When I Reach Level Five

**Content Warning** This piece discusses suicide and suicidal ideation, as well as the loss of a child.

If you or someone you know is suicidal, please, contact your physician, go to your local ER, or call the suicide prevention hotline in your country. For the United States, the numbers are as follows: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), or message the Crisis Text Line at 741741. Both programs provide free, confidential support 24/7.

Suicide hurts, and deeply for those left behind, I'm seeing that now as I mourn the transition of my "stepson". Stepson is in quotes because his mother and I were never married, and we're not even together now, but I helped to raise him for 5 years of his life. Most of the time I felt like we didn't get along; he was a typical teen boy: lazy, selfish, rude, stubborn, etc. He would sneak out to do things with his friends that he knew he shouldn't, was always in trouble at school, and would never do what he was asked. He drove me crazy most of the time, and I was the disciplinarian so I usually felt like he didn't like me much either, but now I grieve in sorrow wondering if I was too hard on him, what should I have done differently, and what could I have said that might've made a difference? What was he feeling or going through that he felt he couldn't or didn't want to talk about? How could we have not known that things were so bad inside of him? Why couldn't I have been there? I reach out for answers that I'll never know.

Suicide kills more than just one person, it takes pieces of the souls of others with you. I know I'll never be the same again, nor will his mother or siblings. I know the person who commits suicide isn't thinking about that at the moment, I've been there. I've lived with severe clinical depression and social anxiety most all my life, I've been suicidal since I was 14 years old, so long that I've told my therapist that I was a professional at being suicidal. I knew what to do to talk myself down most of the time, but I've had some extremely close calls before, so close that I know I'm lucky to still be here. So this really feels personal for me. It hits home deep inside, knowing how close I've come on so many occasions to doing the same thing. I know how hopelessness feels. I know what it's like to live with. Yes, suicide is very personal for me. I know it like an old, unwanted roommate that I've lived with for years.

I've heard it said that suicide was a cowardly and selfish act; selfish perhaps, but not cowardly, just painful. It takes a lot of pain to choose to end your life for all time. In time everything passes, but not death. It takes a lot of courage to pull the trigger to end your life. It's something you know you can't come back from, but for some, the idea of living is even more frightening than death. The sadness can weigh so heavily on you, the sense of hopelessness can be crushing and paralyzing, and you truly feel that death is the only peace you will ever know again. I've been there too many times, but this is the first time I've ever been on this side of it and to be honest I'm not handling it very well.

I feel so much grief because he was so young (only 17). His life was only just beginning and hadn't even started getting good yet. I think of everything he's never done -- and now he never will. Death is such a finality that it's difficult to wrap your brain around; it's hard to imagine the concept of never, or forever. We live in a world where anything is possible at any time, whether we think so or not, but that ends with death. When you die nothing is possible ever again in this world, and that's so hard to imagine or accept -- especially when one is so young.

I think in the past month I've at least touched base with all five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, but I feel like it's only been a preview of going through those stages again in greater intensity now that the shock is wearing off, but I think right now I'm still in denial anyway. It's just so hard for your heart to grasp that a child has surpassed you to the grave, it's just not natural, it's just not right -- now I smell anger coming.

There just has to be someone responsible, doesn't there? How is there not? How can there be no justice for this great loss? Why wasn't I more attentive, why didn't I call? And if there's no human fault to be found then god is responsible -- but I don't believe in god. Now I'm reanalyzing my faith (or lack of), confused about what I believe and don't because I want to blame a god that's not there in my mind. Now I'm bargaining with my beliefs so I can find some rhyme or reason for this unbelievable reality, but wrestling with a god is grasping at smoke.

I just feel numb and in a fog with a crushing sadness that literally feels like weight, but life wants to keep marching on. Maybe that's a good thing though, to distract myself with work and the common daily rigors of life, but now I wonder, am I on my way to acceptance or circling back through denial again? Grief is so complicated, and feels endless. I feel like I've been grieving for a year and it has not yet been a month. I wonder if this is only the beginning of a long journey to come?

