The world suddenly seemed small yesterday as people around the world mourned the death of Kate Spade, who died of an apparent suicide in her Manhattan home at the age of 55.
But beyond the headlines and emotional tributes that filled Twitter feeds, I found myself identifying with another member of Spade’s family. My heart immediately broke for her 13-year-old daughter, Frances, because I’ve been there. At such a young, vulnerable age, at a time when the world is already such a confusing place and she’s just beginning to find her way in it, she’s now a member of the club that I wish no one ever had to join: The club for survivors whose parent died from suicide.
Although the deaths of our parents happened some 15 years apart, I see myself in her, in the complicated path her life is about to take. Sometimes I still feel like that young girl whose grief wounds are fresh and painfully raw. My father died from suicide when I was 21. His death was unexpected just like Spade’s—just like so many suicides are. He had just finished chemo and radiation for a sinus tumor, and in the blink of an eye, what should have been a hopeful time in my family’s life turned unbelievably and unbearably hopeless.
“Although the deaths of our parents happened some 15 years apart, I see myself in her, in the complicated path her life is about to take.”
Maybe that’s why, when I heard that Spade had died, I instinctively, almost like a reflex, wanted to wrap my arms around Frances and comfort her. I want to tell her all the things I wish someone had told me more than a decade ago, about trying to navigate a world where everything is foreign and nothing looks even remotely familiar. In trying to find an ounce of stability in all the chaos that you never signed up for.
I’d tell her to be gentle with herself and to give herself time to grieve. There’s no timetable, no “shoulds” and, most importantly, no right or wrong when it comes to grief. For a long time, I wondered if I was grieving the right way, but grief is such an individual journey and experience. To feel without judgement is the best self-care gift you can give yourself. Frances deserves that.
I’d tell her that it’s going to be OK. It doesn’t seem like that now—and it might not for quite some time—but Frances will come out on the other side. There will be a day when she’ll think of her mother and the suicide will not be the first thing that pops into her head. Little by little, the light will start to peek through the storm clouds. Her grief might still be there, but right next to it will be tiny slivers of hope. I hope she’ll embrace those moments of hope and know that grief and hope can co-exist together harmoniously, like the two sides of a coin.
“People still don’t know what to say or how to offer support to those left behind, mostly because there’s still such a stigma attached to it.”
I’d tell her that she shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it. Even in 2018, people still don’t know what to say or how to offer support to those left behind, mostly because the topic of suicide makes them uncomfortable and there’s still such a stigma attached to it, but people want to help. There’s power in telling your story, and although I’ve probably told the same stories more than once, I know the simple act of giving words to what I went through has helped to heal my heart.
I’d tell her that, believe it or not, your grief will become part of your identity. It imprints itself on your heart and shapes the person you become.
In the end, though, I mostly want to tell Frances that her mother’s death is in no way her fault. Suicide is something that happens to you, much like a physical disease, and it is something that happened to her mother; Frances didn’t cause it, and there’s no way she could have prevented it, no matter how hard she tried. It’s important to remember, also, that the suicide happened to Frances, too. She got caught in its merciless path of destruction because suicide is such an unforgiving demon.
“I mostly want to tell Frances that her mother’s death is in no way her fault.”
I’m not the same person I was when my father died and I fought that for so many years. But the person I am now? She fought to be here, to survive and to carve out a life for herself. It doesn’t mean that I’ve forgotten my father (I haven’t!) or that I don’t miss him every day (I do!). It means that I’ve let some of the light in, letting it wrap me up in its warmth and healing.
The bond between a parent and child is like a deeply rooted tree. Storms may cause the tree to sway back and forth, but its roots remain firmly planted. That bond will never break. And neither will my connection to my father. Like that tree, it will always be there, the light forever glowing against its leaves.
If you or someone you know is exhibiting warning signs of suicide, call BeFrienders at +603-79568145
From: Harper’s BAZAAR US