My son committed suicide: Was I a failure as a parent?

Nothing much can compare to the loss of losing your own child. From the minute you become a parent; you protect your child.    

When they are infants, you sneak into their room to check if they are still breathing.   

When they start crawling, you put plastic protectors on sharp corners and locks on cupboards.  

We sacrifice our own social lives to drop them off and pick them up rather than allowing them to travel home on their own, and when they’re all grown up, we can’t sleep until we hear the key at the front door indicating that they are home.   

Soon enough, our own children mature into Adults and this “Adulting” thing is so much harder now than it ever was.  

A lot of our children today are suffocating trying to keep up with social norms and all the pressure around them.  

Sometimes, they do an impeccable job at hiding their pain and fears; they smile through it all and we would never know.  

Other times, however, we can clearly see the sadness in their eyes.  We can hear the hint of worry in their voice, but the truth is sometimes as parents we are not open or approachable to our children’s own fears.   

They deal with pent up frustrations and issues that are beyond them all alone.   

Slowly, the depression consumes them from the inside out, and soon enough we are forced to lower our own children to the grave after they have chosen to end their own lives.  

We spoke to Millicent (Name changed as per her request). A mother who recently lost her son to suicide.

Below is a detailed account of what she went through and how she got through it.  

Millicent

Simple words cannot really describe exactly how I feel about losing my son Kennedy.

Just a few short days after his death, I sat down to write his obituary.

31 wonderful years together reduced to a tiny column in the newspaper.

I remember in the beginning when I received the news of his death; I was just in shock!

I really didn’t feel sad. I just thought I was dreaming and for a few days, I was at a limbo. I did not cry.

When my sisters and I started looking through the family album, trying to choose Ken’s best photo for the obituary. I found myself staring at one of my favorite pictures of him.  

It was a photo of Ken on his fifth birthday.

He had a shiny blue party hat on his head and he was in the middle of all his classmates.

I remember that day so vividly. He was so happy because his cake was blue just like his hat.

In Ken’s eyes, blue was the most majestic color ever!

I remember the night before his birthday; I couldn’t even get him to sleep.

He was so excited; and when he finally shut his eyes, I saw a little smile dance across his thin lips.  

He was such a cartoon!

As I tucked him under his blankets, I whispered to him a promise that I would always make him happy.  

I felt the tears start to well up in my eyes.

How did I get here? Just the other day, I had the happiest boy in the world. Now here I am planning his funeral.

I suddenly burst into tears. I cried as I looked at the little boy in the picture.

“I’m sorry Ken, I let you down!”

Both my sisters surrounded me, wiping the tears off my face and rubbing my back.

They said to me it wasn’t my fault. They said it was his choice and there was nothing I could have done to save his life.  

However, the truth is, I knew Ken was sad, I knew he was hurting.  

wanting to die

Ken was my firstborn. He was the most positive, playful, bright-eyed, innocent, handsome child you could ever imagine; and even as he matured into his adolescent age, he never lost all his great qualities.  

I will not really get into detail about his life, but he had a tough couple of years.  

Ken was not the brightest in the class; he did not do so well in his Kenya Certificate of  Secondary Education (KCSE) exam but we managed to get him into a good private university and he graduated!  

It took him a while to settle into a good job, but finally, after he sent out what seemed like hundreds of resumes and sitting through a ton of interviews, Ken finally started working under a contract for a very good organization.

Unfortunately, his contract came to an end. The organization did not retain him and he was back home. Jobless.  

Ken however never considered himself jobless. He had such a strong passion for graphic design.   

Ever since he discovered computers and all the magic in graphic design, he realized he could earn quite a bit as a freelancer.

He spent a lot of time downloading new software’s, creating websites and designing them.  

To be honest, I don’t know much about graphic design. I didn’t even know my small business needed a website.  

But Ken created a really professional website for me and even though he didn’t ask, I paid him handsomely, for the job well done.   

He spent a lot of his time sending out his portfolio to different clients. He was always so excited when he landed a new project.  

He worked from home, in his room. He would wake up really early and put in extra hours working until late into the night.  

The pay, however, was never good enough. He had never shared with me how much he earns, but I knew it wasn’t enough to support him.  

He continued with his work as a freelance graphic designer, and each time he heard of a job opportunity he would send out his resume.

The world we live in

Now, we all know that the world we live in today can be really cruel. In this world, Success is defined by income.

Our worth and value on this earth depend on the jobs we have, the titles we hold and the money in our accounts.  

There is a quote I’ve seen over a hundred times – That “People ask what you do for a living so that they can calculate the level of respect you deserve.”

When you do not necessarily mention a lucrative career, a business or maybe your current position doesn’t seem like it earns you enough money, then you are basically announcing that you are a Loser!

Ken was 31. He had not yet really started excelling in his career and his passion for graphic design was not necessarily earning him enough money.

So, if anyone was to determine his value on this earth by his job or his title, he would definitely be considered a Loser.

unsuccessful man

What made it harder is that his younger siblings seemed to be getting their life together before him.

Job, who was only 2 years younger than him (29), had settled well in his new job, in fact, he had been working for years.

He had moved out of our home and his long-time girlfriend was pregnant.

Job had already mentioned that he would marry his girlfriend. We had already moved on from the itara (A traditional ceremony where the bride’s family get to see the nesting place for their daughter) and we had just started planning the ruracio (dowry payment at the bride’s home.)

The third born, our beautiful daughter June was out of the country on a university exchange program. She would be out of the country for a whole year. The youngest Paula had just joined Form Three and for the most part, she was away in boarding school.

Ken was both the oldest sibling and one of the oldest of 15+ cousins from my side of the family only. Everyone else including the younger ones, seemed to be moving on with their life and settling well, while Ken would probably be considered the ultimate late bloomer in the family.

I was worried about him. I worried if he would ever really succeed if he would ever be able to fly out of the nest.

I never really projected my fears onto him, but my husband did. His father would tell him he was disappointed and they would argue a lot!

Ken however never seemed too concerned. He never mentioned that his position in life bothered him at all. He always smiled, he was always bright-eyed and every day he worked harder.

There were a few times, Ken would get frustrated.

Sometimes, I could tell he was really sad. I knew he could get very angry and I saw him burst into temper tantrums.

But that would only last for a few short moments.

Soon enough he was back to himself; pretty comfortable and happy. At least I thought he was happy.  

Easter 2018

Over the Easter holidays last year, my husband and I traveled to Nyanyuki.

Ken said he wouldn’t join us for the trip which was not unusual. None of his cousins would be traveling upcountry anyway, so he preferred to stay home and enjoy the holiday with some friends.

On Sunday, just before we started our journey back to Nairobi, my husband called me to the outside kitchen.

That was when he told me the news. At first, we were told Ken had fallen from the balcony and he was unconscious. 

The neighbor was rushing him to the hospital.

At the time, my husband and I were not really worried. The distance from the balcony to the ground is really short. Our only concern was if he had broken a bone or hurt his spine.

The possibility of death was never on our minds.

It took us about 5 hours to drive from Nyanyuki to Nairobi. We got there at around 8:15pm.

We met with our neighbor at the parking lot and even before he said hello, I already knew it!

I could see it in his eyes. He had some bad news.

“Oh gosh, is it his spine? Did he hurt his spine?” I asked

“No,” he replied looking down, almost as if it hurt him to meet my eyes. 

Ken is gone. He’s dead!

It was at that moment when I felt everything around me shift. I felt the night getting darker, the wind getting colder.

My neighbor continued talking, explaining everything but my mind was only stuck on the words, “Ken is dead!”

I sat down on the ground, my breath was getting shorter, I was really struggling to breathe. Then as my husband tried to help me to my feet, I heard my neighbor mention,

He committed suicide.”

His words made me snap out of my situation, I was suddenly so confused.

Suicide?!” what an awful word.

Ken committed suicide?” “That’s a lie, Ken would never kill himself!

The word suicide kept ringing in my head over and over again. The word made me awful.

Like, there was something he needed, something I could have given him, but I didn’t.

And Lord knows I had given my son my everything I could. I had sacrificed so much for my boy. There was nothing he had ever lacked.

I immediately discounted my neighbors’ words. I believed Ken simply fell to the ground.

“Ken did not kill himself. It was an accident!” I said

As expected, an investigation into his death was opened and the officers came to visit our home. They went into his room all the way to the balcony.

The first thing they noticed in his bathroom was that the shower rail was loose. So the next thing they did was to search through all his items and in his drawer right between his trousers, they found a long thick rope (A rope I had never seen in the house before)

They visited the morgue and asked the pathologist to examine Ken’s body.

Just as they had suspected, Ken had deep scars and tight marks all around his neck.

A clear indication that he had tried to hang himself before.

It seemed as though, the shower rail only supported his weight for a few minutes; before it finally broke! And his First Suicide attempt failed.

The pathologist noted that the scars on his neck were at least one week old, at most 9 days old.

I simply could not believe it!

Wasn’t I home with Ken 9 days ago? Didn’t we eat dinner together, watch Tv and laugh and talk almost every night of the previous week?

There was no way Ken had ever tried to commit suicide on any of those days. I was with him. I never saw any scars on his neck.

“Why were they lying?”

Next, it was determined, that if someone was to fall from the balcony, naturally (even if the individual was asleep) the body would react trying to break the fall.

It is more likely that the person would fall on his hands or legs, breaking a few bones.    

My neighbor, however, saw the whole thing from his veranda.

He said Ken had been sitting on the balcony for at least an hour and a half. (Which was normal, Ken would occasionally sit on the balcony, relax and enjoy the sun.)

There was never any reason to be alarmed.

That was until he fell to the ground.

He said Ken, did not simply slip from the balcony.

He tucked himself and rolled his body in a way that would make him land head first. His actions were intentional and calculated. He wanted his skull to crack open the moment he landed.

The investigation was closed and his death has finally ruled a suicide.

For a long time, I did not accept that my son had committed suicide. That he actually chose to end his life.

Having to tell our children that their brother died was so unfair!

It was out of the natural order of life. Our kids were meant to grow old together.

I told my sister that Ken had tried to hang himself a week before and I didn’t even know. “I was with him all of last week and I didn’t even notice the scars on his neck.”

He must have been in such tremendous pain and I had no idea.

“What kind of a mother was I?” I questioned myself every single second.

I had never really paid attention to the words; Mental illness or Depression.

I never ever thought I would be affected by it let alone my children.

I had always cared for my kids. I always protected them and loved them deeply, and even as they grew older, I made sure they knew, I was always going to be there for them.

Now here I was dealing with the empty chair in the house, a permanent loss in my heart.

I couldn’t stop thinking that I was the one to blame. I should have been able to look into Ken’s eyes, to see all the dark thoughts present.

I wish he could come back.

I wish I could hug him and all the pain would go away.

black man tried to commit suicide

 

After Ken’s death, I was helpless to respond to all the painful words that were spoken in hushed tones around me.

“It was a selfish act.”  

“Didn’t she see the signs? He was obviously depressed!”

“Is he in heaven?”

“I wonder what went wrong in the family.”

The words held me hostage under grief so powerful, I could hardly breathe.

After the funeral, after we lay Ken to rest, the rest of the world just seemed to move on.

I, on the other hand, remained completely stuck at the moment.

I couldn’t help but blame myself. 

I had feelings of anger towards him for doing what he did, but more than anything I felt sad and my heart ached for him. I was drowning in grief. Sometimes I would wake up and I didn’t even know what day it was. Simple tasks like getting out of bed or taking tea seemed impossible.  

In short bursts of time when I could focus, I read books like “I’m Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help,” “The Burden of Sympathy – how families cope with mental illness,”

That was when I bumped into a site called Therapy Options – Kenya. The site connected me to my psychologist, who literally helped me overcome my grief.

TherapyOptions.co.ke  is an online platform and I was receiving counseling simply from the comfort of my own home, on my phone and sometimes on my computer.

I will admit at first, I did not want any counseling or therapy.

Frankly, I did not want the ache to disappear!

The grief was proof that I loved my son deeply and unconditionally. With or without a job, with or without any money.  

My youngest daughter was also in so much pain. Her body showed plenty and stress-induced tears. She couldn’t study, Ken was her best friend and now he was gone forever!

Together as a family, we sought mental health care. And so it began; Life without my son.

Therapy brought us closer and closer together as a family. It allowed us to open up the dialogue and speak about everything. The way we were hurting, all our fears and all our worries.

We put behind the shame and the stigma we were facing from others and focused on moving forward. 

There is no blame in suicide only sadness and loss. We will never really understand suicide but there is a sadness and loss attached to it, especially when it knocks at your doorstep.

As we continued with therapy, the waves of grief became smaller, then smaller still.

I will forever grieve my son and the life he was supposed to have – along with the life I was supposed to have with him.

I understand that my pain will be life long. As a family, we do not necessarily move on. The loss simply becomes part of us, but the days I feel completely engulfed by sorrow and tears are fewer than before.

I wanted to let everyone know, whatever you are facing, whatever has made you depressed is in all probability not much compared to what you will leave behind if you choose to take your own life.

Just don’t do it, please!

Seek help, just talk to someone.

The website TherapyOptions.co.ke really helped my family and I.

None of us ever had to walk into an office for therapy.

It’s an online platform, so as soon as I was alone in my quiet area; all I had to do was login from my phone.

Therapy really got me through a lot. I’d suggest an online therapy session for everyone. Even if you’re not feeling down and depressed, a single session will not hurt.

therapy options

The world seems to be in a state of ‘every man for himself’, but there are people who care and who understand the growing pressures of this world. Therapy options are one of many who understand this so don’t suffer alone, talk to someone. Vulnerability doesn’t always signify weakness, sometimes, being vulnerable could be the beginning of your new life.

Candid Conversations – Kenya makes it a priority to share different stories and discuss different opinions which often go unreported. We are determined to inform readers about threats, consequences, and solutions based on facts and not political prejudice or business interests. 

This website is editorially independent allowing anyone to share their stories with us. This is vital as it allows us to give a voice to those less heard, challenge the powerful and hold them to account.

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Author:

#ChokoraCulture is a movement created to raise awareness on the issues affecting street kids in Kenya. What many people do not understand is that we have children getting tied up and raped as they sleep. Young girls are forced into relationships, in an attempt to remain unharmed while others are getting pregnant and going into labor right on the streets. #ChokoraCulture unpacks a lot of their vulnerabilities and their lifestyle as we seek to join a number of Organizations, and Friends who can honestly help us do something. You can join the movement by simply sharing some of their stories on your social media platforms, using the Hashtag #ChokoraCulture. Let us raise awareness and help in any way that we can

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