I’m hesitant to write about this because of the sensitivity of the subject, but that also feels like a very good reason to do it anyways.
One of the most heartbreaking things you can experience as a parent is hearing your child say he wants to die.
The school psychologist called me at home a few weeks ago to let me know my son’s teacher contacted her after he stated in class that he just wants to die. This blindsided me, because I’d just spoken to my husband about how well their class “friendship breakfast” went that same morning, because he helped prepare breakfast for the kids before he went to work. The psychologist already had a relationship with my son, as he sees her weekly for Lunch Bunch and stays to speak with her individually afterward, so she was able to make an informed assessment of his mental state.
She assured me that she did not feel that he was actively suicidal, that he used those words because he didn’t have any other way to express his intense frustration at a situation involving a classmate. She went through the official motions of asking him if he had a plan, which he didn’t, but after thinking for a few moments, he created a highly improbable scenario for her based on her request. His Asperger’s makes him take such questions as literal requests for information in addition to making it difficult to express his feelings and/or put them into words.
I spoke with him when he came home that day, and my husband and I reminded him how much we love him, and that we would miss him terribly if he wasn’t a part of our lives. He was willing to say that he didn’t really want to die, but he wished he could just disappear sometimes, when he gets overwhelmed and frustrated and doesn’t know how to get out of the emotional trap. (I’m paraphrasing and taking some liberties with his wording.) We told him that he can always talk to use about his feelings, and that if he ever felt like he wanted to die or disappear again, he should tell one of us or any other adult he trusts. We also made the evening all about him, letting him choose dinner and have extra dessert…and lots of extra snuggles.
So imagine my heart dropping when he came home from school yesterday and came up the stairs saying, “Mommy, can I talk to you about my feelings?” When I said of course he could, he said, “I feel like I just want to die again.” And he dissolved into tears.
There was an incident on the bus that, in other circumstances, would have stood as a teaching moment about attempting to make trades with friends on the bus. My son takes after me when it comes to overreacting to emotional situations, but that’s part of the beast when you’re on the autism spectrum. Whether or not anyone else thinks the situation warranted such a dramatic emotional response, the emotions are still valid and very real.
And his tears on the bus were not limited to the instigating incident. Once he started crying, he said – and I wish I could remember the exact words – his sadness opened up a hole in his mind that left room for more sadness to fill it, and he filled it with grief about his grandpa, my dad, whose death he hasn’t wanted to discuss much since it happened last June.
He repeated that he wanted to die, and though I still don’t know if it was the right thing to say, I told him that if he did, I would feel ever sadder than he does about his grandpa. He then said he just wants to disappear – or leave the planet, because he didn’t want to be here anymore.
So I told him I was making a bubble around us, and that we were on our own little planet, and the rest of the world didn’t have to exist while we were in the bubble together; and that I would hug him, and listen to him, and let him cry – whatever he needed.
And that’s exactly what he needed. I held him as he cried, and we talked, and he declared his own ban about bringing certain items to school again. When he asked if he could play with the smartphone I’m reviewing for Sprint, I knew that he’d turned a corner and climbed out of that black hole.
At bedtime tonight, I reminded him about our little bubble in space, and that if he ever feels like he wants to die or disappear again, our bubble is not far away. And if it happens in the middle of the school day, the school psychologist’s office can be another bubble in space.
I don’t know how else to help him process his feelings more effectively as I struggle with the same problem, but I hope that providing him this bubble of safety will help him through the worst times.