By Guest Blogger Sandie Mauk author of TreasureSeeker blog
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
So it took me four weeks to get up the courage to ask my daughter, Grace, if she had left a note when she tried to kill herself. I’d been too afraid to find out what a note would have said, and what it wouldn’t have said. And I’d been even more afraid to find out that she could have chosen to leave without saying good bye. She didn’t leave a note.
Her world had gotten so incredibly small since she started struggling with her trifecta of damnation (depression and self- harm cutting and Trichotillomania) a little more than 3.5 years ago. They’re intertwined and co-dependent, so it’s nearly impossible to tell where one ends and the next begins. Counseling and therapy and medication and essential oils and coping techniques and hair extensions and wigs and scars and crying and talking and talking and talking.
There’s an embarrassment that comes with mental illness, so she hid emotionally and relationally. And finally, she was too lonely to go on. But she hadn’t cut herself in over a year. And she wasn’t pulling her hair out anymore. She had some cute wigs. She had shaved her head, let her hair grow out a bit, then shaved it again, but it was growing back out. And the depression in general seemed like it was under control.
She’d been seeing the family doctor for a few months about stomach issues. Her stomach often bothered her, so she didn’t eat. She lost so much weight, and when she would try to eat, her stomach couldn’t take it, so she wouldn’t eat.
When I came home from work July 29, she looked ill. She said she’d been feeling like she could throw up all day. That sounded more like a stomach bug and not just her usual stomach irritation. It’ll pass.
I went to bed earlier than my husband, Paul. Before coming upstairs, he found Grace in the bathroom trying to throw up but she couldn’t. He said something felt strange to him and he asked if she had done something she shouldn’t have done. Grace told him “I just feel sick.”
Paul woke me up so I could check on her, because ya know, I’m the mom. I sat on the bathroom counter saying “It’ll be ok, sweetie,” while shamefully thinking to myself “I hope she feels better soon, because I’m so exhausted I can’t keep my eyes open.”
She started to cry and I crawled down to the floor and rubbed her back. “Will you take me to the hospital? I took pills.”
And from there, everything is a blur.
I know I screamed for Paul. I called 911. I changed out of my jammies. I heard the siren and saw the lights. I spoke to the paramedics and police. There were neighbors in the driveway and the street. I rode in the ambulance. And then I was leaning against the counter in the emergency room, eyes closed, praying.
“Ma’am, are you her mother? Do you need a tissue?” A tissue? How could a tissue help me now?
My youngest daughter, Emily, wasn’t home; she was at a sleepover. And can I just say that texting another mom to say your daughter tried to commit suicide in the middle of the night, so could Emily just hang out with them all day, is a very awkward text to send.
Of course, they were gracious and lovingly cared for Emily when we weren’t able to. Emily spent the day at a water park with her friend, oblivious to our drama. But my other daughter, Lauren, was home that night. Slept through the whole thing. She didn’t know what had happened until Paul woke her to tell her he was going to the hospital and that her aunt would be staying with her.
Grace took an overdose of her Paxil. Turns out, that’s dangerous because it messes with the heart. Doctors were monitoring her heart by EKG. Emily was WOOOHOO-ing on watersides all day while I was staring at fresh razor marks on Grace’s stomach as EKG leads were being taped to her torso. Only half that sentence makes any sense to me. She was moved to the psych ward once her heart was out of danger.
The doctors never thought to check the hearts of Grace’s parents.
Let me tell ya…our hearts were crushed. There wasn’t hardly even time to be thankful, though we were. We were caught in the unfathomable reality that our daughter hurt so deeply that she would choose to leave us all. And she didn’t leave a note.
Grace spent 9 days in psych. Family visitation was twice a day. We tried to cram in as much serious conversation as we could and when that became too heavy, we would talk about nothing in particular.
Emily was too young to visit, but the nurses did let her come in just once. She desperately missed Grace. Lauren was able to visit each night, and it was precious watching those two interact in this bizarre situation. But then it was time for us to leave. Leaving Grace at the psych ward and coming home without her was the faintest whiff of the nauseating stench of the death that very nearly almost…and it was almost more than we could bear. But we had to come home and still be parents to Emily and Lauren.
I can tell Grace the stories about what life was like while she was gone. But she will never understand. And to be fair, I’ll never understand what it was like for her, either.
