Heidi Crosbie’s beloved only child, Scott Crosbie, died by suicide at the age of 34 in 2012. Her youngest brother, Beat Jenni, also died by suicide in 2002. Her journey to parenthood had not been an easy one with multiple miscarriages and the stillbirth of Christopher in 1982. After Scott’s death, she sought the help of local support groups and therapy to finally deal with her multiple losses. She currently serves on the Steering Committee of the Sacramento-Placer County Chapter of the Bereaved Parents USA, helping other grieving mothers navigate through their losses. Her hope is that she can bring more understanding and compassion to why people die by suicide and the mental illness that so often precedes it. She also hopes her honesty will shed some light and allow for open conversations about grief.
This is the recipe I followed after my son died by suicide. But, if you are like me, I use a recipe only as a guideline. I add and delete ingredients and the same goes with this list: “take what you like and leave the rest”. I think this list served me well, but I had never survived a loss like this before so it was all improvised and evolved somewhat unconsciously.
- I embraced in my early days a slogan from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) — “just do the next indicated thing”. This required me to focus on the present moment only and not think about anything beyond that. The first weeks after my son died, my tasks were simple and required little thought. I would get out of bed (so I didn’t wet it), brush my teeth because they felt like they were wearing sweaters and then ask myself “what has to be done right this minute?” Sometimes all that entailed was breathing, deeply. It’s like driving at night with the headlights on — you only need to deal with what is right in front of you. This was radical self care.
- Because I was keeping it simple those early days, I needed help in getting some of the bigger tasks done, like arranging food for the funeral, going through photos and shopping for toilet paper, my choice for facial tissues during those days. Normally, I am fiercely independent but now, I had no energy and felt very vulnerable. When people embraced me and asked what they could do, I suggested a task, and they gladly leapt in to assist me. Asking for help was like working a new muscle for me. It took some practice but it got easier after a while. Some people didn’t even ask; they just saw what needed to be done and did it. I was so grateful even if it was just emptying the trash. Our friends and family want to fix our pain but they can’t, so giving them a task helps them, too. Ram Dass’ quote “We’re all just walking each other home” means to me that we need each other, and we are not alone. I now get to pay it forward to the newly bereaved I meet for the loving, compassionate care I received after my loss and walk alongside others in their moments of desperation.
- Look for your tribe. My friends and family only understood to a point what I was experiencing. I needed people who understood my loss. I started attending local bereaved parents and suicide survivor support groups a month after my son died. There is a special bond, a connection you have with another bereaved parent who understands the devastation and pain that you are experiencing. You look into a stranger’s eyes and see a reflection of your own broken heart, and a bond is formed. I was lucky and found another bereaved mom who would answer my text at 2:43 a.m., asking “are you awake, too?”. Not everyone will find a person at a time of night when only bats’ brains should be active, but you will find someone who understands the question “why is my heart still beating when his isn’t?” I also followed grief blogs and Facebook pages. I needed to learn everything I could about grief and how I could process this loss.
- I sought therapy. I found it helpful to talk to someone independent who had no skin in the game. My therapist helped me reset my compass especially when what I wanted to do was go south, blaming myself for all that happened. She took the facts and helped me recalibrate my thinking. I learned not to believe everything I was thinking. I went regularly for a year. I still struggle with grief and regret, but I also hear her voice when I want to punish myself for not saving my son.