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Family Survivors of Youth Suicides--A Mother's Story by Monica Vermote

Bereavement after suicide is qualitatively different from bereavement following other causes of death. There are few studies about the difference between losing a loved one by suicide and losing a loved one by other means, but clinical evidence favours a conclusion that the mourners are likely in extreme difficulty. (1) Caregivers need to be aware that the survivors will be dealing with many negative feelings such as guilt, anger, and shame, and may be obsessed with thoughts about their possible roles in not being able to abort the suicide. The survivors’ trust in their ability to handle situations is shaken. They often suffer lack of self-esteem, shattered self-worth, and far reaching failure. Individuals are likely to withdraw from social contacts. The anger the survivors often feel toward the deceased for putting them in this situation, may be directed toward God, caregivers, therapists and physicians, who are perceived to have been irresponsible, or toward themselves, and cause them to act out. Genuine sorrow is pushed underground making it more difficult for healthy expressions of the loss and for treatment. Unless the survivor reaches a state of acceptance and peace, this loss will persist to disrupt their lives in many ways. The following, written by Monica Vermote, is a mother’s expression of what she is going through, and what is helping her to cope. Linking to this subject are suggestions from experts about how caregivers can help the survivors.

Keywords: bereavement, suicide, sorrow, supportive help, acknowledgment, meaning, feelings, pain, ADHD, depression, trust, reconnecting, music, acceptance and peace


By Monica Vermote

Look at that kid--see anything wrong? Well, I didn't either, but on Saturday, September 19, 2015 two Ohio police officers knocked on my door to tell me my son had committed suicide.

Having seen in the movies how police officers deliver bad news, I was reluctant to let them in, but after acknowledgments, they were admitted and one said, "We're sorry to have to tell you..." I fainted.

When I came to, they told me that Nathan had committed suicide. I thought, "No, not Nathan; he would never do anything like that. They have him confused with someone else." I was alone and they kept asking who they could call to be with me. I wasn't hearing them. My daughter had spent the night with a friend. Trembling I held the phone but couldn't remember how to use it. They took over and left a message on my daughter's phone--she was to come home at once because her brother had committed suicide. Panic set in. "Good Lord, how is she supposed to drive safely after hearing that message." She was hysterical when she arrived, pleading with me to tell her it wasn't true. "No, no, please, not Nathan," she called out over and over. Finally, it dawned on me that my sister could be called.

The officers were trying to tell me what had happened. I couldn't understand; it sounded like a strange language. "Shot himself in the head." That didn't make sense. Nathan didn't have a gun. "Did someone else shoot him?" I asked. They wanted to know about Nathan's girlfriend--wanted her address to see if she was okay. They were afraid it could be a murder-suicide. "Stopppp," I thought. "This can't be happening; my son would not do any of this." I wanted to be with him, needed to, but the officers restrained me from leaving.

My sister, God bless her, showed up; got my physician to prescribe medication to calm me down, helped my daughter, called other people. I was totally useless, crying hysterically and then walking in circles. I felt my chest would explode. I managed to call my mother and Nathan's father, who lives with his wife in Seattle, Washington. The dreadful feeling I had making those calls will probably stay with me until the day I die.

The phone rang. Nathan's boss sounded threatening as she informed me Nathan hadn't shown up for work. "Because he passed away last night," I said. This set off a chain of events involving all of Nathan's friends. Now panic set in. I didn't want anyone to know. There's a stigma that goes with suicide. I knew people would judge us.

My son's friends came over in droves. There must have been a hundred kids at my house, and how sweet they were sharing stories. One girl's story in particular sticks with me. She told me that she was one kid everyone picked on in school, but Nathan walked her to and from classes to prevent that happening. I was stunned hearing this. The guts, the strong character of my son--that told me everything about the child I had raised. I beamed with pride. Those eighteen and nineteen-year-olds knew just what to do. They sat silently at my side as I whaled and cried. They started a "Go Fund Me" and raised money to pay for Nathan's funeral. They put together a car rally, had a balloon release. I was so touched by this love and support that I had to do something to help those kids sort out their feelings, pain and grief. Together with our church pastor, I found an organization to help with individual and group counseling called "Cornerstone of Hope."

