Families Deal with Life After Suicide: Blackwood Family

The numbers surrounding suicide are shocking — and the most shocking part may be that no one knows precisely how prevalent the problem is. Last year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that slightly fewer than 43,000 Americans died by their own hand in 2014 — the highest number in 30 years.

As sobering as that is, no one – least of all the CDC itself – believes that number to be anywhere near accurate due to sketchy reporting. In fact, a recent West Virginia University study suggested wide disparities in the number of overdose deaths listed as accidents versus suicides, particularly in the South.

Whatever the number, it pales in comparison to the millions upon millions of family members left behind to cope with a loved one’s final act. What follows are stories of three such families and one community coming to terms with who they lost, what they’ve learned and how they face each new day.

Alex Blackwood black shirt


July 26, 1989 – October 17, 2008

Cindi Blackwood still experiences every emotion regarding her oldest child and only son Alex, nearly 10 years after he killed himself on fall break from the University of Central Arkansas. She allows herself to feel them all.

“A key word that I’ve learned is ‘permission’ and giving my permission to feel whatever,” says Blackwood, who, with her husband Steve, has since become a grief recovery specialist to help others cope with loss.

“When our daughter graduated from high school, I got mad because Alex should have been there. And I may have verbalized that out loud, ‘You rotten kid, why are you not here?’ But that’s OK that I do it and its OK that I’m angry with him that he’s not here sometimes.”

Neither Cindi nor her husband Steve were equipped to deal with their son’s depression, much less to understand how it would ultimately contribute to Alex’s death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“There were lots of warning signs, none of which I knew at the time,” Steve says. “Hindsight being 20/20, it’s obvious Alex died from undiagnosed depression, something I was completely ignorant to.”Blackwood family Destin vacation

As a way of dealing with his grief, Steve committed himself to learning everything he could about depression and suicide, and today he is a leading prevention advocate, pushing for better promotion of resources and other state services dealing with depression and suicide.

“Most of our suicide prevention efforts is the identification of those at risk so that we can respond and intervene and get them to safety,” he says. “In addition to that, we need to be addressing here at the bottom and educate people before they become suicidal.

“I honestly believe that as Alex began being sucked down into this black hole, he didn’t know what it was. The more he would try to overcome it, the harder he would be on himself because he wasn’t getting his [act] together, you know, bow up, get over it. Isn’t that what we tell them?”

Even as all three of the Blackwoods share what they’ve learned of mourning and healing (daughter Ariel has worked for nonprofits focusing on suicide awareness), the sadness over Alex’s death still has a place in their midst, albeit a less disruptive one.

“Recently I was really missing Alex and then it hit me that missing him is a gift,” Cindi says. “Yes, it may be painful, but I don’t ever want to stop missing him because if I stop missing him then that means I’m not thinking about him. Even though it’s painful.”

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