Stay (Suicide, Part One)

No, I’m not going to kill myself. But I’ve been preoccupied with being dead, and since the inner eventually becomes the outer, all things suicide have been coming my way.

Natalie bought me a book about suicide for Christmas. “Stay,” by Jennifer Michael Hecht. I find the title wrenching. “Dad asked me if I bought it because I was worried you’re thinking about killing yourself,” she said. “I told him no, it’s just I know you’re interested in suicide.”

My therapist is concerned. So I asked Natalie, who, after getting annoyed about the whole thing, pointed out that she knows I once tried to kill myself and hence, my interest; that she heard about the book on NPR, which gave her the idea to buy it; that if I was going to kill myself I would have already done so, since I’ve gone through the worst thing in my life so far; and that anyway, I wouldn’t do that to her. And no, I wouldn’t.

But she’s the thread I’m hanging from. I have enough sanity to see she’s a reason not to die. But it feels impossible I’ll ever get to the part about wanting to live. Or maybe I don’t think about that for the next few-whatever. Maybe I first get through Philip’s birthday on January 20th, then February 23rd when it’ll be two years since he died. Because if I’ve learned nothing else these last two months, it’s that this year-two stuff is pretty sickening. Year one’s unreality has been replaced by year two’s finality, and where’s there to go from here?

I get a daily poem from The Writer’s Almanac, which, by the way, is connected to NPR. 95% of the time I don’t read them. But one day last week, I got two emails from the Almanac, the second one correcting the first. Maybe I should read it, I thought; maybe that poem’s trying to get my attention. It was a poem about suicide. I mentioned it to Natalie because of the book she’d given me, and she said maybe it was the same author. So I checked, and sure enough, it was.

And if that’s not enough suicide-stuff, a couple weeks ago, I got a link to a blog post about suicide. The blogger – who I think had once felt suicidal and is now really happy to be alive – decided that those who kill themselves are selfish and cowardly. I don’t argue online – I don’t usually have the energy or self-righteousness for it. But this closed-minded, cliched version of What Kind of People kill themselves incensed me enough to let the blogger know exactly what I thought, which included the fact that many who’d read the post were the ones who’d lived through a loved one’s suicide, and what kind of burden does that add to a load that’s already broken a whole bunch of people to pieces? (And the end of that story was instead of getting flipped-off, the blogger read my entire blog and left a lovely comment. Who knew??)

Since Philip died, I’ve come across people whose loved ones have killed themselves, and I don’t pretend to know what kind of hell it is to live with that. Especially if it’s your child – what ginormous excess of grief must that create? Suicide has nothing to do with the people who love you. It has to do with unfathomable loneliness, other-ness, not belonging, not seeing, not getting why you’re alive if this is what it feels; if all/most of the time, this is what it feels like. And screw feelings-aren’t-facts. Feelings are the world if that’s what you let them be.

My secret mantra has yet again become, “This won’t last forever because I will die.” Not exactly suicide, but a way of becoming one of the walking dead. I already wrote about what Philip said to me about suicide here. And I promised him I’d stop wishing myself dead. But lately, I’m not hearing anything but the battering between my ears, and I don’t know what it is I’m trying to accomplish with my little mantra. Maybe I think it’ll bring a natural death faster, and no one will blame me if that’s how I go.

I become unreachable when I’m lusting for death, which I’ve long considered the only way “out.” When I finally figured out that if I thought death was the answer, I was asking the wrong question, Philip died. And even though I remind myself that death remains the wrong answer, these last few weeks I’ve given up and given in and I see no way through. I’m not in touch with anything inside me that knows how to live, much less wants to. It seems wrong and unnatural, but life’s never much felt like a home I belonged in.

For whatever the reason, I was miserable and angry about life since I was a kid. When I turned 11, I decided the way out was to drink. By 14, I added pot to the mix. By 22, I had bulimia. For years I turned the rage I felt but never understood into a scathing diatribe against myself. I swore God took special pleasure in my unhappiness or else He’d make it go away.

