life when he was in his mid-20s, and in 2007 Gene’s father died by suicide.
After Gene and I were married, our son Ryan, by my first marriage, took his own life on February 15, 2013, two weeks after his 27th birthday. I could write a book about everything that led up to Ryan’s death.
Ryan had expressed thoughts of suicide before taking his life. Yet I thought we were safe from this tragedy ever happening. I thought that after we had confronted him about his threats of not wanting to live, he would come to us when he felt those urges again. We truly thought he would be okay. All the signs were positive. He had met a girl. He had quit drinking heavily and taking drugs. They were expecting Ryan’s third child. Ryan dearly loved his older children, but they were in Texas with their mother. He always said that all he ever wanted was a family of his own. I thought we were safe.
If I had known then what I know now!
I know for certain that if I had become involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention before Ryan’s death, I would have handled things much differently. Would Ryan still be alive today? I don’t know, but I would like to think so.
One might assume that with all of these suicides and attempts in our lives, we would have been immune to any more. Sadly, it was not the end. In November of 2014, just two days before Thanksgiving, my husband’s younger sister, Candence (Candi), took her own life.
There were warnings; I knew the signs. I tried to reach out to her daughter and sister who lived in the area. They took Candi for her word when she said she was “fine.” One morning before work I was checking my Facebook, and I noticed a post left on Candi’s Facebook wall from a friend of hers, asking anyone who was a relative to contact the police. But they were too late.
We became involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention shortly after Ryan took his life. A friend who had lost their son to suicide nine months before Ryan’s death introduced me to AFSP when they asked if there was going to be an Out of the Darkness Community Walk in St. Louis in 2013. We looked them up and read about all the things AFSP was doing, and one thing led to another. I ended up chairing the walk in 2013, and in 2014 I became the Chapter Chair for the Eastern Missouri Chapter. I get asked all the time how I was able to chair a walk for AFSP after just losing my son. It was easy; it kept me going.
I want others to know now what I should have known then, so that they, hopefully, will never have to suffer a loss like ours.