SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Carla Nation, a local mother and suicide awareness advocate, knows how difficult it can be to heal after losing a loved one to suicide.
Her oldest son, Bobby, lost his battle with depression in 2015. It is a sudden and painful loss that leaves feelings of guilt, blame, and isolation. It often creates complicated grief conditions and trauma in situations many find difficult to discuss. Those left behind are commonly referred to as “suicide survivors.” So how does a survivor navigate these feelings, and how do others support them?
Nation founded “Bobby’s Garden: Where Love is Always in Bloom” to honor her son’s memory. The memorial rock garden started with a custom angel statue and a stone with Bobby’s name. She initially intended only to include those lost to suicide. The garden has grown to more than 500 memorial stones as awareness grew. Family and friends have contacted her from across the world to add the names of their lost loved ones to the garden.
Harvard Health says more than 45,000 people a year take their own lives in the U.S. They say for every death, it’s estimated there are six or more ‘suicide survivors’ who lost someone they loved. Losing a loved one is difficult, but suicide creates unique challenges. The grief and guilt can be overwhelming.
“After it happened, I remember walking into the hospital and seeing my son. The doctors came down and told us it was an unsurvivable injury, and I felt defeated. I felt like I had failed him as a mother because it had been a long, long battle with him battling diabetes, and depression, and bi-polarism. But if I had to put one word on how I felt at that moment, I felt like a complete failure,” said Nation.
According to Harvard Health, when a person dies by suicide, there are often intense feelings of anger, rejection, and abandonment. Survivors are often reluctant to talk about their loss due to the social and religious stigma attached to suicide.
Veteran’s Affairs of San Diego researcher Ph.D. Ilanit Tal Young says suicide survivors are at higher risk of developing depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal behaviors. Dr. Young says parents that lose a child to suicide report more feelings of guilt, shame, and responsibility than spouses or children.
Nation says it’s necessary to normalize and openly address suicide prevention. She says there needs to be more advertising and awareness of the support resources available to those struggling.
The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline says it’s vital that survivors find a support group so they don’t have to cope with their loss alone. Friends, therapists, and other community support are essential resources for survivors.
Bobby’s garden became a source of support and community for what Nation refers to as “angel moms,” or women who have lost children. The garden is not only home to the names of those lost. It is full of lights.
“Our angels will never be in the dark,” said Nation. “If you ever come by at night, it is lit up so bright that the angels can see it from heaven. I’m sure.”
Some resources in the ArkLaTex for those struggling with suicidal ideation or suicide loss include:
- The Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas chapters of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- Local church GriefShare recovery groups
- Northwest Louisiana Human Services
- Riverview Behavioral Health in Texarkana, Ark.
- Shreveport Behavioral Health Clinic
- Natchitoches Behavioral Health Clinic
- Minden Behavioral Health Clinic
If someone you know lost a loved one to suicide, the lifeline suggests empathy during holidays, birthdays, and other events that may emphasize their absence. They say it’s important to accept their feelings with compassion and patience, providing empathy without judgment. The lifeline suggests using the name of the person who died when talking with survivors, making it easier to discuss and showing they are not forgotten.
A new three-digit number for the lifeline, 988, launched in July. The number makes it easier for those struggling to remember and call for help.