“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory” – Dr. Seuss
This is a quote that is written at the top of a page in my daughter’s journal. She wrote an entry when she was just 11 years old. She is describing the day “that changed her life forever”. She begins her post telling of a peaceful dream she was having. She was dancing on a stage, with mist all around her. She was in a flowing grey dress, on pointe shoes. The theatre was empty, but somehow felt full. She was dancing to the music in her head. She awakes to sunshine, and is eager to wake her brother to show him the snowman she made the day before.
He may have already seen it, having gone on a date the evening before with his girlfriend; still, she is eager to show him her lovely achievement. It is early March, but there was still enough snow to make things out of. She goes down to his room, but this morning, he does not answer. This is the moment that defines the ending of her childhood, the beginning of a nightmare she can’t wake up from. Her hero, her brother, her best friend had died by suicide. She knew he was struggling with a depression, but had promised her that he’d never hurt himself. He’d broken his promise. She feels as though she has died, too……
My son Max was just 16 years old when he died in the early hours of that fateful Sunday morning. If you are reading this, I don’t need to explain the chaos our lives were thrown into. You well understand the complex grieving process when your child dies by suicide. How do we find balance in the middle of our devastating shock, and sadness? How do we parent our surviving grieving children, help our spouse carry their pain, and care for ourselves when we can’t even get a proper breath of air to fill our own lungs? There is no other type of loss that is as complicated as one by suicide. It shakes the very foundation of everything you believed to be true, and it is replaces it with unrelenting pain, and confusion.
Where does a family go for support? I knew I was going to have to tackle this from every angle possible. I had very little energy for anything, and I knew that if I didn’t find a way to help make peace with the loss of my beloved son, I was going to loose everything I had left. I couldn’t let my little family fall apart, even through I was, I just had to find a way….
I read everything I could get my hands on. I sought out private counsellors, I connected with other survivor parents. I joined a support group, I wrote, and wrote some more. I called on every single friend I had, at some point or another to help me with basic things, like cutting my hair for me, or helping me pick up a prescription. I went regularly to my family doctor to help with my physical symptoms. I connected with an amazing reiki healer, I spoke to spiritual leaders in my community. I attended a 12 week intensive program for survivors of suicide. I expanded my support network, and asked for help on hard days. I joined volunteer organizations in my community. I gathered all Max’s loved ones on his birthday and anniversary of his passing to spend a day volunteering to honour him. We send up fire lanterns, and eat his favourite foods on those days.
In our community, we found that there was nothing specifically designed for parents. Even more unfortunate, there was nothing in the form of a support group for our surviving children, or the teenaged friends that were left behind by Max’s death by suicide.
Max’s best friend's mother, Anjenette Corbiel is the co-founder of “Healing to The Max”. She is a counsellor, and after we lost Max, she took every training course available on suicide bereavement. Together, when the time was right, we knew we would design a therapeutic grief support group for those left behind by suicide. It has taken years, but we are so proud of this thoughtfully designed 12 week intensive program! As a mother of two surviving grieving children of her own, I know how valuable this would have been for my own children, Max’s pre-teen cousin, and all of his close teen aged friends!
Welcome to Healing to The Max
Jill Cowan, Co-Founder