Our Boy Brett by Bonnie Swade

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It is another December and this year marks the 14th year since our oldest son Brett took his life. In some respects it seems like yesterday as I can still recall our youngest son’s voice on the phone that he found his brother in our gazebo. We were in Chicago at the time visiting our daughter. I thought, “found him in our gazebo”? Why wasn’t a doctor called? Did somebody harm him? Was this a mistake? Then the realization hit that he took his own life. How could that be? We had plans to have our Hanukah Party in a few days. Did he not want to be with his family? What was so terrible in his life that he chose to end it? What could we have done that might have saved him?

We got our things together, gathered our dogs, and headed back home. Our daughter and family would leave later in the day. The eight-and- a-half hour car ride seemed endless. There was no conversation, no radio, just the sound of my crying. We were greeted when we returned home by family, friends, and dinner. Food seems to be the denominator for making things better. I didn’t want to eat, talk, or be consoled. Basically, I wanted to be left alone to process this devastating realization. He was gone and I would never hear his “Hey, Mom.” I would never feel his touch, watch him grow older, see him interact with his brother and sisters, play with his niece or nephews, have a family of his own, and he would never see us as
we grew older. Losing a child is out of sync with the universe. Parents are not supposed to see their children die before them.

Our rabbi called us and we had to make funeral arrangements. In the Jewish faith burial or cremation is not put off. The rabbi asked us if it would be all right to mention Brett’s death as being a suicide. Looking back now, I guess we were ahead of the times, as we saw no reason to keep it a secret. So plans were in place and we had his service. Relatives and friends offered condolences and their lives went back to normal. Ours became a new normal. Not having children at home, our house was deadly quiet. My husband handled his grief by working in his workshop. I handled mine playing the “what if” and the would’ve, should’ve game. Communication was very limited between us and I honestly thought about divorce. After all, how could I be married to a man that didn’t seem to care?

I found a counselor that I really admired and she helped me put how people grieve into perspective. I was on one end of the spectrum and my husband on the other. She explained that because he wasn’t grieving like me he was grieving in his own way. We found a support group that helped both of us. After attending the group for almost a year we decided to look into facilitating a group. We got trained and have been facilitating a group since.

We soon realized that it costs money to run a support group so we started a non-profit called SASS-MoKan. It stands for Suicide Awareness Survivor Support MO and KS. We have a walk yearly, a Hope for the Holidays Event and a Healing Day. Even though I know that we help many others, there are still times that I long to have our son here. I wish he could have seen his nieces and nephews grow up but most of all I wish he had not made this decision. I understand he felt hopeless and that things would not get better. He was in a deep, dank, dark hole. The only way he could see his way out was to complete suicide. We really don’t know how many times our loved ones thought about taking their life before they actually did. We have no idea how many times we said a word or gesture that kept them with us a while longer.

I so wish things would have worked out differently than they did. I remember reading a book that Iris Bolton wrote called My Son My Son and she kept saying there was a gift through her son’s death. It was hard to comprehend. What gift? I think I know now what she was talking about. I have learned tolerance, accepting life as it is, helping others, and not to sweat the small things. I know I am a better person and that is the gift Brett has given to me.

10 Responses

  1. Jan Bassier
    | Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story, Bonnie. Having lost our 18 year old son nearly 17 years ago, I identify with much of your story. The confusion over hearing he was dead. The difference of grieving of my husband and me. The sorrow over what he missed, what we’ve missed. Getting involved in the leading of a support group – and being grateful for the healing from that, but also wishing we still had Brian with us. Even Iris Bolton’s book. I went to a training that she led, on starting a support group. It was helpful to meet her.
    I also recognize that I am a better person because of the things you mention. If I cannot change the fact that Brian chose to die, I am grateful that I can see some good come out of this experience. I wish I could have helped him – I know a lot more now – I still wish he had stayed – but I am grateful to be at a place where his death sits gently on my heart and being. I wish you continued healing. Thanks for writing your story for others.

  2. Debbie
    | Reply

    I also TRY to be a better person due to my son’s death. I don’t think I always make it. I do believe that I accept life as it is better now.

  3. Lynne
    | Reply

    Love this. I’m so glad you’re helping others and have found “the gifts”. Thank you for sharing your story and yourself.

  4. Mark Fenton
    | Reply

    Well said Bonnie. I totally agree with the gifts they leave behind for us. Glad you opened the package that Brett left behind for you. Life will forever be richer because you chose to look at the gifts left and not focus on a single event .

  5. Rikki Duncan
    | Reply

    To the Swade family,

    WOW! I think about you all often. I am so proud of you all for pulling through and standing so strong. Thankfully, Brett left you all with an amazing gift of patience and strength! Keep up the fight of coming out on top of things, and teaching others how to as well.
    Your work is so important to many others all around.
    You are all amazing!

  6. Fran kuhn
    | Reply

    Thank you for allowing others to hear your story. I had no idea! Sharing yourselves with others the way you are is truly wonderful.

  7. Carolyn Snowbarger
    | Reply

    I can’t imagine the pain you’ve had. I’m amazed with what you’ve done since this tragedy. You’ve touched so many with your honesty, your service, and your heart.

  8. Rosy Silvania
    | Reply

    Dear dear dear one… I have lost multiple family members to suicide and several others who have tried several times. Thank you for your honesty and openness. Suicide is not a secret. It is real. It is devastating. Changing our lives forever. May we all walk together to support one another, those that suffer and to raise awareness. God bless you and your family.

  9. Kelley
    | Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story. It helps to hear from those who are further along in this journey. I have battled with the thought that anything good could or even “should” come with such a horrific tragedy but I think I can say I’m in a little better place today than I was this time last year. That in of itself is a small gift. Thank you.

  10. Donna Largent
    | Reply

    Thanks for sharing Bonnie. You have suffered incredible pain and continue to. You are a blessing to all that you have helped and will help. Mickey and you continue to lead the community in your support in time of need.

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