But she will never know what it was like to look Emily in the eyes and tell her that Grace tried to kill herself, she’s at the hospital, and I don’t know when she’ll be home. That’s harsh, I know. But when it’s life and death, sugar-coating it for an 8-year-old doesn’t help.
And Lauren’s 12th birthday was 2 days after Grace overdosed and Grace was still in the hospital. Grace won’t ever know what it was like to hear Lauren cry in the car in the driveway and refuse to get out of the car to walk into the house when she realized her über-aunts had thrown her a surprise birthday party. “I can’t have a party without Grace! I can’t do this without her!”
And she won’t know how hard it was for her dad to balance between being a former therapist and being a dad. The therapist knows just how cry-worthy her pain is but shouldn’t cry in front of her. And the dad’s heart breaks because this is just too unbelievable, while his mind goes into rational clinician mode. And Grace will never know how she crushed me with her words when visitation ended and she she grabbed my arm and said “Don’t leave! Don’t you leave!”
And several precious people have told me to my face “it’s not your fault.” And I get it. My head and my heart know that. I know Grace’s mental illness isn’t my fault. I didn’t give it to her like a virus or cause it with my negligence. But I have to acknowledge that Grace’s suicide attempt happened under the leadership of Paul and Sandie. And it happened in the context of the family dynamic. So even though her mental illness isn’t my fault, it is my responsibility to ensure Grace is raised in a mentally healthy family. So I have to accept that Grace’s vault of secrets, emotions, and deeds was somehow locked by me.
Now that she is home from the hospital, her schedule is booked with appointments with her medical doctor, her therapist, her psychiatrist, and her nutritionist. And I realize that there are much more tragic ways this could have ended. And I’m happy to handle the tragedy of copays.
But today on our way to shop for back to school clothes, I finally had to ask. I knew I hadn’t found a note in her bedroom the days she was at the hospital. But I didn’t know if maybe she had hidden one so we wouldn’t find it until we packed up our dead daughter’s stuff. Or maybe it had been in her pocket that night and she could have thrown it away at the hospital. Did you leave a note? “No.” She didn’t leave a note.
So what does redemption look like now? How in Heaven will God buy this memory back so it doesn’t hold me hostage? How do I ever trust Grace isn’t suicidal next time she feels nauseated? When will I stop holding my breath watching to see her foot move when I wake her in the morning? I have to trust that God will someday give me peace again. And I can’t imagine all the mountains God moved to save Grace’s life that Friday night. So now I’m counting on Him to save her life every day, and that’s the peace I need from this darkness. For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins, Colossians 1:13-14.
Update…Healing from any mental illness is challenging and exhausting, and healing is rarely a straight upward climb out of the pit. But sometimes healing at least trends upward. Three and a half years after her attempt, Grace is doing well in college. Our family is humbled knowing that not all suicide attempts fail. Sometimes people die, and it’s a tragedy. Grace has learned how to let others know when she needs help. Sometimes even when we think we are paying attention, we can miss her cries for help, so it’s important that we ask her how she is doing. If you are struggling with thoughts of hurting yourself, we might not hear your cries. I’m so sorry we are caught up in our own lives. If you’re exhausted and you don’t have energy to ask for help, please try to reach out. It’s not fair to make you ask for help when you are in despair, but sometimes we miss the signs and we don’t want to lose you.
People are willing to help at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24-7.
Please call. 1-800-273-8255.
**Editor’s Note: We offered to keep all names of Sandie’s family anonymous, but she declined that offer saying, “Grace knows there are so many people who followed her story through the years and they prayed for her. She hasn’t been anonymous ever. And I don’t want to be anonymous; I’m too proud of my girls to not want people to know they are mine.”
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Your story was absolutely terrifying, but also the kind of story I know that affects more families than we realize. I’m in awe of your strength in sharing this, and I thank you on behalf of those who may be struggling with – or had struggled with – this kind of crisis. Thanks to God your story ends well!
Thank you for reading the blog and for your encouraging comment. Let continue to encourage one another to seek out mental health care
Heart wrenching and real and lovely and horrifying. Thank you for sharing this.
I appreciate you taking the time to read it. We need to be able to talk about this stuff. The consequences are tragic if we don’t.