In communications with Monica she tells me that she kept questioning why Nathan had ended his life. She paraphrased his suicide note: "He couldn't take the pain and suffering any longer," she said. "He was sorry that he wasn't strong like me, sorry for the pain we would suffer." Yet, Monica said, "He seemed so happy. He had started college and had a job." A doctor in the hospital where she works mentioned that there seems to be a connection between ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), depression and suicide. She checked some references and was certain that Nathan was one of the teenagers who had taken his life because of these factors--that had he been told the symptoms, he would have recognized them in himself and asked for help.* ** Though she says she has fabulous support from family and friends, and her son's friends as well, and she is still in counselling, there are days when she doesn't want to get out of bed, doesn't want to be social with anyone, does not want to go on with her life. She said, "What I do need, is to make these feelings stop. I need to be a voice my son never heard." Her message to those who have a child with ADHD and signs of depression is to get help for your child before he/she chooses to end life. If she can spread the message that youth may be more depressed than is realized, if she can prevent another suicide, then Nathan's death will not be in vain.

*Mann, Denise, 2010. "ADHD May be Linked to Depression, Suicide," (Retrieved 2/24/2017)

**Quote from abstract on Springer's Link of article appearing in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, May 2012, Vol. 40, issue 4, pp 595-606 by Seymour, Karen, Andrea Chronis-Tuscano, Thorhildur Halldorsdottir et al. Emotion Regulation Mediates the Relationship between ADHD and Depressive Symptoms in Youth. "A significant literature suggests that youth diagnosed with Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are at increased risk from later depression relative to youth without ADHD. Youth with co-occurring ADHD and depression experience more serious impairments and worse developmental outcomes than those with either disorder alone, including increased rates of suicidal ideation and suicide completion. ...few studies have examined the mechanism underlying the relationship between ADHD and depression in youth." (Retrieved 2/20/2017)

  1. The survivor needs to acknowledge the death, that the death was by suicide, and that a separation is taking place. It helps to talk to a friend and/or a therapist who is a careful listener, supportive, nonjudgmental and comprehends that this is a significant tribulation. In order to accept that this has happened, the survivor needs to talk and talk in specifics about where they were, what they were told, how they responded, etc. Rituals also help to fix the person's acknowledgement.
  2. The survivor needs to confront and work through the pain. The pain is real, intense, and frightening, but is an expected consequence of the loss. Pain is nature's way of teaching. In this case its purpose is to teach the mourner that they must find another source of love, companionship and sharing. Some mourners hold onto pain because they feel that letting go is disloyal to the loved one; some hold onto the pain as a punishment for some failure they feel guilty about. A therapist can break down components of the person's lack of acknowledging the pain by breaking it down into components and addressing them one by one. For example, if the mourner says that they will miss the companionship of the lost person, the therapist can discuss other times when the mourner had suffered losses of companionship and how it was dealt with.
  3. The mourner needs to find a meaning for this suicide otherwise a perpetual feeling of anxiety will set in. In life, we have seen that when something happens, there are predictable consequences. When there is no available explanation about the cause of the decision to choose suicide, the mourner feels he cannot trust the world around him. As examples, meaning may come from deciding that you have a message that can help others. They write or give talks about suicide or help organizations that deal with mental health. Lecturer Dr. John Bradshaw said that we give to others what we need to give ourselves.
  4. Discussions and finding a meaning for the loss is not enough. The mourner needs to express his/her emotions in an acceptable place and perhaps a little at a time. The caregiver can help to overcome the resistance of the mourner to work through his/her feelings which may be fears of pain, of losing control, of guilt, anger or dependency, or in regard to social standards he/she has accepted. Music such as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique" (Symphony No. 6) often precipitates tears and revives memories of the missing loved one. During a recorded movie of an Andre Rieu's Johann Strauss Orchestra, the camera panned the audience of several thousand as Jermaine Jackson (brother of Michael Jackson) sang Charles Chaplin's "Smile," which he performed at his brother's funeral. The camera focused on many men and women in the audience who had uncontrolled tears flowing down their cheeks while the lyrics, written by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons, urged us to smile even when our hearts are broken and discover that life is worthwhile. Sad movies and stories or pictures of the loved one often generate memories that bring emotional responses.
  5. "All mourners need to turn away from pain at times to reconnect with the living, growing parts of themselves and others." (1) Restless energy may be directed toward a movie or some creative pursuit such as painting, building a bird house, writing, rowing a boat.
  6. David Suzuki's TV show, "The Nature of Things," described how scientists have studied what body changes happen when, for example, a person hears something that makes them happy, sad, or angry etc. Researchers find that organs of the body react in automatic ways to a particular emotion. We automatically smile when we feel happy. We automatically gasp when we are surprised, etc. Now they are testing on soldiers suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and depression whether this will work in the reverse. If we tell the person to smile and they smile, will they experience the emotions associated with happiness? This tool seems to work.

