I lost my eldest son Graham in 2004 to suicide.
Six years later my grief took me to a five-day seminar to help deal with the emotional upheaval in my life due to his death.
I had filled out their forms, answered questions, shared my story and the reasons why I wanted to attend the seminar.
On the first day, we all received a name tag. One facilitator came up to me and gave me mine.
I glanced at it as I took it from her hand. The words “life sentence” we’re neatly printed on it. It caught me completely off guard. It took a few days into the seminar to face the cold hard facts.
As judge, juror and prosecutor, I had sentenced myself to a life-time of guilt and shame for the death of my son.
Death from suicide carries a stigma with it and the grieving is more complex.
I could not understand why my son took this drastic measure.
He willingly left us.
I did something wrong.
My husband and I had not been able to prevent our son’s suicide even though we had been aware of his struggles and tried to help the best we knew how. Always, in our minds, it wasn’t enough and that we could have done more, sooner and better.
There was only one person who had told us it was not our fault.
The parent of a suicidal child walks around feeling embarrassment, guilt and shame. Shame being the last brick that breaks a mother’s back.
I felt guilty when I laughed or thought something was funny. What would people think if they saw me having fun? I didn’t deserve to have fun.
It was my third day with our small group and were starting to open up. We felt safe in this environment and with sharing the dark secrets of our lives.
During a coffee break at the seminar one man from my group came up to me and said, “Donna, when was the last time you laughed? What I mean is can you have a hearty gut-wrenching laugh?”
I appreciated this man’s willingness to “put himself out there” and be honest with me about what he sensed was lacking in my life.
It took all of five minutes during that coffee break to realize it would be fabulous to feel the release of a good hearty laugh.
I knew exactly what he was telling me.
I needed to give myself permission to unlock the door to my prison cell of guilt and shame and let myself out. I held the key. I was the only one keeping me in there.
I still feel guilty at times, but this has improved over the years. Opening the cell door at that time helped to release some of my shame.
I had served my time and could go back to enjoying life.
“But, I trust in the Lord, I will be glad and rejoice in your mercy, for you have considered my trouble. You have known my adversities, and have not shut me up into the hand of the enemy. You have set my feet in a wide place” (Psalm 31: 6 -8)