Parents whose daughter died by suicide call for compassion
A Quispamsis man who buried his 21-year-old daughter this month after she succumbed to injuries suffered in a suicide attempt, says he’s been spending his haunted, sleepless nights working out his grief in Facebook posts that he wants shared as widely as possible.
“Depression is a boogeyman and you never know when it will strike,” Mike Murphy said in an interview about his daughter Maddy.
“We thought she was doing well, and then all of a sudden, just like that.”
Mike and his wife, Mindy, say their family’s story is not a cautionary tale about missed warning signs or a lack of resources.
It’s a call for kindness and compassion for those who struggle with mental illness and the burdens they carry.
Those who hurt the most, they say, may be the ones you least suspect.
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Mike says he’s been pouring out his feelings, often in the wee hours when he cannot sleep, tormented by the sudden and unexplained loss of his daughter, who did not leave a note.
His most detailed Facebook post is called “Maddy’s story.” It’s a portrait of his daughter and her struggle with depression.
Already shared at least 5,000 times, the Murphys hope it will be shared even more and that is why they agreed to an interview request from CBC News.
They want people to talk about mental illness, even though it may be difficult and confusing, and even though there are no easy answers.
“I remember thinking to myself, I can’t understand this,” said Mindy, recalling the days when her daughter was in high school.
“Maddy has such a great life. She goes to a great school. She’s got so many friends.”
“I couldn’t understand what was making her depressed, but I’ve learned along the way, that’s not how it is.”
Maddy at 14
From an early age, Maddy showed great promise as an athlete.
She played with boys on the Kennebecasis Valley Minor Hockey Association’s Pee Wee AAA Rangers team and would later play for Rothesay Netherwood, an elite private school outside Saint John.
At the age of 15, one of her highlights was to play on the U-18 Team Atlantic in Calgary for the Canadian Women’s Nationals.
But at age 14, and seemingly overnight, Maddy developed symptoms of Tourette syndrome.
“She woke up and she just wasn’t right,” Mike said. “She was displaying tics and stuttering and couldn’t talk.”
He says his daughter felt ashamed and around this time, she started retreating from her parents and her sister and even her twin brother, to hole up in her room.
“We were walking on eggshells for quite a few years,” Mike said.
“We knew that one wrong move would set her off and she would go into that deep, dark hole.”
2 previous attempts
The Murphys remember another turbulent time when Maddy was in Grade 11 and afraid of what would happen if she came out as a lesbian.
“She was coming out of the closet, and she didn’t know how she was going to be accepted on that,” said Mike.
“I don’t think she was worried about what we’d have to say. I mean, holy cow, nowadays, who cares? We love her unconditionally no matter what.
“I think it was about all her peers, and she kept that inside.”
Around this time, Maddy tried to commit suicide twice, in a short period, the Murphys say.
They responded by providing her with as much help as they could muster.
Maddy went to doctors and psychologists and had almost unlimited access to private counselling.
If she wanted to go four or five times a week, the Murphys made it happen.
They say Maddy was also on medication that seemed to work for her and with few side-effects.
They also say she became very self-aware and wasn’t afraid to ask for help when she felt her mood slipping.
We couldn’t have done any more. We couldn’t have tried any more.– Mindy Murphy, mother
“She didn’t have to call me to ask for an appointment,” said Mindy. “She was mature enough, and she knew.
“For us, I have peace knowing that we couldn’t have done any more. We couldn’t have tried any more.”
“And that’s what worries me, because if you asked what more we could have done, I don’t know what could have changed this.”
‘Thought she was doing really good’
After high school, Maddy took two years of an arts degree at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John and then decided to take a year off to figure out her future.
She had found a loving partner, and she and her girlfriend had moved into an apartment together.
Maddy had bought herself a little car and had paid a deposit on a golden retriever that would have been her emotional support animal. Although the dog was not yet born, she had named him Beckett.
She was working four jobs, at Rockwood Golf Course, Vito’s Restaurant, the Saint John Marina and Harbour Station.
She seemed happy, says Mike, and her Tourette’s tics had almost entirely subsided.
Mindy says she still talked to her daughter almost every day.
“Mindy and I thought she was doing really good there,” said Mike. “She seemed really happy. She was starting to get established in life.”
Mike says that’s why Maddy’s decision to take her own life has shaken them to the core. They say they had no warning.
“This caught us totally off guard, and I’m still dealing with that today. And I’ll be dealing with that for quite some time.”
Learning more about Maddy
The Murphys say they’re grateful to the first responders who kept Maddy alive Sept. 12 until she got to the Saint John Regional Hospital, as well as the medical staff who tended to her there.
They say they got four extra days to spend with their daughter, and speak to her, even though she could not respond and may not have heard.
“We had those extra days to hold her, to hug her,” said Mike.
They also say it gave people a chance to say goodbye, and the Murphys were astonished by how many visitors came through the hospital room.
They were also surprised at how many people opened up about their own emotional struggles and histories with mental illness and how their daughter Maddy had been there for them.
The Murphys say this continued at the funeral home, where hundreds of people came to pay their respects.
“We were there for eight hours straight,” said Mike.
“That was the outpouring of support we had for this kid. That’s how many people she touched.”
‘Not one person would know’
The Murphys say they will go to counselling as soon as they’re ready.
They say their priority now is to get supports in place for Maddy’s sister and twin brother, who will also get counselling.
They’ve been driving Maddy’s car, lately. It makes them feel close to her.
They’ve also kept her phone. Sometimes, they look at videos that Maddy made with her friends.
“If you were to pick out the happiest kid in those videos, she would be the happiest,” said Mindy.
One recent evening, the Murphys went out for dinner, and it made them think how one never knows what another person is dealing with, or going through.
“Like all those people in the restaurant and not one person would know that we have just buried our daughter,” said Mindy.
“You just can’t judge anybody, and you just have to be kind.”
If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues or suicidal thoughts, the Crisis Services Canada website is a good resource. You can also call them toll-free at 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645.