Advice to Parents with Mortal Children

Because my daughter, Martha Corey-Ochoa, died of suicide at eighteen, I am obviously the last person in the world to give advice on how to prevent suicide: I tried and I failed.

But I am an expert on raising children who are mortal, which is to say, all children. Though most people don't expect to outlive their children, the truth is that some parents will. Usually, there is no way to know in advance whether you will be one of those parents. So my advice is to act as if you might lose your child any day. Then, if you do lose your child, you will have little to regret. And if you don't, you will have had a wonderful relationship with your child, as I had with Martha.


This is what I recommend:


1. Love your child. This should come naturally, but it can sometimes be forgotten. Remember it.

2. Spend as much time as possible with your child. I know, you have other obligations--making a living, doing housework, spending time with yourself, your spouse, your friends. But childhood goes by so quickly, and if you lose your child, every moment you spent enjoying her company will be worth more to you than anything else you ever did.

3. Keep discipline humane and rare. I believe most children sometimes need to be corrected and, occasionally, punished, so that they will grow up well-mannered and moral. I never used spanking or other corporal punishment, and I don't think it's necessary. But however you discipline. realize that if you lose your child, you will have to answer to yourself for every punitive thing you ever did. You will want every corrective action to have been justified and decent, and you won't want such actions to dominate your memories.

4. Listen to your child with empathy and without judgment. I tried to do that, and the result was that Martha could come to me with almost any problem, without fearing that I would dismiss her, put her down, or use it as an opportunity to talk about myself. One of my greatest sources of consolation is that she trusted me to listen to her.

5. Forgive. As loving as she was, even Martha sometimes did things that made me mad. Once, shortly before her death, she did something that angered me to the extent that I was cold to her for several days. She noticed, and begged me to forgive her, and I did. Now I can only recognize that I wasted those days in coldness. I am grateful that such incidents were rare, and that most of the time I forgave her her trespasses at once, without her having to ask me. Forgive your child, just as you would want her to forgive you.

6. Help your child be who she is. The loss of a child has a way of concentrating your mind on whether, in the long run, you were an obstacle to her growth and development as a unique person with unique talents, or a help. I can say, with rare exceptions, I helped Martha, encouraging her in whatever good thing she wanted to do, not trying to make her into someone she wasn't. I let her have freedom, and even though her freedom ended in her death, I will never regret that she lived and died free.


George Ochoa

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Comments: 7
  • #1

    Jenepher Castillo (Sunday, 28 August 2016 13:33)

    Hello, George. I stumbled across your writing on Alliance of Hope for Suicide Loss Survivors, and found myself here, perusing your remarkable daughter's writings and your own. It is a beautiful website. I wanted to say this, after reading this post - I don't think the fact that you lost your daughter to suicide would disqualify you to give advice on how to prevent it, necessarily. I lost my husband to suicide, and, while I am not sure I could have prevented it, hindsight has provided me with some clarity that could be helpful to others, as I'm sure it has for you as well. Let me also specify that, I disagree with a common mantra that suicides are preventable....because my view is, Not always. It is not always preventable, as each person is ultimately at the mercy of their conditions, and also provided some free will within which to operate, even if that free will is dominated by those conditions at times. I fail to see that we - those who know and love them - have such influence and control over them and their conditions at all times.

    It goes without saying that confirmation will never be known, since the opportunity with each has passed...and the future cannot be predicted. We can 'what if' and 'if only I had...' ourselves into our own graves, and still will not have confirmation that those actions would have made a life or death difference to them. However, I do believe that those of us who have lost someone this way can provide some hindsight advice on what may have helped steer our loved one the other direction, and therefore would possibly assist others to do the same, before an irreversible action is taken.

    I hope I have expressed what is on my heart in an appropriate way, sometimes it feels convoluted and hard to get out in a comprehensible way. Bottom line of what I am trying to say to you is, please don't discount your experiences with your daughter. Losing her to suicide does not devalue all you learned prior to that event, or what you have learned from it since. Your hindsight could be helpful to someone, somewhere, someday.

    Your advice to parents of mortal children is beautiful and spot on. I am now raising our daughter alone - she is almost 10, and losing her father has brought new people into my life who have also lost to suicide, some of which are parents, like you. Through these new friendships, I have realized the magnitude of losing a child this way, and my heart hurts for any parent who survives it.

    Being the child of a suicide loss increases the risks of her own mental/emotional problems, as well as the risk of her own death by suicide - or so they say. This statistic causes my heart to skip a beat. It has caused me to pause more - to take her in more. To be patient more, and gentle more. I have realized this life is precious, HER life, so precious.

    But, life is also busy, and sometimes stressful for this single grieving mom, so sometimes the moments are taken for granted. The time and opportunities to soak her in are overlooked in favor of doing laundry, or paying bills, or whatever distraction has come about. Thank you for reminding me that these years with her are fleeting - whether she lives to be 19 or 90, they are only here once. I am now closing my laptop to go play with her.

    Be well.

    Jenepher, mother to Isabella, age 9
    Wife to Donnie - 3/11/70 - 8/18/14

  • #2

    George Ochoa (Sunday, 28 August 2016 17:38)

    Thank you for your comment, and please accept my condolences for your loss. I hadn't thought of that--that even my hindsight thoughts of what I could have done differently, hypothetical as they are, might be useful to somebody. I will keep that in mind.

  • #3

    jen w (Monday, 23 October 2017 00:29)

    beautifully written and true. please know that your experience could be invaluable to someone else. i'm sure that your lovely Martha would wish to help as many other people as she could, and she is able to help do that through your reflections and writings such as this. my friend's nephew took his life a few days ago. anything we can do to bring more attention and generate more understanding of this problem is very important.

  • #4

    Jasa Website Bekasi (Wednesday, 02 May 2018 21:27)

    Yes i believe, spend as much time as possible with children is the best way

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