Losing a child to suicide; a Father’s perspective
On January 3rd, 2010 my youngest son David took his own life at age 30. He was bright, funny, captain of his high school golf team, served his country in the U.S. Army, earned a degree in Business Administration and was married to a wonderful supportive woman and, by all standards, he was doing it right; so what went wrong?
When we lost my son, we were shocked but not surprised because he had a history of depression going back to childhood. In 1983, my then wife and I were planning on making a move with our three children after going through some difficult times during the economic downturn of the early 80’s. While packing to make the move, she decided to leave and abandoned me and our three children. On the day she left she walked out of the house with David in her arms, he was 3 ½ years old. As she walked out she stopped by me and placed David in my arms and while he was screaming and clawing at the air crying out for his mother, she turned her back, walked over to and got into the car then drove off. I believe this event is what may have set things in motion.
He started to develop periods of deep sadness and during one of those periods when he was around 6; I asked him what was wrong. During our conversation he told me he felt that his mother left because of him; and when I asked him why he felt that way he told me it was because he was stupid. After hearing that, I knew it was time to get all three kids into counseling. After the kids had completed counseling things seem to settle down, and the older 2 appeared to be adjusting well but David still seemed to have this deep sadness, or to be more accurate depression, which would follow him the rest of his life.
After eight years of being a single parent, I married my wife Denise and knowing we were taking on a momentous task of blending two families we attended family counseling and our kids gelled exceptionally well, referring to themselves as the “Bratty Bunch.” Things seemed to be going well until Middle School when David was again showing signs of depression, and we immediately got him into counseling where he was prescribed anti-depressants and seemed to come out of it and doing well overall.
Right after high school David started college but that wasn’t going anywhere for him, and he became frustrated. He told me what he wanted was to join the State Police, but he was too young, and my advice to him was to visit the State Police recruiter, which he did, and was advised that one of the best paths to the State Police was through the military. He decided to join the Army but about half way through his enlistment his depression reared its ugly head again. He went AWOL and after a hard search, we located him in Windsor, Canada and got him home. He told us that his intent was to kill himself. We were able to settle him down, he returned to his Post and with proper treatment and medication he overcame it and seemed to be doing very well as indicated earlier, so what went wrong?
As with many things, there is a chain of events and the worst link in this chain was that he stopped taking his medication. On the night of January 2nd, 2010 he and his wife went out for dinner and drinks and a few things went on that most people would think were insignificant misunderstandings we all have. But in this case, he was off his medication and those normally insignificant things, fueled by alcohol, took on a life of their own and the downward spiral began. In the early hours of January 3rd things had spun out of control to the point he could see no way out. His last words to the world were in a Facebook post; “Got to go with your gut”, and then he then ended his life.
Q & A from CBHC:
- Did you see any warning signs? Yes, from an early age.
- How did you seek help for your surviving family and yourself? I believe in leading by example and sought grief counseling with the encouragement and support of my wife. We encouraged our other children to do the same.
- What is the most important statement you can tell a parent surviving the loss of a child from suicide? Seek out a good grief counselor and talk. While friends and family are a good support system, a trained grief counselor can help with coping skills.
- What was your best coping skill? Mine started out from the beginning. While we were shocked, we weren’t surprised due to past history. I put together the David Luke Andrews Memorial Fund and all donations go to research and treatment of depression. I wanted something positive to come out of this to honor his memory. Knowing that the money raised is used to help other families not to suffer this type of tragedy gives me peace.
- What support systems have helped you the most? My wife, who was always there to listen and encourage me.
There is one final point I’d like to make; depression does not respect age, class, color, wealth, social standing or anything for that matter. One of the 20th century’s greatest leaders, Sir Winston Churchill, suffered from depression referring to it as his “Black Dog” and once wrote; “I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand right back and if possible get a pillar between me and the train. I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything. A few drops of desperation.”
Unfortunately, even when we are aware that someone is suffering from depression, we never can know when those “few drops of desperation” may set off a chain of events that ends in suicide. It’s even worse when the person suffering hides it so well that we are unaware of it until the unthinkable happens. We can work to prevent it, and it starts with an honest conversation and education on mental illness.