"Losing a child to suicide leaves a big impact on those left behind as we question why and we question ourselves. How did we not see the signs? How could we have stopped it from happening?"
Story by Liz Temperton.
Our Son Ben was born a healthy 9 pound, 10 ounce baby who grew into an inquisitive toddler and was enamoured by the world around him. Ben was adored by everyone who met him with his curly blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. Ben’s childhood was spent travelling around NZ in a house bus lovingly built by his dad. His playground was wherever we were parked at the time, often with a beautiful beach as the backdrop to his games.
Ben’s early school days were good, he was popular and seemed at ease among his many friends. However, high school became a battle ground for a sensitive soul like Ben, he often felt he didn’t fit in and became a target for bullying. Subsequently, Ben’s teenage years became troubled and he struggled to cope as his mental illness manifested. During this time Ben would use alcohol to stop certain thoughts and voices invading his mind.
We were living in a small town and I found coping with a son with mental illness to be very isolating as there were not a lot of support resources available. There were times when I found myself crying from the frustration of trying to find help for Ben. Also I found the stigma that surrounds mental illness made it hard to share with people who did not understand. Mostly, I wanted to protect my son from any judgments of people around him.
I also felt a lot of guilt in regards to my other two children who had to cope with their lives amidst the turmoil of having a brother who was mentally ill. But as a family we just didn’t have the skills or resources to properly cope. During Ben’s illness when he was having what we now know were psychotic episodes, such as believing people were talking on the television when it wasn’t turned on, or when he told me he could hear people’s thoughts, I found it at times difficult to comprehend. It was so hard seeing my intelligent and caring son turn into a person I didn’t recognise anymore.
After trying natural alternatives to treatment as well as seeing numerous psychologists, we eventually resorted to medication. This seemed to help his illness, though he experienced a lot of side effects and hated being medicated. Often the medication made him so tired and absent, he was unable to fully participate in life. It was so difficult seeing him struggle with the side effects of the medication, but it also seemed to be the only thing that could help his illness at the time.
After high school, Ben embarked on a writing course online to fulfil his dream of becoming a scriptwriter and producing movies. Even though there was a lot of delusional thinking over those years, the writing helped him stay grounded and gave Ben a sense of purpose. He also excelled in his course, attaining mostly A grades and consistently getting great feedback from his tutors. Ben appeared to be doing well at this time, however, he hated taking medication for his illness. He would often would tell me his medication made him feel numb and he found he couldn’t concentrate on his course and writing. Therefore, after consulting with his doctor, he decided to stop taking his medication.
It was in 2009, shortly after Christmas and New Years and only a couple of months after taking himself off his medication, that Ben sadly ended his life.
Losing a child to suicide leaves a big impact on those left behind as we question why and we question ourselves. How did we not see the signs? How could we have stopped it from happening? For me, there is the guilt I feel as a mother for not being able to save my son. But the worst is the reality of no longer having Ben here physically and no longer being able to see and speak to him everyday.
The impact of Ben taking his own life is ongoing for me and probably always will be. After he died my life changed dramatically. During the first year after his death, I isolated myself from friends and family. I found that I had lost a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities as a person and mother. Over the years I have also suffered bouts of anxiety and depression and have wondered what sort of mother I was to my two other children during this time as they had to go through the grief process themselves, which I know had a big impact on their lives too.
As the cliché goes “ you learn to live with the grief and loss” and life carries on. And life has carried on. I have been fortunate in that I have a loving husband and amazing children, as well as family and friends who have helped me through.
I am a very private person when it comes to sharing my grief & loss. It has been hard for me to share Ben’s story and the impact it has had on me and my family. But as a society we need to be more open and receptive to asking for help when we need it. We also need to be able to acknowledge when things are not good, rather than constantly wearing a mask and saying “I’m OK”, when underneath you are not.
Over the years I have struggled to cope with the loss of Ben, but I survive by remembering him and still feeling him close to me every day. Next year marks 10 years in January 2019, and we hope to have a celebration that embodies the amazing son and person Ben was.