Q. My 14-year-old son Jason had been suffering with bouts of depression on and off since his dad and I separated two years ago. Before that he was a happy boy, playing football and being just like any other child his age. When his father left it’s as if his world fell apart. He started missing school, staying in bed all day and stopped seeing his friends. He wouldn’t wash unless I nagged him. The doctor prescribed him anti-depressants and referred him to CAHMS. The appointment took a long time to come and then he wouldn’t talk. The same evening he took an overdose of antidepressants, was rushed off to hospital and discharged the same night. I had to manage his medication to avoid another overdose. Then one day he called me at work at 1.30 sounding dreadful. He said he was feeling very low; his voice was hardly audible. I work part-time, finish at 3pm. I told him I’d be home in less then 2 hours and we would talk about it. When I got home I called up to him and when I didn’t get an answer I went to his bedroom but couldn’t open the door. I tried pushing it but it wouldn’t move. My neighbour came to help and eventually we managed to open the door enough for me to squeeze past the gap and go in. Jason had hung himself with his school tie from the hook behind the door. If I’d left work when he called me he’d still be alive. I can’t live with the guilt.
A.Losing a child is extremely tough whatever their age and whatever the circumstances. And losing a child to suicide is even harder. The guilt can engulf you and yet, you did all you could with the knowledge and support you had available to you. You identified the start of his depression was when his father left, what you don’t say is whether his father maintained contact. Did he desert the family? Or did he try to stay in touch? I suspect the first may be the case as it sounds as though Jason felt rejected and abandoned by his father’s absence, which led to his depression.
It isn’t easy to identify depression because there are no visible signs, not like having a broken leg, or a rash, or the loss of hair. The only visible sign is the change of activities or at times personality and then how do you judge the depth of depression? It can be hard and at times impossible to pin point if someone is feeling down or seriously depressed and as a mother you’re not trained to deal with it. As a mother you always do the best you can at any given moment. In your extended email you say the time of death was 15 minutes after your call. Had you left work earlier you still wouldn’t have saved him.
I advise you to seek out a professional therapist who will be able to work with you through your emotions and stages of grief. This is so big that a short answer here isn’t sufficient or even honourable. You need to give yourself the time and space to let out all your emotions, anger and guilt. And amongst all the emotional pain, find a way to remember Jason. You mentioned in your longer email that you have 2 other younger children they will need support too.
Create a memory box or jar and get the whole family and friends, but especially you and your children, to write notes about happy memories you shared with Jason. Look through photo albums and remember the good times, the shared moments that brought you joy. Time will help and although you will begin to make sense of the pain you feel, the hurt will take longer.
If you have a question for Carla please email Carla@carladevereux.com and enter – Your Questions Answered– in the subject line.