Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Barbara Swanston, Mother of Terry, Talks About What Helps Her

photo by Jean Ann Williams

How would you like people to respond to you when they find out Terry had died by suicide?

Keep it simple. 

Say you are sorry, that it must be terrible to lose a child, or just say you don’t know what to say and ask if there is anything I need. I needed people to call me, not wait to hear from me. 

People often told me they had been thinking about me but didn’t want to bother me. I asked them to please call me if they thought about me. That I could not pick up the phone yet I needed to hear from friends. 

Ask how I am doing, offer to help, do something concrete – take me grocery shopping, cook a meal, help with the garden – I could hardly function in the beginning. 

And just listen to me. 

Now when I meet anyone who has lost a loved one I always ask them the name of the person they lost (if I don’t know it), and I often ask them to tell me something they would like me to know about him or her. Nearly everyone wants to talk about their child, but people are uncomfortable and rarely ask.  Please ask me about Terry, and don’t worry if I get upset – that is okay.

What have you done to help yourself since the tragic death of your son Terry?

The first year was terrible; I was mostly in a grief pit and could not get out.  I survived. The second year was a little easier although little things, or nothing at all, would blindside me. However it began to get less intense, more manageable, in tiny increments. 

Coming up to the second anniversary I began to write and ended up writing what I call ‘An Open Letter from a Grieving Parent.’ I sent that out to lots of people and was astonished by the responses, especially from people who shared their own experiences with depression or other mental illnesses and stigma. Also people who had thought about or even attempted suicide. 

I realized there were a huge number of people out there who were hurting and silent because of the stigma. I felt I could begin to make a difference, take the terrible tragedy of my son’s death and help others. So now I have become what I call a Suicide Awareness Advocate. 

Thank you, Barbara. Tomorrow, you'll talk about other ways you bring awareness of suicide to society.

Father, we thank You for Your merciful love and ways. You always stay the same and are Someone we can count on. In Jesus' holy name. Amen.

Until tomorrow . . . reach out to a grieving person and listen.  

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