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Those who have experienced it say the pain felt after a loved one dies by suicide pierces the heart in a way no other loss does.
Add to that the stigma, shock and guilt of a loved one’s death by suicide and the toll to a family can be overwhelming.
Substance abuse, divorce, separation, anxiety and depression all increase dramatically in a family after a loved one dies by suicide, studies show.
Family members often blame themselves for “missing” the signs or not being physically present to stop the suicide. Sometimes they feel they’re being judged by others for not parenting well enough or having a strong enough family to have prevented the suicide.
The following stories of three strangers suffering from an all-too-familiar tragedy examines how they learned to cope despite their worlds flipping upside-down.
Counseling and support by friends and family, even sometimes by strangers, have helped these three families not crumble in the face of immense heartbreak.
These are not stories with a typical happy ending. These are stories of love, loss and hope.
Tears come quickly to Kit Slaugh, at the mention of her daughter, Beth Bash, who died 33 years ago. It's a reminder that the loss of a child is felt every day and sometimes, every minute.
“I learned recently that Beth had not meant to be dead," Slaugh said. “I found out from a college friend of hers on Facebook that they had made plans for later that summer."
Bash was only two weeks away from graduation at Northwestern University in Chicago when her boyfriend broke off their relationship.
“I flew out to see her and she was sad," recalled Slaugh. “She was probably depressed, now that I look back on it. The only thing I remember is that I told her, ‘Don't worry. We'll be here in two weeks. Everything will be OK.' And I was crying when I said it.
“I was crying not because I thought for one moment we would lose her, I was just crying when I left her."
It happened Memorial Day weekend, 1985, Slaugh said. Most students had left the campus. Bash got sleeping pills from a pharmacy and went back to her room and took them with vodka.
She was discovered the following Tuesday. In her obituary, the family was honest about how she died.
“She was always dramatic," Slaugh said of her daughter, who had acted to rave reviews at the Fulton Theatre as a teen. “I think she reacted to the breakup so dramatically."
Bash had planned to continue her acting career in Chicago, after her graduation.
Bash's three younger teenaged sisters were all on the verge of their own milestones when their lives were torn apart by her suicide. It became Slaugh's job to put the pieces back together. She spent every day being a support to her family.
“At some point I realized I would have to have some therapy," said Slaugh, who had been divorced from Beth's dad for several years. “I went to the Samaritan Center and spent a year crying on (counselor) Herb Cooper's couch. At the end of the year, I gave him a giant box of tissues because of all his tissues I had used."
And then there were the friends who insisted Slaugh get out and do something, even though she didn't want to talk to people.
But they picked her up and dropped her off with golf clubs at a small, six-hole practice range.
“I couldn't play but I practiced and practiced at that little course," Slaugh said. “You know, it became the only place where I could think about something else and feel normal for a few minutes of the day.
“I became good at golf. She did that."
The other gift the family gave each other was a sense of security.
“It was back when you had to pay for long distance and I think I had the biggest long-distance phone bill in the country," Slaugh said. “If my girls needed to check in with me 10 times a day they would, so I would know they were OK. They still do that for me."
More than 30 years later, the girls — Laney, Travis and Abby — are grown women with families of their own.
“I can tell you they are three of the most caring, kind and giving women," said Slaugh, who has remarried. “They perceive what someone else needs and they really listen. I'm kind of amazed at how we have evolved.”
Beth remains a part of their family.
“When people ask me how many children I have, I respond that I have four children but one has passed away,” Slaugh said. “I always include her.”
Lisa Tearney was surprised to see her son Damian home from school so early. It was only 9:30 a.m. on March 6, 2008.
Damian was 17 and a junior at J.P. McCaskey High School. He had ongoing emotional issues since the age of 4, when he suffered a traumatic event.
“He missed a lot of school because of his depression, but he had really seemed excited about going that day,” recalled his mom.
Damian returned to their St. Joseph Street home that morning saying, “I just couldn't take it anymore,” according to Lisa.
“Well you tried, that's good,” she told him.
A little later Lisa took the dog for a walk around the neighborhood. She returned to a nightmare. Damian had hanged himself in their basement.
“It was a blur, I was running around like a nut and calling 911,” Lisa recalled. “I got him down and started CPR.”
Neither Lisa or the EMTs, who arrived in minutes, could revive Damien.
“There's one thing I remember most from that day that brings me comfort,” said Lisa. “When I was blowing air into his mouth, I got a sweet taste in my mouth from the last breath of his life. It might have been his spirit leaving his body, and I got one last taste of it.”
The trauma of her son's suicide landed Lisa in the hospital. One week later, on the eve of his funeral, Lisa's mother died.
“I don't think I ever mourned my mother because I was having so much grief over Damian,” Lisa said.
She was so despondent over her loss that in the nearly 10 years since Damian died she has been hospitalized two more times for depression.
