Dear Dr. Neimeyer,
My only child, my 16 year old daughter, took her own life just one month ago. She showed no signs at all. Straight A student, worked as cashier part time, saving money for college. She just finished her College Boards and got an amazing score. I know this wasn’t planned–she had placed orders for items on Amazon and the day she did this went and rented her Tux for Prom with her step-father. None of this makes sense to me. I am fortunate enough to have a letter she left for me which clearly says she can’t tell me why she killed herself because she doesn’t know why. But she wanted me to know that it wasn’t my fault and that I was the best mom anyone could have ever asked for and I’m strong and that’s why she knows I will get through this. My daughter was lesbian but was definitely not bullied. We taught her to be proud of who she was and to be strong and we supported her 100%. I am just so lost now and cannot understand why or how I was not able to stop her from doing this. I know you don’t have the answers but maybe something you can say will help me with this unbearable grief and pain I am feeling right now. My baby girl was fun, smart, and very much loved by everyone who knew her. I miss her terribly and cannot even bear to think about living the rest of my life without her by my side. I’ll never see her graduate, or go to college and become a wonderful author–I have been robbed of all of these things. How in the heck do I move forward?
Ironically, your letter reaches me as I return from the meeting of the American Association of Suicidology, a meeting attended by 1,400 professionals and lay persons, many of whom–myself included–are survivors of suicide loss. Although you are certainly right that I lack the specific answers you seek, I can assure you that hundreds of bereaved parents, children, partners and siblings in that gathering know some version of the pain you feel, the shock, the horror, the helplessness, the struggle to understand. And while many of them continue to process the raw anguish of these losses, many others have eventually found a way forward despite them, often finding some measure of meaning in their tragedy by reaching out supportively to others touched by similar tragedy. My hope for you is that you find the companionship and compassion of such fellow travelers, rather than having to walk this road alone.
Although the suicide of a loved one is frequently foreshadowed by a long struggle with depression or other emotional problems, for a surprising number of survivors the death comes with little or no warning, seemingly in response to a dark impulse known only to the deceased. Tragically, LGBTQ youth are at particular risk for self-injury and suicide, largely as a response to a judgmental and rejecting culture, even when enlightened and loving parents like yourself instill pride and self-acceptance at home. Bullying does not always take overt forms, as the terrible rise in cyber bullying attests. And while many young people in gender minorities find friendship and close relationships in a community that embraces them, many more strive to live authentically in a world that subtly or unsubtly punishes their self-expression.
Of course, it would be presumptuous to link your daughter’s death to her gender orientation without knowing much more about her silent struggles, which of course could be much like those of many young people, whoever they love. But you might find some provisional meaning and understanding in hearing the voices of other young adults who are attempt survivors, and who can speak to the often invisible despair that drove them to the edge in their own lives. The Loss conference associated with AAS could be one source of such understanding, as might a remarkable new film, “The S Word,” that tells their story with insight and compassion. With your letter you have already taken a first step toward telling your own story, and your daughter’s, for what I hope will not be the last time. In mutual support groups you can access on the internet: click Alliance of Hope for one important resource; or in face-to-face mutual support forums near you (which you can identify through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) you can find others contending with similar questions, and working together to find the answers that will make life livable in the wake of devastating loss.