A Mother’s Worst Nightmare

My beautiful, sensitive, emotional first-born child sat in my bed last night, screaming in my face that he could not take it anymore. And then he said the words no parent EVER wants to hear:

I am having suicidal thoughts.

My entire world ground to a halt.


When your child- your entire reason for being, tells you they want to die, NOTHING else matters. Not. A. Single. Thing. 

I sobbed hysterically as I called my sister- a doctor, for advice. My stomach roiled as I talked to the pediatrician’s after-hours nurse who had just recently gone through the same thing with her own child. She comforted me as I cried softly through her directions. When she asked if he would be admitted willingly because it was easier than being brought in forcibly in an ambulance, my chest closed in on itself.

My son was terrified of being by himself in the hospital, and even though I wanted to give him all of the reassurance I could, there were too many questions that I just could not answer.  I didn’t know if he would be placed in the psychiatric ward. I didn’t know if we would be separated. I didn’t know how long he would have to be in there. There’s no user manual that comes with your child to help navigate this kind of crisis.

What I could do was hold him. I could pull him into my arms as best as I could even though his adolescent body had long outgrown lap cuddling. I could physically wrap him in my love for him. I could whisper that everything would be okay, even if we didn’t know exactly what would happen.

The 20-minute drive to the hospital felt like hours.

My normally stoic and unfazed husband only showed how rattled he actually was when he nearly side-swiped another car while merging. Each soft sniffle from the backseat broke my heart in ways I didn’t know possible. Each mile sped past and somehow simultaneously drug on. As we neared the exit, my stomach threatened to revolt. But I am the parent, and I was in warrior mode. When your child is hurting, your own hurt matters very little. When we got out of the car, I pulled my boy to me again, and held him close, and this time, it was for me. I pressed my lips to his head, hoping he could feel every ounce of love I was trying desperately to pour into his heart, into his being.

The hardest part was over.

Once we were checked in (where I had to write, on paper, that my son was having suicidal ideation), I could breathe a touch easier knowing that someone far more qualified to help my child in this moment was in charge. I knew my work wasn’t done, but I could also recognize that there is no shame in leaning on those who know better than you do.

I wish that I could say that I would have been completely comfortable leaving him there had he been kept for a 72-hour hold. If you ever find yourself in this awful position, and I pray with every fiber of my spirit that you do not, I do want to share what our experience was like. I wish I had had some frame of reference for what to expect, but then again, who expects their child to be in this position? The experience vacillated between clinical and heartbreaking, but I will do my best to explain what to expect.

  1. I was allowed to accompany my son to his room. But not before I had been stripped of my personal possessions for the safety of everyone in the ward. Keys, phone, wallet, and even my prescription glasses were placed in a locker. Your child will undergo the same and have to change into hospital-issued scrubs.
  2. Your child will not be placed in the regular rooms of the ER. Every child in that ward was being evaluated for mental health concerns. You may see children who are emotionally distraught, acting erratically, or even possibly physically violent. Be prepared to see children brought in unwillingly and strapped to stretchers.
  3. I don’t know if this is always the case, but we were in a room with two other children. As far as I could tell, I was the only parent or guardian present with their child. The rooms did not have beds, but reclining chairs instead. Maybe if we had been there longer, that would have been different, but I hope I never have to find that out.
  4. If I could have wrapped all of those kids up into a giant hug and taken them all home with me, I would have. I wanted to keep the sweet boy of no more than seven years old who told me without pause that this wasn’t his first visit while I taught him to shuffle Uno cards. I wanted to smooth my fingers between the furrowed brows of the distraught boy who just wanted to call his mama because he had been there for three days. I wanted to whisper to the teenaged girl with the reddened face and tear-streaked cheeks that even though it doesn’t feel like it right now, it will be okay. And sometimes it won’t be okay, but to hold on. Most of all, I wanted my baby boy to not be in there and not feel the way he did. I wanted to press my forehead to his and funnel all of the pride and joy I felt in his being to him.
  5. You will see beauty in the midst of this ugly situation. All of these children were hurting in some way, and yet they tried their best to rally around each other. My broken child tried to comfort those who had been there for days or who expressed frustration at their current situation. Those who had been there longer tried to reassure newcomers. I believe Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy and would see scary things[…]my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” I am a better human for having witnessed these beautifully broken helpers.

Thankfully, after several hours, my son was deemed to be no immediate danger to himself or others, and we were released to go home. In comparison to some of the other lost souls I saw there that night, I can understand, but still…

I am not sure I will ever sleep soundly again.


  1. Thank you for sharing. So many times you read things that make everything seem like people have it all together. I needed to hear your struggle. My daughter is going through a tough time emotionally. I had to take her out of school because she “couldn’t take it anymore.” I asked her why she couldn’t go on and she just said “life!!!” Actually, she yelled it and started ti cry. I’m not sure she is suicidal. She never has showed any signs. I do know I’m trying to help her, but she always pushes me away. I’m still praying for some direction and hoping she will get through to the other side.

    • hugs honey. it’s hard to see the other side of okay.
      Please give her the # to The Phone 225.924.3900. She doesn’t have to be suicidal to call them. sometimes it’s easier to talk to a “stranger” than someone you know. They will listen without judgement and perhaps provide some guidance. Yes, I volunteered there for 2 years.

    • You are definitely not alone. Even if your child is not suicidal, it cannot hurt to find a counselor or therapist for her to talk to. I know first hand, as a teacher and a parent, that a child is far more likely to talk to someone who is not a family member.


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