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Ten Years After My Son’s Suicide

Updated: May 15, 2023

Here are 10 things I have learned.

Jan and son, Will, on his 18th birthday

Our son, Will, died at age 18 of mental illness and suicide. I continue to learn how to live with this loss over time, and I share here some things I’ve learned in the first 10 years.


1. People who have not lost a child really don’t understand. The loss of a child is indescribable pain and unimaginable to someone without this experience, even if they are sympathetic. I came to know this based on...


“Everyone can master a grief but he who has it.” William Shakespeare

2. The spirit lives on after death. I was raised in a religious Christian home, so the concept of a spiritual life after physical death was familiar. As I trained in science, I still thought in spiritual terms, but I had some doubts about...


3. I do want to live. In the early days after Will died, it felt very difficult to go on. I was not suicidal, but the experience of living was painful. Six weeks after my son died...


“The highest tribute to the dead is not grief, but gratitude.” Thornton Wilder

4. I can have joy. After my son’s death, the definition of happiness changed for me. Some say that happiness is based on circumstances and while I do feel happiness at times...


5. I can love again. The loss of a child tears away part of the heart. I felt like my ability to love completely was disabled....


6. I can sing again, and I can dance again. In the early days after our loss, I thought I would never do either of these things. Before Will’s death, I had loved to sing — along with the radio, with my guitar, at church. After he died, I could not even imagine singing...


7. I learned how to answer the question “Do you have children?” I had to travel a few weeks after my son’s death. I usually don’t like to engage in much conversation with people on the plane...


8. My son’s death changed me, but it does not define me. I became more compassionate, less judgmental, slower to anger, less consumed with the trivial....


“…there is nothing we can do without meaning and nothing we can suffer that does not hold the seed of creation in it.” May Sarton

9. Grief is a journey. This kind of grief does not end; we learn to live with it. It is a journey that changes over time....


10. I can tell my story. Initially, it was hard to talk about Will’s death. There is still a lot of stigma about suicide. Mental illness killed my son. I believe he only wanted to end the pain



Writing the story of my grief in my book, Breath for the Soul: Self-Care Steps to Wellness, was therapeutic, and it’s a way to share what helped me with others. I continue to tell my story in person more and more. Each time it gets a little easier and unloads a little more pain from me. As the writer and Holocaust survivor said,

“Whoever survives a test, whatever it may be, must tell his story. That is his duty.” Elie Wiesel


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