“The first time I was in the hospital, I noticed a little lady bug on the window screen, inside,” Lisa said. “The second time I went there, I saw another lady bug on the same screen.”
When she was able to put away Damian‘s things, she found a lady bug in his guitar case. Then one in his car.
“I'm a lady bug freak. I say, ‘Hi Damian,’ whenever I see one and I use his favorite color purple whenever I can, even down to the Christmas tree.”
But then the horror of what happened sometimes comes back to Lisa.
“The flashbacks. Sometimes I can't go down in the basement. I have a flashback and see him hanging. My therapist said I have PTSD,” Lisa said.
She continues to see a counselor every week and she continues to miss her only son in ways most people can't imagine.
“I miss everything about him, but I miss his bear hugs in particular,” said Lisa. “He would hug me and even lift me off the ground sometimes.”
One of her regrets is how much time Damian spent on his computer. Lisa is convinced that's where he learned how to hang himself in their house.
“I think it takes away the human contact with people,” she said. “I would tell parents to get parental controls or whatever they have to do. Maybe your kids would hate that, but it's necessary."
Six months after Jarod Stively, a 16-year-old brimming with creativity and intelligence, went into his bedroom and shot himself in the mouth with his mother's 9mm handgun, his sister, 24-year-old Krissa Crump, stood in the bedroom, staring at her brother's empty bed.
“I just felt the emptiness,” Crump said. “I just looked around expecting to see a part of him still in there, to feel him still there, and it just kinda sunk in that he's not here.”
Crump had spent three months cleaning out her brother's room. Her sister and mother couldn't bring themselves to do it.
His cameras, photographs, posters, books and glass figurines — artifacts from the life of a teenager who for years battled depression — were stored away in Crump's attic, where they remain today.
What little clothes Jarod had left also went. During the months leading up to his suicide, Jarod would sneak garbage bags full of clothes into the trash. If his mother tried to peek inside the bags, Jarod would become frustrated and avoid her.
For Crump, packing up her brother's things was, in a way, therapeutic. It helped her cope, to come to grips with the stark reality of her brother's death.
“That was a big part of moving on and just realizing that all of his stuff is just stuff now. It's not his,” she said. “It is, but he's never going to use it again.”
Crump and the rest of her family are still coping from Jarod's death on April 19, 2017.
The Solanco High School student loved music, photography, video games, poetry, philosophy and hiking. He had a kind heart and a benevolent spirit, his sister said.
“He always wanted to cheer people up and make them laugh and make them smile,” Crump said. “He just wanted to help every person he could.”
Crump and her brother bonded in many ways.
The two would often go on hikes to Muddy Run together. They would play and trade video games with each other. They'd watch TV shows like “Doctor Who” and “House.” They'd talk about art and philosophy.
In the fall of 2012, Crump moved out, though she didn't go far. Jarod would ride his bike over to his sister's new home in Quarryville to play games, talk and grab a snack. He'd also occasionally visit Subway, where Crump worked for four years, and buy a cookie or a sub and chat.
Crump got married in 2014 and moved to Manor Township with her husband and his daughter two years later. She gave birth to a daughter soon after.
Despite being unable to visit as often, Jarod and his sister still remained close. Jarod would let Crump's stepdaughter put makeup on him. He also took every opportunity to serenade the newest addition to the family with his guitar.
The relationship between the two siblings had been strong ever since they were young.
Their mother, who essentially raised three kids singlehandedly, often would leave for work at 5:30 a.m., leaving Crump and her sister, Lea Wagner, to temporarily fill the mother role. That included the strenuous task of getting Jarod up in the mornings.
After she moved out, Crump sometimes received calls from her mother asking for help prying Jarod out of bed.
Her grandparents, whom Jarod lived with for a time, would call Crump on Sunday mornings, asking if she'd come over to wake Jarod and bring him to church.
The first time Crump and her family returned to church after Jarod's death, Crump said she “broke down.”
“You know I'm never gonna have to scold my little brother for talking during church again,” she said.
Church was far from the only thing that reminded her of Jarod. Even mopping the floor for the first time after Jarod's death, Crump said, her brother was in her thoughts.
“It was hard to do anything because you're just so sad about everything you do,” she said.
Crump found it difficult to be alone following her brother’s suicide, as she drowned in her own thoughts of self-doubt and “what ifs.”
She eventually came to a realization.
“That was his decision,” she said. “You just really have to come to terms with that it's not your fault.”
Crump also reassessed her own life and switched jobs so she could spend more time with family.
She said keeping her loved ones close and keeping an open relationship with them have helped her cope.
“When you lose somebody, especially to suicide, it's like a giant chunk of you is ripped out,” Crump said. “If you don’t get all those feelings out, I feel like that hole inside of you just gets infected, and it soaks deeper and deeper inside your heart.”