This story is about suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, call the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
Not long after Laura Trujillo’s mother committed suicide at age 66 by jumping off the rim of the Grand Canyon, Trujillo contemplated dying the same way.
As depression gripped her in the wake of the suicide, she wondered, “Why am I here and she isn’t?”
“Her death consumed me, not just in grief, but because it seemed preventable, because I wanted to find out if I could have done anything else to save her,” Trujillo writes in her new book Stepping Back from the Ledge: A Daughter’s Search for truth and renewal.”
She set out to learn all about her mother’s state of mind and see what she saw in her last moments of her life.
When the Grand Canyon rangers helped Trujillo visit the exact spot where her mother jumped in 2012, she felt better, she said.
“Somehow, I think I’m glad she saw what she thought was the most beautiful place on Earth,” Trujillo, 52, who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, told TODAY.
“I spoke to one of the rangers who recovered my mother’s body and he was so nice and so caring…it made me feel better that there were people who cared so much about her, even in her death. I wish my mom could have seen that the people who didn’t even know her were taking care of her.”
Trujillo, editor in chief at USA TODAY, recently shared her story for Mental Health Awareness Month in May.
Did you have any indications that your mother wanted to die?
If all the people closest to my mother – my sister and I, my mother’s mother and her sister, and my mother’s close friends – had talked about what we saw, we would have been more alarmed. We all saw bits and pieces, but without the rest we didn’t mind so much.
I don’t think anyone understood the seriousness of it, and I don’t think my mother opened up to everyone that way.
Did you get the answer to the question why your mother died by suicide?
What I’ve really learned is that there are so many reasons. There is usually not one reason why someone committed suicide.
We always want an obvious or simple answer. When I’ve told people that my mother committed suicide, they often say, “Oh, did she leave a note?” – as if the note were the clue to everything. But we know that people usually write the note close to their death and that they are not always in the most stable mental health at that time.
I learned a lot about my mother’s mental health issues and that during times of stress my mother’s depression was higher, which makes sense. I don’t think there was a clear answer, but I learned that there were many things that she really struggled with all her life. I’m thankful she stayed so long.
People often assumed that your mother had died of cancer when you called her dead and you didn’t correct them. Why?
When my mother first died, I had a hard time accepting that it was suicide. I didn’t understand and I wasn’t ready for people to ask questions, so sometimes it was just easier to just say, “Thank you for your thoughts” and stop talking about it.
Can you describe your own mental health crisis after your mother’s death?
I thought a lot about dying at that time because I was really depressed. I felt that I was a burden to my family, that they would be better off without me. Looking back now, it’s so obviously wrong. It’s such a weird feeling – you can’t understand it until you’re in it. When you’re in it, it’s like your brain is lying to you and it’s really hard to see.
If you’re in a mental health crisis or feeling really depressed, you don’t quite know what it is. You can’t put a name on it. You often don’t know, “Oh, I feel really awful, but this can go away if I get help.” You’re just in a state that’s very hard to get out of. That’s where I was.
I’m really lucky to have therapy, I’ve worked with a psychiatrist, I’m on medication and I have a very supportive family and network of friends and probably a bit of luck. That’s how I ended up right.
Have antidepressants helped you?
Yes, I really think they help me. I’m still on them. I had to try two or three in the beginning to see what felt right, but for certain people I’m a big believer in it. Everyone needs something different: some people need therapy alone, some people need drugs or a combination, so whatever works.
How are you today?
I feel okay. I went through something really bad and got out of it. And I’m sure I’m going to experience something really bad again, because that’s life – it’s really good and it’s really terrible sometimes. I think to myself, “That was really awful, and you’re still here.” It helped me know that if something bad happens, it’s temporary. That’s hard to see when you’re in that fog where you can’t see a way out.
What is your advice to families who have suffered suicide? How do you proceed?
Sometimes the only advice I have is to just get up every morning. I had days when I just had to look forward to something: lunch with a friend or dinner with my family. It sounds easier than it is when you’re in it yourself.
What was difficult for me was to change the ratio in my head of how much I thought about the way my mother died and the way she lived. So much of my brain was preoccupied with how she died in the beginning. But now all I can think about is the way my mother lived and how wonderful she was.
This interview has been edited and abbreviated for clarity.