By Laura Stack
I survived it. The worst day of my life was November 21, 2019 at 1:03 AM, when the coroner told my husband and me our son had died by suicide a few hours ago, on November 20. In the immediate days following, I alternated between screaming, sobbing, and being unable to talk to anyone other than my immediate family. Food was meaningless and sleep impossible. Tremendous nightmares would come. Some days I felt like I was drowning. Feelings of guilt surfaced no matter how hard we had tried to help Johnny.
How did I survive it?
- My faith in Jesus Christ. My son died from a psychotic incident from delusion caused by high-potency marijuana dabs. God did not cause him to die, but He knew Johnny would die, because God is in control. I will never understand His ways until I join Johnny again in heaven, but my relationship with the Lord is the source of my strength. I don’t know why Johnny had to die, but it was part of His plan. It’s not my job to question it but to be obedient to the path He has laid before me. During times of sorrow, you need hope. I’m not preaching; I’m sharing my faith. Our faith is our solace. We are comforted by our faith that Johnny is in God’s presence, he is healed, and we will see him again.
- Put your energy into a cause related to your loved one’s death. I wrote an email to a friend after Johnny died, “I must forge ahead despite my pain and try to give some sort of meaning to losing Johnny.” So, my mantra has become, “Forge ahead despite your pain and give meaning to your loss.” I’m angry at the marijuana industry that took my son and use my determination and passion as a source of energy. I started a 501c3 nonprofit, Johnny’s Ambassadors, to educate and others who are going through a similar situation. I will not stop, and I will not be silenced. Helping others has been a great source of comfort and healing for our family. Johnny’s death will not be in vain and sharing his story with others is saving lives.
- Do something creative and new. I invested my time into creative outlets, such as writing a book, blogging, posting on Facebook, creating an online curriculum to teach teens about the harms of marijuana, giving presentations, and hosting webinars. I drew upon the skills I’d learned in business over the past 30 years. I forced myself out of my fetal position and interacted with others, even when I didn’t “feel” like it. Their love reflected back to me and bolstered my energy. Maybe you could write a song. Draw a picture. Take photos of the world around you. Make a scrapbook.
- Beware of negative self-talk, blame, and guilt. This is easier said than done. I’ve been told that many parents experience moments of self-doubt, blame and guilt. When this negative self-talk started, I knew I needed to really consider what I was telling myself. I realized we did the best we could, and Johnny’s death was not our fault. We could only go so far in trying to keep Johnny safe from his choices. But at some point, his life was out of our hands, and we couldn’t control another human being. We reframed guilt as regret.
- Find support groups and build relationships. John and I were intentional in facing our grief head on and actively sought help. We have met the most incredible people in this journey. We attended a Parents of Children of Suicide meeting just three weeks after Johnny died, followed by a Survivors of Suicide group that met at a hospital, a Griefshare program at a local church (first in person and then online), and weekly couple and individual grief therapy. We developed relationships with other people and organizations who are allies in our missions and purposes. I never would have met the wonderful people now in my life without going through this tragedy. Stay close to your life partner and friends; do not let the situation drive you apart. John and I could not get through this without each other. We made this child together and must keep this son—forever 19—with us.
Slowly, in the months that followed Johnny’s death, using the techniques above, I started to breathe again, and the nightmares stopped. I still cry every day; however, nearly a year and a half later, I have found joy again and look forward to the future. I have an amazing husband, two incredible surviving children, and wonderful friends. I grieve Johnny deeply, but I’M ALIVE. After surviving that, I know I can survive anything. Whatever you survived, I would like to hear your story and how you survived it.