Families Deal with Life After Suicide: Rutledge 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.

Rachel Rutledge

RACHEL RUTLEDGE

March 6, 1992 – December 9, 2010

Even as the eighth anniversary of her death approaches, Rachel Rutledge is still dropping her mom hints that she’s OK. A cardinal outside the window, a book falling off a shelf, simple kindnesses from strangers who turn out to be named Rachel: These are all hidden postcards affirming she’s there, watching over the family.

“I don’t believe in coincidences,” Kathy Rutledge says. “I believe there are signs for you if you look for them and if you’re open to them.”

Kathy’s home office is crammed with mementos of Rachel: photos, trinkets and other bits and pieces that she held or created or loved. After Rachel died, her aunt had a collection of her writings bound into a book. The poems and essays give a narrow glimpse into the teenager’s innermost thoughts.

“I’m not sure how much longer I can deal with all the ups and downs that I go through every minute,” Rachel writes in “Wishful Thinking.” “It’s getting to be a little too much to handle.”

“I think what scares me, what absolutely terrifies me is that there is so much potential,” she writes in “Precipice.” “And one single choice is all it could take to wipe it all away.”

“With the manic part of bipolar it’s word vomit, basically,” Kathy says. “Then, toward the end of Rachel’s illness when she got into the depression part and never came out of it, she couldn’t write anymore. That’s what killed her because that’s who she was her whole life. She was a writer.”

Kathy says time doesn’t erase the pain of loss; she’s just punched it into a shape that’s slightly easier to hold onto while carrying it around. Grief counseling and a new faith community have also helped, but only so much.

“I look back and I see how far I’ve come,” she says. “I know moms and dads, especially moms, that have stayed in bed for a year after their child died. I’ve always gotten up and just faced the day.

“But I also saw myself sitting in my car at the river once, because it’s not uncommon for parents to be suicidal after they lose a child, not matter how they lose a child. And I still have guilt to this day and I always will because I didn’t save my child.”

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