When I was 21, I sat in my parents’ bathtub at 4:00 in the morning while they were away for the weekend, drinking and hacking away at my wrists with a razor blade. I thought I was making progress when the blood started spraying, but that’s when I heard the phone ringing. I guess I wanted to live more than I wanted to die because I answered it. It was my soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend, Chris. Earlier that night, I’d left him at a party, drunk and angry that he hadn’t given me any of the Quaaludes he’d already passed out from taking. What he later told me was that he’d woken up out of his stupor and knew something was wrong when he couldn’t find me. He came over and wanted to take me to the emergency room. I refused, so he wrapped a towel around my wrist and went to a 24-hour drugstore for some butterfly bandages. When he was done patching me up, I sat in the bathroom watching him clean the blood from the walls around the tub.  On his knees, he tossed his long Jesus-hair back over his shoulders and never said a word while he worked. I longed to lay my head on his long, narrow back while he rinsed that bloody rag. I wanted him to love me as much as he wanted to save me, but when he stood and turned to me he was the Chris I knew again, his ever-increasing remoteness further justified.

After that, I went to therapy. I still didn’t want to live, but I was embarrassed by my failed attempt and by what I considered my cowardliness because I knew I wouldn’t do it again. By 24 I went to AA and I stopped drinking. By 30, I married Phil, which went a long way toward stabilizing my violent moodiness. I relied on his steadiness, but it offered no insight into how to build a life that I could enjoy. I’d stopped drinking and vomiting and had even given God a shot, but I wasn’t happy. I was living in a long, gray corridor called depression.  Wanting to die was my default position, the only way to permanently right what was wrong. I got it together for everyone else; I loved my kids and took care of my family, but the life I was living didn’t seem to include me.  I was bored staying home with the kids, unhappy being married, despondent because I had no career, resentful that being a wife meant having sex when the only touch I didn’t object to was that of my children. I was waiting my life out. I thought about swallowing pills but had no idea how to get them. Sleep was the only peace I knew, and the nights I was particularly despondent I’d crawl under the covers, pull them up to my chin and curl up to say my adult version of the prayer my mother taught me as a kid:

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
I  pray to die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

But the Lord wasn’t listening, so I kept a package of razorblades in my kitchen drawer. I might’ve been too scared to use them, but they were my version of hope.

Next: Suicide, Part Two

© 2014 Denise Smyth


35 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. behindthemaskofabuse
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 17:49:09

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and ask you what happened to you in your childhood? My shoulder is here for you to lean on. Lots of love xo


  2. nitasnonsense
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 17:53:00

    Denise, I don’t even remember how i found your blog, but somehow i did. I can feel your pain, of the loss of Phillip, through your words and my heart is sad for you. A person i don’t know, have never met, yet somehow connects to you through a blog. Unless you are person who has lost a child, i don’t think we can truly relate to your pain. We can relate through the loss of others we have personally lost, like loved ones or friends, but not your own child. That pain must be unbearable. There’s no advice we can give you that will ever take that pain away. Only you can be the one to make it at least tolerable, from this day forward. That’s what we, who are left behind, have to do..Go hard as it is. And it will be hard. you know that better than anyone. None of it makes any sense, and we won’t know what this life is all about until our time comes. I read a book a long time ago called: We Don’t Die by George Anderson. It really helped me with the loss of my mom. I’ve read so many b books about death and our souls and they say that the departed leave you signs. Just look for them to know they are still with us. One that i personally have experienced are the numbers 111..I know it sounds crazy but it’s happened to me several times where i’ve been thinking of someone who has passed away, and i’m talking to them and i look at the time and it’s exactly 111…sounds crazy but i choose to believe they are there and can here me. I hope this blog helps you with your pain, however it can. Maybe just knowing that there are people out there who are listening and caring will help you a little bit. I truly hope so.