I've lived with suicidal ideations for most of my life. It feels like part of my life, but this time it's finally got to me, but I have to live through it. I think this is going to take more than a month. I haven't reached the final stage of grief yet, that may be a little while. Until then I must rise with the sun and live my life, love the living, preserve and maintain what we have left, and heal slowly -- believing that healing will indeed come in time if I continue to eat and sleep. I'll live one day at a time and collect them in my pocket and one day when I don't notice I'll breathe again as I once did. When I reach level five.

If you need help, or someone to listen please call
Crisis Services 1-800-691-8426

If talking isn't your comfort zone you can text
Crisis Text Line text NAMI to 741-741

And if you have been thinking of suicide, please, please reach out to
National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

And remember, it gets better, the night must yield to morning, so never give up.

In Memory of Branden
June 29 2004 - February 3 2022




Light and love.

Red40something's picture

Ahh Katie. I'm so sorry for your loss. Suicide leaves the indelible imprint of "why" forever. Sigh.
I've been there as well. It's a dark place full of excuses about why you want to, why you shouldn't, how and when... All in vicious cycle. I agree that people miss the act of courage it takes to do no matter how twisted it seems and that there is an element of bravery that has to be redirected towards living. The trick is catching the hint AND not blaming yourself in the aftermath. I'm glad YOU are still here to be a voice and light.
Ultimately, his path was his, and I pray you don't torture yourself too long with the what ifs.Go through the process but don't get stuck. May the universe bless and comfort you in this time. I'm hugging your life and sending healing vibes.


If This Helps

Bethany M. Brown M.Ed.'s picture

Hi, Katie...my most sincere condolences. 

There is a song by Elvis (Yes, I said it. Elvis.) "Where No One Stands Alone." *heart*


I worked with kids in foster care and the juvenile delinquent systems as a therapist. I am not about to offer any advise. Rather, I am going to share with you two things to, perhaps, consider.

First, I have learned personally and from the the mouths of these children (for they have various and colorful thoughts and feelings...as you well know) innumerable times that they rail and angst, push and challenge thier "safe/r ones." As perverse as this may sound, they oft times are not able to address (healthy) nor attack (unhealthy) the one(s) of whom had or are actually causing them harm. Thus, they go "all out" on the ones who are present with love in their hearts and determination in their actions to protect. 

Secondly, kids are like puppies; they have big paws and mouths (grown bodies with adult-like vocabulary), but they are not grown. <I know you know this. It is but a gentle reminder.> They have not the time on this planet to allow for the perspective that brings emotional maturity which affects impulse control and an understanding of permanency and time. Yet, they are treated like "little adults," when actually they are experiencing everything for the first time. So, I offer you this:

Each time he swore, he was sharing with you. Each time he was or threatened to be physically aggressive, he was still sharing with you. Each time he left or disappeared, he was, believe it or not, still sharing with you. At first blush, this reinforces the idea that you "should have known." But, upon closer inspection, it truly reinforces the reality that "you were paying attention." 

Please consider letting these things into your healing process for they are what is good and kind, strong and courageous about this young fellow. May it bring some kind of comfort to you that what gets labeled as "anti-social" or "bad" or "damaged, dysfunctional, and/or disordered" among children is unfair. They are using the language they have. Inasmuch as we may not get it or feel as if we could have done something, these kids are using everything in their arsenal to be heard. This is their spirt, and their spirit is beautiful. My hope for you is that you do not get lost in "what could have been" but find a path of "all that was" for he was glorious (even if, at times, a royal pain in the butt...kids are notorious for being pains in the butt).

I am not condoning nor glorifying suicide...this is a personal call for each of us with which to grapple (with or without God or a higher power). But I am suggesting that you could find solace in knowing that all of his attempts to communicate were courageous...are courageous. This is not to condone or glorify aggression. Rather, when we think of our children, they are using the skills available to them. With a paradigm shift, this is powerful.

Thank you for allowing me to share. Holding you in my heart as you navigate this journey. *hugs*


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