CHARLOTTE — As Jennifer Davis hangs another ribbon on the tree, the peace and the promise of Christmas slowly come into focus.
For her, Christmas now comes with hope -- but also with a deep heartache that few can ever understand. Davis’s son, Sean, died by suicide in 2009. Last year, her husband Fred, also took his own life.
“I grieve every day. Every day,” she told Channel 9′s Mark Becker. “I live with a broken heart.”
A broken heart that she could not have seen coming. For more than 30 years, the Davis’s seemed like the perfect family -- full of love and laughter.
In 2009, Sean was 31, a young father who was going into the ministry. But he was also a young man who was physically and emotionally exhausted.
“Sean used to say, ‘If anybody is in trouble or depressed, they need to come to me.’ So, I think he took a lot of other people’s stresses on himself,” Davis said. “And then I believe he got to the point where it was more than he could manage and handle. He left us a letter and he explained a lot of things. And I believe part of it was he just felt like he had done all God had laid out for him to do, and here’s the thing he said in the letter: ‘I just want to be with the Lord.’”
For the next dozen years, life -- and family -- went on.
Fred Davis helped coach their old high school’s football team and always had a smile. But behind it was a hurt that no one could see. In June of last year, he too died by suicide.
“I never saw that coming,” Davis said.
In retrospect, Davis said she can see that Fred never got over their son’s death, but she said he never asked for help, and took his grief with him to the grave.
“He carried that with him for those 12 years … (and I think) there was some physical difficulties he was having, and I think it got to be too much,” Davis told Channel 9.
“I think with that grief, there is also a lot of guilt among parents,” said Patrick Collins.
Collins is a social worker with Presbyterian Psychological Services. He said it’s important for anyone who’s lost someone to suicide to surround themselves with family and friends. Sometimes, even strangers can support them.
“Connecting with other people who’ve been through the loss of a family member to suicide can be relieving, it can be empowering, and you can find some sense of purpose and a way to pay tribute to your lost loved one in a way that maybe helps other people in their pain,” he said.
“I just simply refuse to give in to depression,” Davis told Channel 9. “I fight it every day.”
She is sharing her fight, and her story, to help others who may be living with that pain.
“For those people who are thinking that dying is easier than living, that might be true for you, but it’s a selfish thought,” Davis said. “And the people who love and care for you will help you right now. The pain you leave behind is not something I think people intend to do. What I try to do -- and I hope what others will try to do -- is focus on the good times, the memories, the good things. I mean, we had a good life.”
A good life, and better memories, that even grief can’t overshadow.
“Grief comes with guilt and grief comes with suffering,” she said. “But after suffering comes peace -- and then joy.”
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States.
The Lifeline is available for everyone, is free, and confidential. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.
(WATCH BELOW: 5 years after suicide attempt, Charlotte man is helping others who are struggling)
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