    • Denise
      Jan 05, 2014 @ 18:06:16

      It’s when people like you write to me that something stirs inside me; for that, I thank you. And it’s not at all crazy to see signs. My numbers with Philip are 201 and 21 – I wrote about it here, if you want to read it: And then there’s this incredible thing: I just don’t understand myself. Philip is all around me, protecting me, helping me…and like you, I don’t believe death is the end. But still; he’s not here for me to touch and see and it’s goddamn wrenching. I think I sunk so low again because of the holidays, because his birthday’s coming up, because the unbelievable day he died follows.

      I’m grateful for your concern – it matters.


      • nitasnonsense
        Feb 05, 2014 @ 02:07:21

        Denise, if there is anything i can do, even for ONE second to help you, it makes my heart full. I think it’s what we’re all here for really. To help each other. To reach out to people you don’t even know and let them know that someone out there cares. None of us know what any of this means. Why do we have to suffer like we do, and experience this kind of gut wrenching pain like you said. It shouldn’t happen to us. Hopefully it will all be explained to us when each and every one of us takes our last breath. Until then, we have to be there for each other and support each other. Don’t lose site of the beauty that life still holds for you. Philip IS around you. He wants you to find your smile. Don’t feel guilty because of that. Don’t feel guilty that you have to go on. You’re still here Denise. You are loved by your family and friends. Total strangers like me, are concerned for you and pray that you slowly, start to heal your heart. Bit by bit, one small smile at a time. Each time you can find something to make you smile even for a second, your heart will heal just a tiny bit. Just for that one second, you will bring light back into your heart and believe me, you will bring light into Philip’s heart. Your his mom, then, now, and forever, and he needs to know you’re going to be ok. Since i know you’re hurting i’ll smile for you. 🙂 take care Denise. I hope to talk to you again

  3. tric
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 18:31:54

    Oh Denise you are really in a very bad place. From spending time with my friend who lost her little boy I know unless I walk in your shoes I cannot comment. I am so sorry you are in such pain. I hope writing and sharing helps you. I have no advice or words of wisdom, all I can say is that many of us are happy to share your thoughts and greatly hope you can someday see more light.
    My friend is desperate not to become overcome by grief. She feels a huge responsibility to steer her children through this awful time in their lives and is desperate to ensure this does not lead to another tragedy for her family.
    I am hurt for you Denise and really hope you can one day remember happiness, even if it’s only for a short time.
    Be good to yourself and keep sharing. This is a long difficult road you are travelling..


  4. Denise
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 19:29:34

    Tric, you always listen and I so appreciate it. I’d like to share a link that another blogger sent to me; I think it would be good for you and your friend to read:

    Please send my love and blessings to your friend; tell her she’s not alone although it doesn’t feel that way. My heart hurts for her…


  5. jmgoyder
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 21:29:12

    Dear, beautiful, honest Denise – how my heart races with love for you even though I don’t know you apart from blogging – I feel as if you are now part of my life. In a strange way I feel like I actually need you in my life. I don’t know how to find any words of comfort except the same old ghastly platitudes which I can’t use because they are so inane. Just please know I am here at a close distance. Julie xxx


    • Denise
      Jan 05, 2014 @ 22:02:46

      Oh, Julie, what a lovely phrase – “a close distance.” You’ve no idea how I felt reading this – stunned and touched. And that’s it, Julie; that’s what life’s about — love. I mean real love. So you poke my heart and I wake up…but then I lose it, the connection. Do you know what I mean? It’s like I’m a dead zone. Maybe it’s just this time; the holidays, Philip’s birthday, the day he died…it’s so very much. Your words are soothing and I will try to remember.

      So much love to you…


    • Denise
      Jan 05, 2014 @ 22:41:59

      Me, too; but I’ll take a virtual one, yes I will ;o)

      And thanks for making me smile.


