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KLCC's Tiffany Eckert produced this three part series on Suicide Loss Survivors. It aired in December, 2018.

Suicide Loss Survivor Part I: "Postpartum Depression Pushed Her Away"

Chris Eilers

Over the last 20 years, the suicide rate has increased by over 25%. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the majority of suicide-related deaths are still among men and boys. But after a deep look, statistics show the number of women and girls dying from suicide has risen dramatically.  

In the first story from our series Suicide Loss Survivors -- KLCC’s Tiffany Eckert shares the story of a Eugene man who learned to overcome feelings of guilt and abandonment after his wife took her own life--leaving him alone to parent their two young children.

Reporter: When women commit suicide, it can be for reasons wholly different from men. The National Center for Health Statistics cites work and family stresses as leading factors. And stress can lead to addiction to alcohol and pills or mental illnesses like anxiety or depression.  

“Hi, My name is Christopher Eilers.  I lost my wife in  2010 to suicide. At the time we had two children. My daughter was 18 months old and my son was 4.

My wife was a devoted mother and a teacher. Her name was Carrie. Carrie Eilers. When I met her she was so vibrant and just had so much energy and was such a power house really. She was in the teaching program at the U or O. She excelled.

Kind of came to realize later was that was a very functional manic state for her. You know the other side of it is depression and a few times she went through that cycle while we were married.

You know, at the time I was going through a mental health program myself to be a licensed professional counselor. And so,  the more I learned about mental health conditions the more I got concerned for her. And she just wasn’t having it.

She had been forced into therapy as a child. Blamed for a lot of things going on in her family so the more she really resisted that she needed to see a therapist or take medications.

After my daughter was born in 2009.

It was rough. She had, I think, postpartum depression. She had clear signs of postpartum depression, and she pushed everybody away. She became just toxic to be around. In some ways I think that was her defense mechanism. To create distance between herself and other people.

I had to distance myself from it so we separated.  

I got the kids for the weekend.  And that’s when she took her life. When I had the children.

They came to my house on Sunday, it was the 12th of June, 2010.  Late at night, my children were already asleep. They asked me if I knew where she was because her sister had called the police because it sounds like ‘my sister is thinking about killing herself so I want you to go check on her.’

And they did and what they found was a small video tape, a small cassette taped to her door. Basically a suicide note. She drove as far away from civilization as she could get. She drove high up into Brice Creek area and used a gun, a firearm to take her own life.

You know it was shocking. I just couldn’t imagine that she would do something like that. I just couldn’t go there in my head. I was angry. I felt betrayed. I felt abandoned. All those things you know. I felt guilty. I can certainly look back and see places where I could have done things. Yeah, I miss her.”

Reporter: After his wife’s suicide, Chris Eilers was left to care for two small children without her. He says part of surviving the loss was helping his kids remember their mother.

Chris Eilers: “My son was 4 and his memories of her are strong. They had a really close bond. My daughter was 18 months old so my daughter doesn’t have much memory of her. She was nursing at the time, maybe up until a month before.

My son and I have talked about this a bit. He did grapple with ‘why?’ What I told him was ‘that’s a question I can’t answer for you. We can’t go back and change it.’

You know I encourage him to love her. I encourage him to cherish the memories he does have. I encourage him to feel good about who his mother was. I tell him stories about her as an actress, stories about her as a teacher. You know I was really conscious not to ever say anything that would degrade his image of her as a mother because a child constructs themselves from parents up. And if you’re thinking, ‘oh my mom was crazy, my mom didn’t love me, my mom abandoned me,' That’s gonna affect how you think about yourself and your value.”

Reporter: 8 years after his wife’s suicide, Chris Eilers is re-married, has more kids and has found a way to be happy. He says he’s ready to help others look at suicide from the point of prevention.

Chris Eilers: “I teach a mental health first aid class that points out what are the warning signs? What are the red flags? How do you intervene?

One of the true things about suicide is that the majority of people who die from suicide have exhibited signs ahead of time.  Pay attention. Suicide is a preventable cause of death.

Credit Tiffany Eckert
Chris Eilers today works to help prevent suicide among vulnerable populations in Lane County.

That’s where I’m at now. I wouldn’t say a year ago I would be here. I’ve turned a corner. I think a lot of people could be devastated completely by something like this and carry it for a long time the guilt – the ‘I should have, should have’ that kind of a thought process is typically not helpful.

Moving forward, what are you going to do?  

Can you turn this into energy to prevent suicide? Can you just turn it into energy to support yourself through the process so you don’t fall into that. You know people who lose a family member to suicide are at greater risk to attempting or dying from suicide themselves. So it is critical  to surround survivors with care with help. Wrap around them and be compassionate.”   

If you're thinking about suicide or are worried about a friend or loved one, the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked in a variety of media including television and daily print news. For KLCC, Tiffany reports on health care, social justice and local/regional news. She has won awards from Oregon Associated Press, PRNDI, and Education Writers Association.
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