Surviving my mother’s suicide

After Chester Bennington’s suicide, I have come across a series of posts and discussions on the topic on Facebook, and elsewhere, with people calling the act selfish while paying special attention to the children who have now been left behind to deal with the trauma.

Everyone is so quick to jump on the topic as if they knew the Linkin Park singer and his family; as if they knew his kids and how they felt. Even in writing this, I have no idea what type of person he was, how ill he was, what he was like as a person, or a father, but as someone who is the child of a parent who committed suicide I feel I can and should shed light on the child’s perspective — an area that’s not often talked about.

As a child of a parent who committed suicide; I can tell you that suicide is not a selfish act. It is in fact quite the opposite in the mind of the person who is suffering. They believe that taking their own life is doing their family, friends and communities a big favor because they see themselves as an unbearable burden. They believe that once they are gone from the picture, everyone’s lives will be easier, happier and better. This belief leaves them with massive guilt resulting in self-deprecation, thinking about what others are or might be going through in handling their illness. And yes, people who have suicidal ideation are suffering from mental illness. They do not ask to be struck with depression, anxiety, fear or psychosis, any more than a person with cancer has “asked” to be struck with that disease. Nor, is this their fault. Mental illness can and does strike people across all walks of life; the wealthy, the poor, the successful and the average.

It’s no secret that it is extremely difficult to live with and be around someone who has severe mental health issues.This was especially true in the time before the internet when you couldn’t turn to Google to help you figure it all out. Until my mother’s death, it was near impossible to understand her moods and behaviors, even with the experts intervening and all the resources at my disposal. She just couldn’t seem to stop the vicious mental battle with herself that she was fighting alone inside her head, and all the external consequences that resulted from it.

Yet, one thing, and maybe the only thing, that was always clear to me is that she loved my brother and I an indescribable amount. She would do anything in the world if she thought it would give us a better life, including committing the most extreme act of taking her own. Again, I never knew Chester, but I’m sure if he was a good dad, he would have felt the same, and his children would know that now too.

I won’t lie and say that not having to constantly worry about my mother isn’t a relief. It was hard and scary at times, especially after three or four failed attempts at suicide and wondering if this time would be it. Living with constant worry about someone you love is hard, and that goes for anything, whether it’s mental illness, eating disorders, addiction or something else that impacts someone’s ability to “live a normal life.”

What was harder though, was witnessing my mom struggle with being unable to be the parent she so desperately wanted to be for my brother and I. My mother was driven to get better, taking advantage of the best resources and doctors out there. Her determination, however, wasn’t enough. The illness overtook her and she lost the battle with her illness. She fought the disease affecting her mind every single day in an attempt to be happy and find the joys in what would appear on the outside to be a very happy life.

I have trouble reading the comments surrounding the “great life,” many people assume Chester had because of his fame, wealth, friends, family and so on that basically “went to waste.” This idea that someone should be happy because of all they may have is valid, for the person who does not suffer from mental illness, perhaps. For them, it just takes a shift in perspective to realize all of the amazing aspects of their life. Unfortunately, that’s generally not the case for someone with mental illness. No matter how hard they try they just can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, or can’t hold onto it long enough to change the way they view the world, and their place in it.

Also, there’s so much talk about what it will be like now for Chester’s kids not to have their father in their life, but no one looks at the impact of having him in their lives. My mother’s constant struggle impacted me from a very early age as I mimicked her moods and behaviors, learning from her what was right or wrong, good or bad. When things that are good in life are perceived as bad, that becomes what’s normal. Her rationale for why she felt the way she did made sense to me because I didn’t know any better. It took many years to understand, that her thinking wasn’t normal.

Understand, I don’t think that having my mother absent from my life was better for me at all, and I’m not saying that for Chester’s kids either. I just want everyone to have a better understanding of what it means to survive a parent as a result of suicide. It is sad that my mother missed my graduation, and that she won’t be there for my wedding or my first child. It sucks that she will miss all the other major milestones in my life and all the little ones in between. But, as my mother’s daughter, I know if she truly believed she could continue to live the life she was living, she would have and would still be here.