  6. Lucia Maya
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 21:51:33

    Dear Denise, I’m so sorry you are having such a hard time, and that so many of your days have been so dark. Even though we share the loss of a child, I really don’t know what it must be like to wish for death…I know you’re doing many things for yourself, including your writing, which is such a blessing for all of us who get to know you in this way!

    As I was reading the last post and this one, I started to “hear” that there are some alternative methods and healers that could possibly help, to break through this darkness and release you. I’m happy to talk or email with some ideas I have if you’re interested, or just to talk anytime. And, I also know there’s nothing to “fix”, and being at peace with wherever you are is all there really is. It’s just hard to feel your pain and feel helpless…
    much love, Lucia


    • Denise
      Jan 05, 2014 @ 22:18:01

      No, nothing to fix. Just learning how to live with this. I just emailed you – I’d love to hear about whatever you think might help.


  7. Susan
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 21:53:51

    I was never afraid of death, hell, I often welcomed it and thought about it for myself until I lost Adam….


  8. Denise
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 22:05:11

    I think of you often, Susan. I know you’re suffering; just know that whatever I’m going through, I’m still here if you need me. We’re in this together; and I am so terribly sorry that this is the way we had to meet, but since this is so, I’m glad we did.


  9. Maria
    Jan 05, 2014 @ 22:12:21

    I pray all the parts to your novel/blog are endless…….I love you. Maria


  10. lensgirl53
    Jan 06, 2014 @ 00:11:00

    Denise, a child’s death by suicide leaves immeasurable pain, as you have stated. I wish for death every single day and yet it is being a COWARD that keeps me breathing. Even in this horrible pain of loss and grief, I am not chemically imbalanced to bring about my own death. My son’s own words in his diary was that he did not really want to die. I know that to be true. I am glad you are not imbalanced to actually die by your own hands. I am glad your sensibilities have not been affected by the overwhelming grief you have over your loss.

    I am glad you defended those who die by suicide to that blogger who dared to say they are “selfish and cowardly”…my blood was boiling from reading about it. Suicide is never done as a casual thought…there are so many neurobiological factors, as you know from reading my blog. Drugs and other external events can also make you feel suicidal. Grief is one of those external events that kills us slowly and makes us wish for an early grave.

    I pray you will overcome each day and will thrive for Natalie’s sake. She sounds like she is very understanding and is your support. God bless you through the upcoming delicate days of birth and loss. Love and Hugs, …Dale


    • Denise
      Jan 06, 2014 @ 08:46:03

      Dale, you’re SO not a coward; you are a grieving mom who works every day not only to stay alive, but to help others understand what goes on behind the trauma of suicide. You’ve no idea how much I respect and admire you – and how grateful I am for your kind attention.

      So much love and so many blessings to you.


  11. Becki Duckworth
    Jan 06, 2014 @ 02:08:11

    I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately, you have been heavy on my heart. I understand as a young person wanting to check out. What I have learned is by doing so your spirit stays in limbo or you are thrust back into the next plane to deal with the same issues. Try and live Denise, as hard as it is. We both have sadness and despair for different reasons, life is unfair and unjust.


    • Denise
      Jan 06, 2014 @ 09:15:05

      Hey Becki – so good to hear from you. You know, I hear my son say, “Mom, you’ve got to work this out here. And if you do, you don’t have to do it again.” That’s what he meant when he told me I had to find the joy. I think I make this harder on myself than it has to be; I’m overwhelmed, I miss him and I’m still shocked that’s he’s not coming home.


      • Becki Duckworth
        Jan 06, 2014 @ 13:18:25

        Phillip is right, and we don’t want to deal with all this BS the next time around. I know you miss him. But I am glad you know how to connect to him. Make sure to take some quiet time and listen to all he has to say and he will continue to guide you.

