Dear mom who did everything right but your child died anyway,
I watched you on Sunday, August 18, 2019, trembling as you locked the front door that evening. It was the first night you would sleep in your house in seven days. You didn’t want to lock the door because Caleb wasn’t home, but he wasn’t going to come home that night. You weren’t going to see him walk through the front door ever again. That ache in your heart got even more painful as you turned the lock and walked away with tears streaming down your face. I saw you walk into his room, stand in the doorway and notice every detail of how he left it. Backpack on the floor, wallet and keys on the desk, his favorite Vans shoes in the middle of the floor, unmade bed. You walk in and lay in his bed crying, I know you just want to be near him, to smell him and lay where he laid when he was alive. I see the ocean of tears on his pillow and the unrelenting pain in your eyes. I know you just want to go back. Go back to Monday evening at 5:30 and never leave him, never walk away from him. I heard you praying, “God, please! I want him back, I need him back, I can’t do this.”
I saw you. I saw you in the cemetery, wearing his shirt, crouching down and looking at the beautiful flowers on top of a fresh grave. I know you’re numb, confused and literally broken. You were at this very spot just a few hours earlier. I saw you sitting in the first row, wearing a black dress, holding an orange rose, staring at the casket and being surrounded by a few hundred people. I know all you could hear were the questions in your head, “Is this real? Is this really Caleb’s funeral? Where did I go wrong? God, why didn’t you stop this from happening?!” I know you feel crushed beyond repair and you can’t picture your life even one minute from now, but God is with you. I know you see him, I know you feel him, I know you’re mad at him. He understands, he can take it, let him help you.
Knowing that you were about to bury your only son made you want to crawl back into bed, fall asleep and never wake up again. I hear you saying, “I can’t do this” over and over again, but I know you can. It’s in you, I’ve seen you fight many times before. You’re resilient, you’re brave, you’re courageous and strong. I know you don’t think so. I know you feel weak and guilty and angry. I know you hate yourself for what’s happened. I know you think it’s your fault. I know you went to bed the night before his funeral hoping you’d wake up to see that the previous 4 days were nothing but a terrible nightmare. I know you think you won’t survive this, that you can’t possibly live without your child, but you will. It will be the most painful experience of your life, but you will find your way.
I saw you at the funeral home trying to write his obituary. When you proofread it, I know you just wanted to vomit, run and hide. You shouldn’t be reading an obituary for you happy, healthy, loving seventeen year old son! I watched as the funeral home director kindly ushered you into a room full of caskets and asked to look around and pick one out. One week ago was the first day of his Senior year, now you’re in a funeral home standing in the middle of a room full of caskets! Is this guy honestly trying to sell me a casket for my son? He sounds like a car salesman! I know it took awhile because you kept stopping to lean on Joe, cry and ask him if this is real. It’s the middle of the day on a Wednesday and Caleb should be at school, you shouldn’t be “shopping” for a casket!
When you woke up the morning after the worst night of your life in someone else’s house to the sound of your husband crying, you thought to yourself, It really happened…Caleb really did die last night. He really is gone and he’s not coming home. You can’t call him or text him. You can’t see him or hold him. He died by his own hand, how is it possible?? That isn’t Caleb. It can’t be true. He would never, ever do that to us. I know you had a million questions and no-one to answer them. I know all you wanted was for it all to go away and have your happy family back again. I know you thought this only happens to “other” people, not to me. Not to me!
I saw you running and I heard you screaming, “No, no, no, no!” I know you just found out that Caleb had died over a phone call. Ever since you started walking you were trying to call him, text him, message him on Instagram and he wasn’t answering, he wasn’t responding. You were getting more worried and panicked with every step you took, then I saw you turn around and head back towards your car because you needed to get home and check on him. You were trembling and nauseous. Why wasn’t he answering? He always answered! You’re thinking about what happened before you left the house. You thought on the interaction, the conversation you had with him before you left. When you walked away from him, I know you were thinking you’d talk it through when you got home that evening. You assumed the two of you would have a heart to heart and would work it out. I saw you turn to walk away and then you stopped yourself, turned back to look at him and say, “I love you,” and you left not knowing you would never see him again.
