My son Zhubin was just 21 when he took his own life. After suffering with a rare sleeping condition he developed severe headaches, and on some of his worst nights would fall into a coma. Zhubin had openly spoken to me about his pain and suffering, but I could have never prepared myself for the heartfelt pain that I would endure on 11 May 2002 – the day before Mothering Sunday here in Canada. The day Zhubin decided to leave this world.
The evening before that fateful day I had gone to his room as usual to help him change and get ready for bed. The doctors had called us just days before to tell us they could neither clearly diagnose or cure his condition, and Zhubin just did not want to be alive anymore. I remember Zhubin hugging me tightly on that final night and gently asking “Mom, Mom, do you really love me?” Holding him close, I kissed him and said with a smile: “More than anyone and anything in life.”
I awoke the next morning to find Zhubin missing. I screamed to my husband as a million thoughts raced through my mind, each ending with the same question: where is my son? The devastating news that followed shattered my world. Zhubin loved the Lachine Canal in Montreal and I remember running through the trees in circles, desperate to find my son alive.
Chasing after me, a policeman finally caught up. “Zhubin is gone,” he said. “He’s gone.” For nearly two hours I had persuaded myself that I could find my boy alive, certain that I could save him. At that moment, my hope and a piece of me, died. I was his mother; we had been so close and yet I had not been able to comprehend his illness or his suicide.
“For nearly two hours I had persuaded myself that I could find my boy alive, certain that I could save him. At that moment, my hope and a piece of me, died.”
Dazed and broken, I was driven home. I thought back to our last evening together, it had been fun and filled with his jokes. Zhubin had seemed so relaxed that I failed to sense anything out of the ordinary. Now I am certain: Zhubin had at that time decided to end his life.
After his passing I found a folder containing a collection of letters – all addressed to me. Each one dealt me with a sledgehammer blow, leaving me shattered and weeping uncontrollably. Zhubin understood the impact that his death would have on me. He knew that the death of a child is the hardest thing for a parent to ever have to bear. Writing these farewell letters was, in his mind, preparing me for life without him. His words were full of courage, inspiration and wisdom and his request to me: “Spread my words. Be my voice.”
Through the stormy pain of his loss, it took me over a decade to collect my thoughts and write about my grief. My deepest and most sincere desire in sharing my story is to open a door for parents who are suffering because, like me, they have lost a child. If I help just one mother, then my work is done. When in chance conversations, emails and phone calls I have shared my experience of loss with grieving mothers, I felt their desperation to find a way to survive the pain that they were in. Each mother asked these two questions: “How is it possible?” and “How did you do it?” How can a mother go through life without her child? How can a mother witness her child’s burial, yet survive and go forward?
First, I must describe the horror of the darkness we each endured before I can reveal to you the light I discovered, buried deep inside what had seemed to be a bottomless pit of loss. Losing a child is a searing agony – one that breaks you into shards that cut like glass. You then must try to put the pieces back together and find a way to live again. I know that now, but it has been a hard lesson to learn.
Looking back, only God knows how hard, painful and lonely the road was; how many times I lost the path and was unable to find it; how many times I fell, again and again. And yet, over and over, at the right moment, I remembered words from Zhubin’s writings that helped me persevere.
These words are all I have left of him. It has not been an easy decision to share with you this part of my son – I had wanted to keep his words for myself. But I learned, and now hope, that my personal journey through grief, and Zhubin’s words, can comfort grieving parents. We will never get used to the agony of loss, never be free of it and can never deny it. To the end of our days, every cell in our body burns with longing to have our lost child back again, even if only in a dream; just a little hug for a moment; just to hear their voices for one second. But it is my desire that every one of us finds a path through to the beauty and blessings that surround us, no matter how obscure this pain of grieving makes them.
In my tiny garden, where today I write these lines, it is quiet, fresh and inviting. I take pleasure in sharing this sanctuary with many different and exquisite creatures: cardinals, chipmunks, honeybees, butterflies and even hummingbirds. Zhubin loved nature, believing that it was a pure giver, not only through its loveliness but also its hidden lessons. Here in my garden, at this very moment, I hear him saying, “Life is a living garden and one has to celebrate life always. Add colourful flowers and enjoy them. This way you are painting the canvas of your life. Celebrate your life, mine and all life”. And I reply silently, “Let us celebrate together.” Knowing that he is helping and guiding me gives me boundless joy.
“None of us are alone and even during times of darkness, in time there are even positive lessons to learn and gifts to receive.”
Sitting on my garden bench, amid all my papers and a mug of fresh coffee that smells so good, the past unfolds. Isn’t it interesting how the mind categorises memories as ‘happy’, ‘funny’, ‘sad’, or ‘unbearable’? I now embrace to my heart all of my memories – even the ones that had been unbearable, stemming from the darkest times. The happy ones brought joy, but it was the hard ones that each carried a lesson for me to learn. I could not and did not understand this for many years following Zhubin’s death.
My story is not about loss, grief, sadness or pain – although Zhubin’s death forced me to confront each of these in spades. Instead mine is a tale of faith, hope and finding inner peace and contentment; a belief that ‘all is well’. About becoming whole again.
All I wish is to share with you my journey as a mother who lost her child. None of us are alone and even during times of darkness, in time there are even positive lessons to learn and gifts to receive. With unconditional love, I wish you a peaceful journey.
Simin Sarikhani is author of Finding Blossoms In The Darkness: A Mother’s Journey Through Deepest Loss To Hope, published by Cultureshock
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0300 5000 927 (open Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on www.rethink.org.