Has to be told. And yes, he died by suicide.
Now that that’s out of the way, I am going to figure out how to tell (enough of) the story.
Some people won’t approve. I didn’t ask anyone’s permission or guidance, as there are so many reasons the story should not and would not be told. But it has to be. I could try to describe the constant barrage of emails and phone calls and even worse, the people that don’t email or call. They ask each other and they wait, dealing with their own confused grief. But everyone wants to know.
It’s instinctive to want to know, I guess. Survival instinct.
It’s love, too. People are concerned, want to know if we are going to be ok.
It’s learning. Our psychology community deserves to learn and grow and grieve themselves. Everyone he touched deserves to learn from this.
It’s concern for everyone else. Like, if you know someone with depression, how worried should you be? What signs will there be? What can you do to prevent it? I can only attempt to answer.
It’s probably a little voyeurism, too. I really don’t care. I don’t care about that because I exist in a parallel universe in which things like privacy or “image” are just distant memories of a normal life. But this will never be normal.
Before jumping in, here’s just a few reasons why NOT to tell the story:
Mike had a lot of patients, and I don’t know their stories. Some were young, and some were dealing with their own depression and maybe even suicidality. We all know that people are vulnerable to giving in when they see that others have done the same, especially people they really admire. Still, the most important part of this is the education around it (for example, look up whether more people really did follow through with suicide after Kurt Cobain died, and how the community rallied to support and educate people and it worked). I could also argue that Mike wanted people to know, even his clients. This one doesn’t hold up, though, because he wasn’t making sense at that point. Still, he was decidedly NOT wanting this to be kept private. He insisted on being authentic, even at the end.
This will affect how some people see me professionally. I also don’t worry about that. I remain good at my job, or, sadly, better. I certainly don’t need clients, and I am not looking for attention or sympathy, I get plenty of both. To be honest, it would be a lot easier to try to sweep this under a rug, if only there were a rug that big.
Also, my kids... they deserve their own story. They deserve to bury the story, too, if that would be more convenient for now. They are finally starting new experiences (camp, school) where people don’t already know the story, and how refreshing is that? Unfortunately, it’s also not true or fair. People will know the story, and they will tell it to each other in hushed tones, and feel shocked and sad and maybe even scornful but without the right information. Parents might need to decide whether and how to talk about it with their children, or even whether to let their kids hang out with my kids. After Mike died last summer, we had a few weeks to figure out a strategy for school. I sent an email to the classrooms my kids would enter. After having grappled with the tragedy for weeks on their own, I heard from so many parents how grateful they felt that I had reached out to them in this way, to give them just a little information and language to prepare them. This is what I said:
Fifth grade families,
I wanted to add a little to the email you received about Mike and our family. I want you to know it obviously pains me greatly to lose Mike and to such tragic circumstances. I know that each family will need to deal with this in their own way. I don't have any script, so please do what is best for your family. I have some families telling their kids about Mike's death but not offering any other specifics to their kids. I have other families telling their kids it was an accident or a health issue. I really don't judge anyone's decisions, and obviously some people will have different needs regarding their religions, their own kids and what each parent might know about their kids' own worries/life perspective, etc. Believe me, it occurred to me it would be easier not to tell my kids the truth, but in the end, I knew I didn't have a choice with my kids. But please handle this however you would like.
I don't really think that [my kids] are going to advertise their situation. But they are also getting accustomed to speaking about it directly when appropriate. Mostly, they just want to have a normal life and normal interactions with their friends. It has helped to see a friend here and there to acclimate. I think they will like to just get back with their daily life as soon as is remotely possible. We are inviting letters/cards just as a way for kids to feel they can do something tangible, if that is healing for them.
In the last few weeks, [my kids] have come closer together than ever, and their love and friendship for each other is truly a gift to us at this time. But at times, they are quick to moods and a little snappy with each other. I mention this just because I would love for our already awesome community to help me parent at this time. For any parents who really know me, I will never be defensive if you share observations with me about things they do or say. So by all means, if something comes to your attention, feel free to shoot me an email.
For those of you who are actually going to tell your kids what happened, I will just let you know that we are telling our kids that Mike was very sick, depression is a real disease, and in the end, it took his life the way that cancer might infect a person's cells or brain. I also get a lot of questions because Mike seemed fine to other people, so some kids worry that if Mike could do this, could this happen to just any parent. I think it is fine/fair to say that Mike was a lot sicker than he looked on the outside, and that it ran in his family, and that he struggled with depression for decades, not days or months or even years. You are welcome to share any of this if it helps.
Ok, I will turn off my child psychologist brain and just say, as a mom, love up your kids and take good care of yourselves. See you soon,
You would think a lot has happened in a year, but in fact, I could say almost the exact same thing about my kids right now. Just get to know them as people and look over them with love and support, as we all do for each other.
So, most people we know feel better with at least a little bit of the story, and maybe some words to share with their families and friends. You could argue, in a situation like this, there really are no words. And there are also no “answers.” Even once I get this story out, you will feel dissatisfied, distracted by the fact that Mike should really just be here right now, no excuses, no explanations needed. I agree and get stuck on this all the time.
At times in my life, I have been told I’m a pretty good writer. You won’t see that here. A person in my state loses words. Everything is constricted, choked. Even language. I have nothing sophisticated or philosophical to say.
The bottom line is, suicide isn’t shameful. It’s something to be uncovered and understood. If Mike died from cancer, we would just say so. He got a disease, he got very sick, and he died before we could cure him.
If you want to learn more, check in periodically for posts, whatever words I can muster (I wrote a little all year, but didn’t allow myself to consider sharing until at least a year of grief and stabilization).
Ps. Dear People I Lied To, there are two of you. You asked how he died at the wrong place and time (aka, I wasn’t ready and couldn’t break it to you). I said it was a heart attack. Mike did not die of a heart attack. This is the same lie I planned to tell my kids on the shocking evening of July 5, 2016. I mean, telling your children that their father just died is... seemingly impossible, and something I hope you never have to do. Telling them how he died, that was unthinkable. Luckily my sister's wisdom ran the rest of that evening.
Readers: Suicide is preventable. Knowing the warning signs and how to get help can save lives. Check out this link, which includes hotlines and resources: