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A Parent’s Grief, Disbelief, Readjustment, and Discovery (suicide of an only child)

by Carolyn C. Zahnow
July 2012

My only child died by suicide in 2005. That sentence alone is enough to make me, as well as you the reader, stop in their tracks. Yet I have learned how to cope with my grief as well as the facts of how my son died but it was no cakewalk, I can tell you that!

Cameron died as a result of many factors which is true for most people who kill themselves. I feel the first factor was when his birth dad died. Cameron was 14, almost 15, years old. He was there when his dad took his last breath.

His father and I divorced when Cameron was two but I felt the pain of his death as well since I then lost the ability to call and ask what to do about Cameron when he was acting like a teenager. I had my husband to help during trying times, but as Cameron was close to his dad, I could call and ask him to talk sense into his son.

Cameron’s grief, I felt, spiraled into depression which manifested into major depression. I took him to mental health professionals for help but he usually outmaneuvered them as teens will do.

I now feel that perhaps I should have sought grief counseling for him which might have alleviated the need for therapists, psychologists, and a psychiatrist. Unfortunately no one suggested this.

A year after his dad died, it was evident that Cameron was using drugs to self-medicate. The drugs turned into an addiction. His drug of choice, meth, lead him to become paranoid and thinking that his own death was the answer to all his problems.

I found my son early in the morning on Thursday August 11, 2005 – he had hung himself from a rafter in our attic. It’s been nine years now on this road of grief, disbelief, readjustment, and discovery for me.

The reality of what had happened sent me running to a support group for others who had lost someone they cherished to suicide. After attending a couple of sessions, I learned I needed to deal with the death of my son first and tackle the issue of suicide afterward.

My husband and I attended a six-week Hospice grief group. This group helped me tremendously and made me accept some hard, cold facts. Such as my future had forever changed. I would never be neither a grandmother nor mother of the groom nor see my son graduate from college. I cried freely at one of the meetings when I realized these facts. It still saddens me especially in the spring when graduations and weddings are in abundance.

The disbelief of finding my son was overbearing. I had a difficult time understanding why my son, who was in the highpoint of his life, would want to end it suddenly. I remember my teenage years with fondness as I had a great time with friends and had many wonderful experiences. I knew he suffered from depression and was using drugs, both of which I tried to help him overcome. But I failed and the drug of his choice won over. Meth had its mighty claws in my son and its effects overrode his logic system. He no longer cared about his family, friends, anything. He just wanted to do more meth. I hate this drug!

I found I had to readjust after his death. If I no longer had my son to provide the future I had hoped for, like most parents, with proudness in my heart and grandchildren to spoil, I had to learn to be a new me. I had to force myself to find something to live for because, quite frankly, after Cameron died I had the desire to do the same (die).

Daffodils make me smile in the spring so that was one thing. I also love one of my sisters very much so I found her to be another reason to stay around. She is childless as well so I knew she would help with this my journey of loss. My husband still needed me, so I stay for him. And our sweet little rescue dog, Sheila, that we adopted the year before Cameron died, has become our little ray of sunshine. We adore her.

During my rediscovery process, I discovered my love for writing return and an urge to help others in some way. I journaled every morning to release the demons that occupied my mind asking me “why?” “what if?” over and over. I encourage others to try journaling as a release for pent-up emotions as well.

I was also compelled to research all the topics that concerned the loss of my son: suicide, depression, mental illness, drug addiction, and methamphetamine. I poured over various books on mental illness and disorders and websites learning more and more until finally I determined had enough information for a book.

While attending the survivors of suicide support group, I kept hearing parents say “If only I’d seen the signs then maybe I could have saved my son/daughter.” Just hearing this sentence being repeated, sent me down the road I am currently on – one to teach parents and mentors (as well as teens) the signs of teen depression and substance abuse. I speak at every available opportunity and locale in order to save teens and others. My platform is called Save the Teens – which started with the publication of my book, Save the Teens: Preventing suicide, depression and addiction, but that is also my goal now.

I also started a survivors of suicide support group five years ago which has been a godsend for many folks who have lost a loved one to suicide. Our group, Wake Forest (NC) Survivors of Suicide has become a small family who help each other during this most confusing time in their life. We welcome new attendees most months. We hold a walk in the fall which brings together others who don’t attend the group. It’s a day of healing for many survivors.

And to come full circle, I am in the throes of starting a grief center where people ages 6 to 99 can come and receive help on their journey of grief. My dream is that the Shore Grief Center will become an oasis for many.

So no matter where you are along your journey of grief, know that hope follows and is within your reach. Think of hope as low hanging fruit tempting you to grab it. It’s okay, take a bite out of life and enjoy it to the best of your ability.

About the Author: Carolyn C. Zahnow is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur all in the name of saving others. She lost her only child to suicide in 2005 while living in Flower Mound, TX. She returned to her native North Carolina after his death and now lives in Youngsville with her husband Dan and their dog, Sheila. She is CEO of The Shore Grief Center. You can reach Carolyn Zahnow at 919.368.6286 or Carolyn@save-the-teens.com.