I Lost My Mother to Suicide

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Lifeline offers free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

In August of 2016, I lost my mother to suicide.

At 27 years old, I sat with my remaining family members in one of “those” hospital rooms, those ones where they take you to tell you terrible news.

There I learned that not only had my mom unexpectedly died, but that she had died by suicide.

That day was an initiation into how mental illness and suicide can impact a family. It’s a day I wish I had never experienced, and it has shaped every single day since.

I Lost My Mother to Suicide

Since that day four years ago, life has continued.

That’s the cruel irony of grief: no matter how impossible moving on seems, life moves on whether you want it to or not. I became engaged, got married, moved three times, endured a miscarriage, changed jobs, and had two children. I’ve experienced a thousand small moments I wish I could share with her. But every moment, major or minor, has been marked by the loss of my mom.

Nothing is the way it was, and nothing is the way it should be. 

Grief is wild. It follows no path and flattens you out in half a second. It comes out of left field in the most unlikely moments and leaves you questioning everything. It knows no depth or boundary and infiltrates every single aspect of life.

Even four years later, the grief can come out of nowhere and leave me breathless. 

We don’t know what compelled my mom to complete suicide. I had no idea that my mom was struggling with a mental illness. None of us knew that she had battled depression and anxiety her entire adult life, and her death blindsided us.

In hindsight, I see the signs that lay hidden at the time. How she retreated from people and activities she loved, how her effervescent joy faded away, and how she couldn’t stomach foods she enjoyed.

I was blind. I didn’t know.

In the wake of my mother’s suicide, I’ve had to learn to become a wife and mother without her guidance.

This crushes me. It breaks my heart knowing my mom isn’t here to walk beside me through these new stages in life. It is devastating knowing she won’t meet my children, and they won’t know their grandma. The depth of that grief is astounding, and the loss of what could have been is fierce.

Growing up, my mom and I always had a strong connection. Even during my teenage years, when mothers and daughters tend to grow apart, I considered her my best friend. She was a safe place for me, completely familiar and full of love. She never hesitated to challenge me to grow and learn, and gave me a positive environment to stretch my wings in early adulthood. I cherished our relationship.

I don’t know how to be a mother without my mother.

I was blessed for 27 years to be her daughter, yet now I face motherhood without by my side. Even so, I am not truly without her guidance. Her legacy lives on, and I hope to raise my children with the same gentleness and unconditional love she used to raise me. Though she isn’t alive to hold my babies and answer my questions, she showed me what it meant to be a great mother.

Knowing my mother chose to end her life is a grief I cannot describe. If there is anything I could redo in my life, it would be to go back and recognize the signs of distress before my mother felt that suicide was the best option. I wish I had the knowledge of mental illness I do now and could connect her to people who could have helped her, instead of living in ignorance. 

There are many myths about suicide.

Many people believe that if someone is determined to die by suicide, nothing can prevent it from happening eventually. People believe talking about suicide may plant the idea in someone’s mind. Many people believe there is nothing they can do to stop someone from dying by suicide.

These are myths.

What I can do now, in her honor, is to not take mental illness lightly and not brush off signs that someone may be considering suicide. I can have conversations with others that I never had with her, making sure my friends and family are okay, and if they aren’t, help them find people who can help them.

I can educate myself.

In doing so, I hope to prevent someone in such despair from choosing suicide, and a family from facing the agony my family has faced in the wake of my mother’s suicide.

I can’t change what happened to my mom, but I can make sure her legacy lives on.

Again, if you, or someone you know, is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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Jen is a mom to two kids, Penelope (19 months) and Jethro (2 months). A graduate of Central College, Jen moved to South Africa with the Peace Corps after college, where she developed school and community gardens. Upon returning to the states, Jen moved back to her hometown of Ottumwa, Iowa, where she met her husband Darin. In 2019, their young family moved to Cedar Rapids, where she began work with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach as a Healthy Food Access Specialist. Despite working full time and wrangling two young kiddos, Jen still finds times for her favorite hobbies-cooking, gardening, reading, and napping.