Loss Survivor Moment
Terrye Fitts is the mother of Jonathan Clemons, who is represented on one of TSPN's "Love Never Dies" Memorial Quilts. She originally wrote this essay in 2006, which was reprinted in the November-December 2013 edition of
Out of the Shadows.
My Obligation to the World
On December 13, 2004, my world shattered into a million pieces. After a two-year long battle with schizophrenia, my youngest son, Jonathan took his own life at the age of 19. The day Jonathan died, I kept telling myself this is the worst day of my life. Little did I know through the haze of shock that surrounded me, that there would be many worse days to follow.
The first six months, it was all I could do to keep breathing. During this time, I believe I could have actually lay down and willed myself to die. The only thing that stopped me was knowing that I could not leave my remaining sons and my grandchildren, as they also were trying to deal with this horrific loss. I was acutely aware that they needed me, their mother, now as never before. So somehow, I managed to keep breathing and keep moving through life one step at a time.
At the six-month point, I began to realize that I had to find help dealing with my loss and heartache. Rage consumed me, rage that the mental health system was ineffective in dealing with my son, rage that my son had to fight this mental illness to begin with, rage that I lost my beloved son. I started grief counseling and I joined a parents-of-suicide survivor support group. The parents support group has helped me with every step that I have made on this journey. It was not long before I realized that being able to talk to other parents who had suffered the same loss, was as essential to my well being as the air I need to breathe. Through the counseling and support group, I have come to understand that what I feel is completely normal, that I am not losing my mind.
I strongly urge anyone who has lost someone to suicide, to find a support group to connect with. It has only been a little over 15 months for me; I am still new on this journey which lasts a lifetime. I have been through the first birthday, the first Memorial Day, the holidays where the empty place at the table stabs at my already broken heart. I think of Jonathan twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. The pain is so all consuming there are no words to adequately
describe it. But I have survived, I am surviving and I will survive, but it is not an easy road. I take one day at a time and deal with that day as it comes. That's all I can do right now, that is all any of us in this nightmare can do. I survive for those that I love who remain here with me. I survive to make sure that my son, Jonathan is remembered. As long as I live he will not be forgotten.
There are a lot of statistics on suicide; I survive to remind people that there are faces behind those numbers. Faces of children, brothers, sisters and spouses who were loved by family and friends. That behind those faces were wonderful people who had much to contribute to the world we live in.
I try to tell Jonathan's story every time an opportunity arises. Schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar diseases are serious mental illnesses, often terminal. Suicide occurs when these diseases become fatal. I survive to try to raise awareness that the mental health system must be improved, to prevent others from having to walk in my shoes. I look at my grandchildren and worry for their futures if they or their children ever have to face the disease.
The day I buried my son, I also buried a piece of my heart. I will miss him until the day that I take my last breath. Any joy that I experience is bittersweet knowing that he is not here to share it with me. Some days, the blanket of shock still cushions me, it all seems so surreal. He's not really gone, he is just in the other room. Other days the pain rips through me as if it will tear me completely in two. This is the way of the journey of grief.
My faith in a loving and merciful God, my faith that Jonathan is happy and no longer suffering, my faith that I will see my son in eternity sustains me on this road. And I draw comfort from knowing that death cannot destroy what is important. That Jonathan is still my son and always will be, that I am still his mother, I always will be and most importantly that I will love him for all eternity. Love is all powerful and cannot be destroyed by death. Often, the world is changed one person at a time. And because of this, it is my obligation to the world and my son to survive.