I know you were “that mom.” The mom who had it all together. The mom who maintained a smooth, happy, loving and stable home. The mom who had everything in control. The helicopter mom who always made sure her kids were safe and accounted for. The mom who raised her kids in church, drove them to school and didn’t like Red Dye #40. You were also the mom who thought suicide could never creep its way into her life. In an instant, I watched as you went from that mom to the mom hearing that her son was dead. The mom who slipped immediately into darkness, confusion and grief. The mom who couldn’t make sense of what was happening around her. One minute life was normal and the next the sky was falling in. I know you think you can’t be the good, happy, stable mom again, but you can, you will be. It will take a long time, be kind to yourself. Your girls are worth fighting for, they need you.
I know that life with Caleb was so much fun and you miss sharing it with him. He was very affectionate and had no shame in calling himself a Momma’s Boy. He cherished you, loved you and he showed it all the time. He was thoughtful, caring and kind hearted. He always saw the good in people and was always willing to lend a helping hand. He had a heart of gold and it showed on the outside by the way he treated people. He adored his little sisters and was a very loving and thoughtful big brother, you know he would never hurt them on purpose. Never forget that watching him grow into an amazing young man made your heart swell with thanks and pride every day. Remember love the most.
Remember how you felt the day he was born? You did it. You were finally holding him. Your first child, a son. You looked into his beautiful, bright blue eyes for the first time and said, “I love you.” I remember the moment you realized that the first 3 words and the last 3 words you said to him were the same, “I love you,” and I watched that realization take your breath away. You loved him and he knew it.
The mom who is already there, cheering you on.
September is National Suicide Awareness Month. I’ve been publicly sharing my story for one year, a story I never imagined I would ever utter. In the blink of an eye on a perfectly normal Monday evening, my seventeen year old son took his life for reasons unknown. There were no indicators, no signs, no depression, no bullying, no substance abuse, nothing on his phone or social media accounts. The only things we’ve been able to put together is that he was overwhelmed with the start of his Senior year and knew that he had a lot of hard work in front of him to have a successful year and be able to go to the college of his choice. His ACT score and GPA were not what they needed to be and he felt he was not going to be successful. He was always very hard on himself and didn’t think he performed well enough to achieve his goals. He had been caught that evening with a e-cigarette and was feeling very ashamed and disappointed in himself. He was alone at home when he entertained a lie to quiet the voices in his head that were telling him he couldn’t overcome these small obstacles. He listened to lies that his current circumstances would go away if he just… Caleb would never, ever, do it intentionally if he knew it would cause anyone this heartache. I will fight to my dying breath to protect his character and integrity. The only logical answer we have come to understand is that we know satan manipulates us in our weakest moments, lies to us and leads us to do things we regret later. All humans make bad decisions, but Caleb wasn’t able to regret the choice he made. He entered into a thought pattern that he couldn’t get out of and acted impulsively. It is horrible, terrible and extremely painful to live with the reality that your son took his own life. Grief is unrelenting and suffocating. I share my story to encourage parents to talk openly and honestly with their kids about suicide and what to do when they feel weak and when things get dark and bleak. Even if your children are happy, successful, have many friends, participate in activities, work, serve the community and do well in school, talk to them for me. Talk to them for Caleb. Use my story as motivation to talk to your kids about suicide. I did many things right while raising Caleb, but we did not talk about suicide prevention. He is truly my heart and joy. He made me a mom and made me who I am. There’s no mom prouder than I, he was an amazing young man who loved Jesus, shared his faith and loved people authentically. I will never let him be defined by one moment! Stop the stigma attached to suicide. Stop this silent epidemic. Talk, listen, prevent. It’s never too late, until it’s too late.
Here is the first and last picture with my son. Caleb, I love you. I miss you. I will honor you by healing. I will share your story to save lives. Your legacy lives on in everyone who knew and loved you. Until we meet again, xoxo.