To Frances Spade (from someone else who lost her mom to suicide at 13)


Dear Frances,

I've been thinking a lot about you over the last couple of days. I want to start off by saying that I'm so sorry for your loss. Losing a parent is incredibly difficult at any age, but 13 is even more tough. Not only am I sorry for the loss of your mom, but I'm so sorry that you will be going through this in the public eye, with a lot of people sharing their thoughts and opinions about your mom, her death, stigmas about mental health, and the fact that it was a suicide.

I too lost my mom to suicide when I was 13. It was in 1998 before the internet was popular, yet even still, news of my mom's death and the "mysterious" circumstances spread like wild fire. People said that I was lying. My peers speculated on the way that she died. There were rumours, lies, and a whole lot of opinions that I could have done without - and my mom was just an everyday person, not even a public figure.

Over the last 20 years I've grappled with many emotions, feelings and waves of grief. It isn't my nature to be angry, but if that's what you're feeling, it's ok. Your feelings are valid, whatever they are. A friend once shared with me that grief is like the seasons - ever present, but always changing. Over time you will run the gamut of emotions, you may have already felt like you've gone through too many to name this week.

I was very lucky to have an incredibly guidance counsellor and a very compassionate homeroom teacher when my mom died. And that guidance counsellor set me up with my high school guidance counsellor, who helped me to participate in a bereavement group in my high school. I found a great therapist 2 years ago and she's been instrumental in my continued journey. I am so grateful for those resources and support. I urge you to find that support for yourself, or talk to someone who can help you do so; It will be invaluable for the future.

With each passing day, this will now be the lens with which you view the world. Your friends' and peers' problems will likely feel small and challenging to empathize with for awhile. It isn't common for teens your age to lose a parent, especially not in this way. They may be dealing with moving out of their childhood home, getting a low grade on a test, or having a disagreement with another friend - it is okay to show compassion, set boundaries, and remove yourself from the situation if needed. Managing your own self care and self preservation in those moments is key.

As you meet people in your life who have gone through something similar, don't be afraid to be vulnerable and talk to them about your shared experiences. I have found that I have become deeply connected to those who have experienced trauma, grief, loss and the suicide of a loved one. I cherish those relationships deeply, and know that they have helped me in my own process over time.

Don't read the comments on the internet. While always a good practice, when it comes to these matters I would advise you to be even more stringent. People can be insensitive, cruel and downright nasty. You may feel attacked personally by their words and insensitivity. Save your energy and potential rage.

As the years go by, continue to take care of your own mental health and practice good self care. There will be days that will be hard - some will be predictable (like mother's day, her birthday, the loss of others, special days in your life) and others will be sneaky and catch you by surprise. Lean on your supporters, ask for help from your network and remind yourself that it's ok to not be ok.

Your mom brought joy to many people - not only with her brand, but to you, your family and those who knew her closely; her death does not take that away. Talk about your mom. Say her name. Print photos. Ask people who knew her to tell you stories about her. Repeat your favourite stories about her. When you meet new people, share her story. They won't be able to meet her, but her legacy will continue to live in you.

These are all the things I wish I could go back and tell myself. Twenty years later I am impacted deeply by my mother's life and her death, and I still miss her every day.

Kate Spade was an incredible woman who loved you very much. I am thinking of you through these challenging days, and hope that little by little, things will seem a bit brighter. Take care of yourself.

xo


Photo by Matthew Henry

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