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A mother's message after son's death

2012-02-11T22:01:00Z 2012-07-17T17:02:04Z A mother's message after son's deathWILL DOOLITTLE -- will@poststar.com Glens Falls Post-Star
February 11, 2012 10:01 pm  • 

The death of her son a year ago, by suicide, filled Florence Nolan with messages she wants to convey.

The first ones were to her son.

On Jan. 10, on the day and at about the hour Devin, at 23, had hanged himself, she returned to Boston, to the house where he had been living.

Another young man, a stranger, answered the door and let her go down into the cellar where, last year, it happened.

She stood near the spot.

"I said a prayer," she said.

She wandered around the city afterward, to other places where he had lived and worked, sticking up slips of paper on which she had written notes to him, tucking them in to the architecture so they might stay up awhile.

She wrote simple things like, "I know you were happy here."

But she couldn't sense his presence in the doorways he passed through when he was alive, which she said, "actually, gives me peace. He has moved on."

Peace has been scarce for the past year.

"If something good happens, I feel good for about three seconds. Then I think I don't have any right to feel good, because my son killed himself."

She was sitting in the living room of her house on Western Avenue, weeping while she talked about her son. A fire burned in the fireplace. Her dog, a beagle mix, slept and sighed on the rug.

"It colors everything. Did I do enough? Did I do too much?"

She pressed a tissue against her nose.

"I go to work. I put one foot in front of the other. But my son has done this and I couldn't help him. I can't help him. He's beyond help."

She's a pediatrician, and she had her own practice when Devin and his brother were young. She saw patients in a home setting, so she could keep the boys with her. She went to their school events and their sporting events as they grew up.

"I went around with him. I was happy to do it. You send them to college. You send them care packages."

She twisted in her chair, as if the tears were being wrung out of her.

"It's so painful," she said.

Her voice squeezed out in a squeak.

"It's so painful."

KIDS IN DANGER

In her practice, Dr. Nolan sees them all the time, a "tsunami" of kids with attention deficit disorders and more serious psychological issues. In 35 years, she has seen the number of these kids surge, to the point where about half of the children she sees are on some sort of drug for mental disorders or diseases.

She can spend only about 10 minutes with each kid, but in that time, parents want her to diagnose their children and prescribe medications for them.

She's not a psychiatrist, and she feels uneasy acting as one, but she knows many of the families have no other options.

"There is just not enough psychiatric resources for children," she said.

Medications can help, but are often only partly effective.

"Meds are not doing the trick. Medicaid will pay for all these meds, but won't pay for therapy," she said.

Her son was prescribed medications, and she thinks they helped, but he would stop taking them because he found the side effects "intolerable."

"They made him feel dead, like he was walking underwater," she said.

She is torn about the use of drugs to treat mental illness.

"They did not help my son," she said.

But she wrote in an email later, "I want young people to know that as imperfect as the meds are, they are as needed as insulin to a diabetic."

In the aftermath of Devin's death, she wants to communicate the painful lessons she learned. But the lessons, too, are imperfect.

More health care resources should go toward talk therapy, she said, because many young people are struggling with mental illnesses and talk therapy could help them. But talk therapy, too, did not save Devin.

He was exhausted and despairing, she believes, worn down by his mental illness, and he may have been hearing voices.

"The voices won that day," she said.

THE OBSTACLE OF SILENCE

Devin was a musician, a bass player who graduated from Boston's Berklee College of Music in May 2010. While he was in college, his mother tried to communicate with counselors on campus about his treatment, but because of medical privacy laws, they wouldn't talk to her.

When it comes to mental illness and suicide, even people not restrained by law are reluctant to talk, Nolan has found.

"Since he died, I have heard from so many of his friends about how he would be on and off his meds, good on some days, bad on others," she said.

Shortly before he died, he went on a charity concert tour of Egypt with other young musicians. He told a girlfriend before he left he was proud of himself for being off his meds and "doing so well."

His mother wishes his friends had called her.

"He was going into a manic phase," she said.

She believes doctors, too, should be allowed to contact family members if they spot danger. Devin had been seeing a psychiatrist in Boston.

"If he knew, as I assume he did, that my son was suicidal, he should have been allowed to contact me," she said.

One of Devin's friends, a roommate, called his mother on Devin's own cell phone the night he died.

"My cell phone rang and it was his roommate to tell me they had found him hanging," she said.

The roommate found her number under "mom" in Devin's cell. Since she is divorced from Devin's father, and uses her maiden name, it could have been difficult for Devin's friends, or the police, to track her down without finding that number, she said.

Now one of the lessons she stresses is that kids make sure, when they are away from home, they share their parents' phone numbers with friends and roommates.

She advocates for communication above all, within families, among friends, between generations. Devin inherited a legacy of mental illness, with diagnosed bipolar disorder and a couple of possible suicides among his ancestors, but Nolan said her family didn't talk about those things.

"It never really struck me until Devin died that these things are important to know," she said.

She has messages to get out, and she is always reminded of them by the pain of her son's suicide.

"People need to stop and think about what it's going to do to the people they leave behind," she said. "He left me irreparably damaged."

