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I Am Always Kurt’s Mother

8 May 2020 — 3 min read

By Lisa Brattain, AFSP Senior Director, East Central Division

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Reveals New Data on Mental Health in the Coronavirus Era

May 8, 2020 - I consider being a mother to be one of my greatest accomplishments in this life. I love being a mom to my tribe. Being a mother also cultivated the most difficult journey of my life – having to say “good-bye” to one of my babies. I lost my son, Kurt, by suicide during his freshman year of college in 2006. 

Being a mother who has lost a child, holidays like Mother’s Day can be especially difficult. The occasion itself can give rise to reflections on my parenting decisions and the beautiful, yet complicated uniqueness of my five children. Couple that with the trauma of losing a child and questions that may never have answers, in the days leading up to this holiday, I have often found myself in a vicious cycle of “I wish I could-have, should-have or would-have” thoughts focused on a past I could not alter no matter how hard I tried. These thoughts would unfold into a very unpleasant “special day” ahead.

Early in my grief journey in 2007, I found that one of the most basic questions when meeting someone new had become incredibly difficult to answer: “How many children do you have?” That simple question brought on a flood of complex internal dialogue.

“OMG, do I say I only have four (living) children?” The guilt that accompanied that statement was heavy. To me, it suggested that I valued Kurt less because he was no longer with me, or that I was less of a mother to him because he was no longer here.

I have to include him. I have five children! But if I share that I have five children, what if the person asks me for more details? “Boys or girls? Oh, you only have one son?  I bet he feels out-numbered by the girls…” Do I share that Kurt has passed? and OMG, I would think to myself, what if they ask what happened? If I answer honestly, are they going to feel uncomfortable and apologize for asking?  Will our conversation be over? Will they quickly walk or run away?   

As you can imagine, the above example of internal dialogue could get very noisy and frustrating. This internal dialogue surfaced often after being asked simple questions that typically occur in our everyday interactions with people. Each time, I was presented with an internal wrestling match to process simple responses to what “should be” simple dialogue exchanges. 

Over the next several years, during the process of finding my “positive coping skills” in this journey, I resorted to journaling. In my electronic password-protected journal, I could say anything and everything I ever thought or felt. Journaling became an outlet for me to dump all the thoughts, questions and feelings that felt like a swirling tornado in my mind. Using my journal, I had no fear of anyone ever reading my deepest thoughts, hurts and anger at the events that had altered our family and me, personally, forever. In this process, I was able to dump the chaotic swirl of thoughts and feelings, and then put the thoughts back together in an organized and productive order. This helped me shape a healthy narrative for my post-traumatic growth journey. 

On this Mother’s Day, and every Mother’s Day still to come, I am always Kurt’s Mother, until the end of time. No one else can ever be his mother. That is unique to me. I am his and he is #MySonShine. No distance, on this planet or beyond, will ever change that.

I no longer experience the flow of internal panic when someone asks me about my children. I AM the mother of five incredible humans, and my only son lost his battle with mental illness when he was 19. It is a battle that I continue in his honor. When someone asks for additional details about my children, I realize now that it gives me the opportunity to share the wonderful things about all five of them. It also allows me the opportunity to share Kurt’s story and mine. This is an opportune teaching moment about mental health conditions, and the need to be informed about suicide!

Each of my kids and their stories have helped me become who I am…their mom! On Mother’s Day, just as I do with all the other annual “special days,” I have learned to give myself grace. I can embrace this “special day” because of the five humans who know me as Mom.

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