Bereavement after suicide is more complicated than bereavement after death of a loved one by other causes. Survivors often experience many negative feelings, which if not addressed, will persist and influence most areas of their lives for extended periods. The survivors need help to accept the death, work through their pain, discover some meaning that caused the loved one to choose suicide, work through their feelings, and they need help to leave behind their sorrow from time to time by connecting with some uplifting activity. Monica Vermote relates how the trauma of losing her son, Nathan, has changed her life. Science is now uncovering how the body reacts to emotional feelings, and this finding may help those in distress to reprogram their body's reactions to the loss of a loved one by suicide, and aid in their finding meaning and peace of mind.


Marlene_Ritchie.jpg Marlene Ritchie
For her writing Marlene Ritchie (née Archer) calls upon her experiences of teaching in the U.S., Japan and China, as a nurse and assisting-founder with Emma N. Plank of the Child Life and Education Program, which addresses the non-medical needs of hospitalized children, as a cofounder of Ritchies, a Toronto auction house, about growing up in a small Ohio town and about being a mother. Currently Marlene is a freelance writer and tutor living in Toronto, Canada. For the past 10 years she has contributed to CRN.

I am Nathan's step-mom. I can not express the heartache, shock, and dismay that rushed through Nathan's father and me when we got the call of Nathan's suicide. We went on autopilot to get on a plane and fly the hours to be there. How could this could our smiling son be had to be a mistake. There were no signs...none at all. Nathan was full of life, never stopping, always smiling.
To hear his friends talk we found he was the rock they depend on, he was the encouragement others needed. He cleaned the streets of debris before church on Sundays. But it shows we don't know what turmoil rolls through another's soul.
Every day I look at Nathan's picture that leans against the beautifully carved wood box his ashes are held within, and still wonder what we missed, what questions should we have asked him. Was I suppose to recognize something and failed? He was like any other teenage boy in my eyes, he had normal emotions, normal joys, and disappointments, but he was always excited about life. Loving his adventures with his dad, or just simply spending time with his dad. We normally had him out for summer vacation, but that year he had graduated high school and said he'd have to wait because of his job. I just thought he wanted to start finding his way in the world, but was sure he'd visit soon. He had a new world awaiting him. So, we told him to let us know when he wanted to come out. But that never happened, and his father's heartache is a daily reminder. I can not speak for my husband, but I feel the helplessness and questions left behind that will whisper in the back of our minds forever as to what we could have done to save Nathan's life...a question that will tear at our hearts forever.

I am Nathan's stepmom. The morning we got the call was like being thrown into a never ending nightmare. Nathan's father and I went on autopilot. We had to make arrangements for immediate flights, packing who knew what in bags and flying long hours to get there. Having Nathan's sister, my stepdaughter, step out of a car and fall into her dad's arms still stings in my heart. I couldn't do anything to help them. The two of them lost in a grief no one should ever experience. The pain and anguish became never ending. We all cried, and held on tight to each other as if one might slip away.
Did Nathan's ADD play a part, I believe so. Suicide is a known threat for ADD/ADHD children. It needs to be recognized for the dangers and managed the best possible way...but will this stop another tragedy? I don't know, I can only hope that knowledge of the disorder's side effects will be enough to help other parents seek necessary help so they never have to experience the tragedy of suicide.

I am Nathan's Tante Betty. Monica Vermote's sister. Jessica Vermote's Tante (Aunt).
Nathan's suicide has changed us all forever. What I have learned since his death has shown me the kind of young man he was. His faith in God, his love for his family and his compassion for others who are hurting will live in perpetuity. His life cannot be measured in years, rather measured in quality.

Nathan had many qualities about him. Love, kindness, caring, compassion, faith and strength. Nathan and his dear friend, Kurdy started the Walk for Freedom to address those children who are trafficked and abused. Nathan's legacy, fortified and supported by his Mother, are a constant reminder to me that his life has so much meaning. Monica, has been working tirelessly to share the inevitable fact that those with a diagnosis of ADHD are vulnerable to thoughts of suicide, suicide ideations, and attempting suicide.

I am so thankful to be Monica's sister and grateful to everyone who has shared their love and support since we lost Nathan. His leaving us is not the end, rather it is the beginning of many
things we can do to honor his memory and honor his fight for those who are less fortunate and for those who are vulnerable. Nathan you are my hero and I love you so much. Thank you for leaving such a grand, beautiful legacy.

Hello, I was so touched by the heartbreak this family went through. I thought about it all day and went home and talked to my child who is recently going through some life changes and also is diagnosed with ADD and AS. Thanks for sharing & the insight I did not know these facts ADD.
God Bless. Thanks.

I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your son, Nathan. As a mother of two sons diagnosed with ADHD, I was unaware of the connection between the disease and suicide. I will now being to speak with both of my sons about the signs of depression and watch more closely for the signs myself. Thank you for being brave and sharing your story through your grief. God Bless!

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