Copyright 2015 Glens Falls Post-Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(12) Comments

  1. smerritt
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    smerritt - February 17, 2012 11:49 pm
    Devin was an amazing person and friend to me for many years. His happy go lucky attitude cheered me up on many days when I was down myself. I can't think of a single time that he did not have his good natured grin plastered on his face in the time that I knew him. If a person who was so upbeat and out going can succumb to this disease in such a fashiom. it truly shows how little we understand about depression and its treatments.
  2. upstateresident
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    upstateresident - February 16, 2012 8:11 pm
    Mommymac, it sounds as if your son is a significant protective factor for your husband. I work as a psychotherapist locally and although I'm obviously not giving professional advice via the post star website, I thought you might find this information helpful, as you had mentioned in your post that you planned to share with your husband the significant impact that suicide has on surviving family members. Research has shown that children of parents who complete suicide are at significantly increased risk to suicide themselves. Their thinking is "if dad (or mom) did it, then so can I". It's clearly not a legacy that based upon your post, I assume your husband doesn't want to leave for your son. I hope this is helpful.

  3. upstateresident
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    upstateresident - February 16, 2012 8:04 pm
    Dr. Nolan,
    I am so sorry for your loss. I can't even fathom the pain you went through and continue to go through. As a local psychotherapist, I understand (from a professional standpoint, not personal) the life long impact a suicide has on the surviving family members. My heart goes out to you. You will continue to be in my prayers, as you have been since the day last Spring when you saved my newborn daughter's life. You are very special to my family. All our love and prayers for some degree of peace. And for what it's worth, it is ok to have those moments of happiness you mentioned.
  4. zekemon
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    zekemon - February 15, 2012 7:05 am
    I am so sorry for your loss. How strong you are to share your story. You will be helping many others. God Bless you and give you peace!
  5. wrkg4mine
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    wrkg4mine - February 14, 2012 8:20 am
    Mommymac, you come across as a strong person with good family values. You are a powerful presence in your husbands life. I am proud of you for seeing your husbands struggles and trying to help him through it. Though this may be a lifelong issue, not only are you there for him, but always know that so many people are there for you as well.
    Suicide, or the attempt of, does not only lye with the individual or their family. It truly does effect so many people. Reading about it in the paper or hearing it on the news stirs it back up for so many, and again it becomes another stepping stone, a struggle, a reminder.

    This story did just that for me and my family, touched by this tragedy almost a year ago. We need to be proactive. This issue cannot stay inside your walls. Share it, learn from it, heal, and help others.

  6. Mommymac
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    Mommymac - February 13, 2012 3:07 pm
    Thank you so much for sharing your story. I forwarded it to my husband in hopes of opening his eyes. My husband, 2 weeks after switching his anxiety/depression medication, threatened to commit suicide 2 weeks ago. He had a plan, drove to the location and sent a "goodbye" text. The thought of our 8 year old son kept him from actually going through with it. Up until this point I had no idea that suicide had ever crossed his mind. We have a good marriage, 3 amazing children and good jobs. This act, or threat of an act, had nothing to do with me or my children. It had nothing to do with stress or money. This is inside of him. Medicine helps surpress these feelings. The change in medication had stirred things up. I have never felt so scared as I did that night. I can not even fathom what I would have felt like if he had gone through with it. I am constantly reminding him of all the people that would be affected if he were to take his life.
  7. timberandtwigs
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    timberandtwigs - February 13, 2012 9:10 am
    I feel confident to speak on behalf of all the nurses who work with you and respect you, when I tell you how profoundly sorry we are that you would have to endure this kind of pain. Never question those situations in medicine that are immeasurable. We experience those shocking events that remind and humble us that there are illnesses we can't see or measure. The very nature of mental issues is that they can wax and wane many times in a single day to depths and heights that we can't know. You are an amazing woman and an amazing Physician who's insights and reflections will serve many. There is probably no greater courage required than to face an illness that you can't see or measure, one that you can't test for. Thank You for sharing.
  8. sixorso
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    sixorso - February 12, 2012 4:37 pm
    Wow, I can not imagine the heartbreak of losing a child, especially in this manner. I hope that sharing your struggles helps you. I think you could help yourself and others by advocating for suicide prevention. Things like Hike For Hope and Cody's Climb are great community outreach for those who have lost loved ones and tools for prevention. Thank you for speaking out.
  9. Tucker2
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    Tucker2 - February 12, 2012 9:31 am
    Florence, I am so sorry you lost your son. There are few resources available and even they are shrinking. EVen with insurance and the ability to pay whatever you have to, there are few resources.

    I have faced some of these issues within my family and I think one of the hardest things is friends of the kid not realizing how serious things are, and covering them up. The parents never hear what's going on until it's too late.

    God bless you and bring you peace that surpasses human understanding. Devin is safe now
  10. AdkOutside
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    AdkOutside - February 12, 2012 9:26 am
    What a sad and troubling story. For adults and children treatment for mental health issues - even critical issues - falls on the general practitioners an their Physicians Assistants. Mostly their only course of action is pharmaceutical intervention. These drugs, while helpful in some cases, can possess many side effects and offer limited help in many other cases. A better first step for mild and moderate depression is integrative and functional medicine alternatives. Some good websites offer information http://www.ultrawellnesscenter.com/
    http://www.psycheducation.org/index.html
    http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400988/Fish-Oil-for-Depression.html
  11. OldGuy
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    OldGuy - February 12, 2012 3:42 am
    And the bottom line is, same as she said at the end. --- “People need to stop and think about what it's going to do to the people they leave behind.”

    You need to make a habit of asking yourself that very same question over a lot of other things throughout your life. Then, if this very dark day should overtake you sometime later, maybe it will be easier to remember to ask it once again. You see, you still bring hope to everyone who loves you while you’re here no matter what you’re up against.

    (My compliments to Will Doolittle.)
  12. 0to100
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    0to100 - February 12, 2012 12:43 am
    Thank you for sharing such a personal story. Hopefully your tragic loss was not in vain and this article will save a life. I firmly believe talk therapy is vital to successful therapy and am surprised at the limited access there is to it via medicaire and other insurances.

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