This is Submission SEVEN of The Whiskey Words. The Whiskey Words is a writing project (and a giveaway), and if you’d like to participate, here are the rules.
“You can do it!
I believe in you.
Of course it is difficult but we are with you. Call us any time!
Try till you succeed. That’s all that matters.
If you work hard, everything is possible.
I love you and I know how high you will fly after the course is over, son.”
Once, I was proud to say these encouraging words to my son. I was being a supportive parent who firmly believed that my conviction in his dreams and success will propel him.
Now, even writing these words is making me cringe with embarrassment.
I had every reason to have faith in him. He was one of the topper at school. He spoke six languages, including two foreign ones. He got into one of the top three colleges in the country and had a good academic record throughout. All this despite no parental pressure (since we have done well in life without fancy degrees) to excel at studies.
After graduation, he could’ve found a great job here but he was committed to learning as much as possible before joining the money-making bandwagon. So, fairly easily, he got into a university of his choice in the USA.
He called us regularly from there. He was excited to be a student abroad.
In a couple of months, I could sense the change in his enthusiasm levels. He had mentioned the academic pressure. Contrary to his expectations, he was hating the snowy cold weather. Additionally, missing his childhood friends, trying to integrate in a different culture and fitting in with students from all over the world was tough on my shy young boy. Whenever I felt he was down, I tried to lift him up and make him see that it is just the newness of it all, which is taking its toll on him.
One day he mentioned depression. We lectured him on how tough he was and he had parents like us, who’d support him in success and failure but he had to keep trying. A few days later, we got the call.
He’d hanged himself.
Within just six months, the people who called him joyful or an optimistic young man full of promise, started labeling him as a weak-willed quitter who must-have-never-been-good-enough! The harshest judgement often comes from the closest ones. But in our case, as his suicide made news in the USA and here, even strangers criticized him.
Of course, a lot of well-wishers offered understanding and meaningful condolences. But, nothing can stop the pain, which started replacing “me” in my soul. In my head, I hear my long departed mother’s voice, “A parent cannot afford to make mistakes. A tiny spark can set the jungle ablaze.”
The tiniest thing you do, has a multi-dimensional impact on your child’s psyche.
So my mind wanders to the past, searching for anything that may have triggered this response in him.
Is it because he was raised by day care employees while we both went to work? Is it because we discouraged him from being a singer when he was 11? Did we allow him to watch too much TV? Or because we never opposed his atheistic beliefs?
So many questions! I know that the guilt will not help and I’m being too hard on myself. I have googled coping tips for hours through the sleepless nights and even tried a few but I just can’t handle this. It’s been a long time but I still cry before bed; or if someone mentions him; or if I see young students laughing in a cafe.
May this be I passed on to him.. this inherent limitation of wavering in the face of problems.
Or may be, I was supposed to learn that however well you know somebody’s capabilities, do not undermine their difficulties.
Listen to them carefully. Be on their side instead of cheering them on the path they’ve come to hate.
Sometimes your loved one needs empathy and not motivation. They need love and probably, a break.
Not all sadness is depression but before deciding if someone is "just down" think, reflect, question, listen and then give an opinion. And yes, depression can happen to a person who seems perennially happy-go-lucky too.
Life goes on, with or without those you love. I will finally accept this someday. We know that he never meant to hurt his parents or make us feel guilty and end our lives along with his. So, I will do the last thing he can ever want from me now – learn to be myself again.
– Janvi Shah (blog)