  12. makeshift26
    Jan 06, 2014 @ 08:43:54

    Unfathomable loneliness… well put


  13. Book Peeps
    Jan 06, 2014 @ 16:53:36

    I wish I had something to offer that would ease your pain. I can’t even say I understand because I couldn’t possibly imagine that I would be able to cope at after losing a child. Given your past history the attempted suicide/depression, it is remarkable to me that you share all of this with so much grace and eloquence and that it may be that you see neither of these virtues in yourself. I just want to say my heart goes out to you and if one can truly send another pure love and healing light then both are on the way to you now traveling at warp speed.


    • Denise
      Jan 06, 2014 @ 18:03:16

      In Philip’s eulogy, I told everyone at the who said, “I don’t know to say” that they said it simply by walking through the door. The gift Philip gave me – his wake was a gift, filled with people who loved him and who I’d forgotten love me, too. Your kindness is all; what else can anyone do for me? For you to say I write with “grace and elegance?” I don’t see it that way, not at all. I think I sound crazy because I feel so crazy.You’ve offered exactly what I needed – your kind attention, and for that I am grateful.


  14. nataliehemmerich
    Jan 06, 2014 @ 20:19:58

    I almost commented this link the other day: … But decided to avoid talking about suicide… alas – our thoughts were aligned.

    That mom is looking for peace too. On our own levels, we all are. I’m so sorry that your peace includes outliving your son.

    Death by suicide is so complicated and rarely has anything to do with whether the person “wants” to or loves her people … but I agree with Natalie (it must be a Natalie thing)… please don’t do that to her.

    Be merciful to yourself. You have so many redeeming things in your life. Virtual love and hugs.


  15. Denise
    Jan 06, 2014 @ 22:11:06

    I won’t do that to her – and how many would suffer if I did? I’m so glad I wrote this post. People have been so kind and today my spirits were lifted a bit. What’s so hard is I know I won’t kill myself, but living feels so endlessly hard, colorless and pointless there seems no reason to be here. But that’s not what I’m supposed to do with Philip’s death. He’s trying to teach me to live. It’s me who’s resisting.

    Thank you for your love and encouragement.


  16. DragonPack
    Jan 07, 2014 @ 11:50:40

    Wow, Denise… daily it becomes more and more clear how much we have in common. Thank you for your honesty, as always. Here for you my friend.


  17. Denise
    Jan 07, 2014 @ 15:09:25

    Thank you; I know you are. Right back at ya.


  18. rconnectus45
    Jan 09, 2014 @ 20:40:15

    Denise, I was so worried when I read this. I know I can’t understand exactly how you feel. I have major depression and OCD. it is controlled and stable on long-term meds.
    The only thing that also brought peace to me was meditation. It gave life a meaning, and let me get out of my depression and anxiety.
    My husband had terrible lungs, and crippled legs and arms. He also, I think, had undiagnosed Asperger’s. He also had some tragedy in his life. He was helped by thinking the glass is half full, not half empty. He focused on what he could do, not what he couldn’t do.
    I hope you will stay around and find a reason to go on. You seem like a lovely person, and I would like to continue to share your journey.


  19. Denise
    Jan 10, 2014 @ 12:12:41

    Thank you for your kind words. It’s always been hard for to think, “half-full.” I’m trying not to think either, but to think “this is so; how can I deal with it?”

    I’ll tell you something – I think you’re absolutely right about meditation. I don’t take enough time to breathe and quiet down.


  20. Elyse
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 20:31:32

    Dear Denise, I am late to this. And really I don’t have any brilliant words to add to the hugs, advice and well wishes of the bloggers who have commented.

    I could give you a line of claptrap but I wouldn’t do that. Death of a person you love is devastating and you need to be good to yourself. Try to get better, reach for friends (real and virtual) — do what you need to survive this terrible tragedy.

    And go with medication, too. I did when I lost my sister and my dad in short order. It got me through. And that’s the first step.

    Hugs. And hankies.


  21. Denise
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 20:38:03

    Thanks Elyse, not only for your encouragement, but for making me laugh, and you must know what a gift that is. I might not have been commenting on your blog lately, but I always read it and I think you’re a riot. So you keep writing and I’ll keep laughing. ;o)


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