Hope After Suicide
by Nancy Wickett
The phone rang. It was 7:34 am. I grabbed it before it rang the second time. (Had I been asleep, I wondered?) It was my husband, Don.
“Is Philip in his room?” he asked.
“Is the van home?”
“Yes, why?” My heart started beating faster.
Don blurted out… “I just got this email he sent to all of us and it says, ‘Goodbye Forever…’”
My heart sank. I dropped the phone. I quickly went to the hall–Philip’s bedroom door was OPEN! He was gone. I told Don to come home and get me.
I’m not sure how I got through the next 8 to 10 minutes waiting on my husband. I prayed. Philip lived alone in an apartment, but he had stayed the night with us. And we spent a lot of time talking and listening to him. He had been depressed. I assured him that things would get better.
We arrived to Apartment E, and his door was locked. We banged on his door and no answer. I told Philip we wouldn’t be angry at him–“PLEASE open the door…”
Don went to get the manager to open the door. Philip was lying face down on his living room floor. He had used a gun to kill himself. I will never forget that horrible sight. It is embedded in my mind forever. My precious baby boy was was dead. Philip was 23. It was Thursday, March 1, 2007.
I was in shock! How could I go on living without Philip in my life? I saw him almost every day. He was my youngest child. I knew he was ill. He had been seeing a psychiatrist for two years and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He also talked about suicide but always promised he would never kill himself. I prayed for Philip — without ceasing it seemed — to be healed.
Philip started showing signs of depression when he was 20. He had moved out of our house and into his own apartment about one mile away. We thought he might just be lonely in his apartment. He still came home every day. He also complained about back pain and leg pain. Sometimes he walked with a noticeable limp. He said the medication helped at times and other times it didn’t.
He began talking about suicide. We were frantic. We met with the psychiatrist who told us Philip was too bright and his IQ was too high; assuring us that Philip wouldn’t kill himself. I didn’t buy that. I begged Philip to see another psychiatrist, but he liked this doctor and wouldn’t change. I listened to Philip tell me he hated his life and how he wanted to die. I prayed with him and for him. I promised him that those feelings would pass. Things would get better. He would have days that were a little bit better every once in awhile – that was such a relief to see! But then, the blackness of depression would drape over his whole body again. And I would see my son drown. I couldn’t save him. My love wasn’t enough.
The perfect storm was brewing. A relationship with a girlfriend ended. Philip had a well-paying job at a computer company, but he was unhappy there. He just quit showing up for work. After attempts to get him to come back, the company fired him. Philip was involved in a car accident. He called me to pick him up because his car would no longer run. We assured him that night that he could drive another vehicle and that everything would work out in time. Apparently we didn’t convince him.
I worried about Philip, and he knew I did. I shared my faith with him often. He knew I prayed for him. I actually told Philip I could never live without him. He promised me that I wouldn’t have to.
I am hesitant to say I lost Philip, because I didn’t really “lose” him. I know where he is — Philip is healed now in Heaven. He is no longer in pain and has no more tears. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4
After he killed himself, I never thought I could go on. I barely did. I was in shock, and that protected me for a long while. I was a walking zombie for over a year. Even after that first year, I couldn’t stop sobbing. All I could think about was Philip, and how desperately I missed him! It was the worst pain imaginable. The days were long and lonely – the nights were the same. I either slept all the time, or could not sleep for many days. I gained 50 pounds. I was agitated and mean-spirited towards my family. I hurt them. It was a miserable time.
As a suicide griever, I would face the stigma of suicide often. The pastor had told us that God was waiting for Philip with open arms. I held onto what he said. I found out that many church-goers were raised to believe that anyone who dies by suicide goes to hell. I reminded them that this is not based on any Bible scripture. Suicide is not an unpardonable sin. Healthy people do not want to die. People who complete suicide are ill.
I questioned what I could have done differently and I blamed myself. Even though Philip had left us a long handwritten letter full of love and many caring thoughts, I was still left with the question, “why?” Suicide grief includes a lot of guilt and shame along with the pain and suffering.
Someone asked me if I had forgiven Philip. “Why?” I asked. “He was ill” …would I need to forgive him if he had died from cancer? I thought. I gave the question more consideration. No mother should ever have to bury her child…ever… No parent should have to. Philip was ill, yes. I still had to forgive him for the pain he had put me through. But even more, I needed Philip to forgive ME for failing him as a Mom. I was supposed to protect him from all things bad and evil. I was supposed to keep him safe. I could not fix his problems and make things all better for him. I needed God to forgive me too. I did so many things wrong. So pleading for Philip’s forgiveness and for God to forgive me was overwhelming. It was very easy to forgive my son Philip for completing suicide. He didn’t kill himself to cause me pain. He did it to end his. I forgive him. I also had to forgive myself.
The legacy Philip left was one of love. Philip won’t be defined by the way he died, but in the manner of how he lived. He was high-spirited and loved others in a big way. Sometimes he hugged me full force and tried to lift me up as he squeezed, or sometimes he would just gently kiss me on the forehead when he said goodbye. Everyone knew Philip for his sense of humor and the way he could make you laugh. He was generous. He would help just about anyone in need. He was so compassionate and kind. He was a computer wiz and an amazing singer. He was loyal to his family and stayed in close contact. He was 6′-4″ tall, and I looked up to my son in so many ways. I am very proud of him.
Since Philip’s suicide, I have been active in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention “Out of the Darkness Walks” with my husband Don, raising $1,580 to date for TEAM PHILIP HAGAN WICKETT. (www.afsp.org)
I have also found that people do not like to discuss suicide even though it is the second-leading cause of death for people ages 15-29. It happens every 40 seconds around the world. I try to offer other grieving moms encouragement, hope, understanding, and empathy on Facebook support groups called Mothers of Suicide and Mothers Against Suicide.
I finally feel like I can reach out to others and offer hope. I am becoming more involved with a suicide prevention program, HeartlLine of Oklahoma. (www.heartlineoklahoma.org)
Also, I have begun to share my life as a volunteer tutor. I have helped two elementary girls with reading skills in the last three years at Whiz Kids. (www.whizkidsok.org)
Things are easier. The pain is less raw; it has softened. My mind is not consumed with thoughts of Philip like it once was. I miss Philip and think of him often every day. I think about all the things Philip is missing and that makes me sad. I always assumed that his bipolar disorder was temporary. But I will never know for sure. I only know that I hated to see him suffer with such despair and anguish. He is now at peace with God.
We have a picture above our mantle I bought several years before Philip died. You see Jesus’ face embracing someone in a hug. Underneath that the caption reads “Come to Me!” With the Bible verse “[I will] bind up all the brokenhearted… [and] comfort all who mourn…” Isaiah 61: 1-2
No one will EVER replace Philip in my life. He is my son. I know the true meaning of being brokenhearted. Suicide grief over a child is horrible…and seems unbearable. Only God makes it bearable.
I could not have survived without God’s comfort He provided me. I never thought I would smile or laugh again. I’ve been blessed to have family stick by my side and love me when I wasn’t very lovable. I am so thankful for that. I have a grateful heart. I survived the horrible suicide of my son and this grief journey. My surviving child James and his wife have blessed me with two amazing little granddaughters. They bring me much JOY! It’s awesome to be their Nana! I never thought I would feel joy again. I do!
I will never “get over” Philip’s suicide. I am not the same person. I would rather go the rest of my life missing Philip than never having him in my life at all. It is such a blessing to be his Mom. I will miss him forever.
If you, or anyone you know, feels hopeless or depressed or just needs to talk to someone…PLEASE CALL the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).