Breaking the Silence of Stigma: In Memory of Kaitlyn

Kaitlyn, Rohonda's daughter

In Memory of my daughter, Kaitlyn Nicole Elkin

On April 11, 2013, I got the most dreaded call that any parent could ever get, a call from the police in the town where my 23 year old daughter Kaitlyn was starting her 3rd year of medical school at Wake Forest School of Medicine.  He said he had to talk with me about my daughter and that I had to go there to be told what he had to say.  I begged this man to tell me then, as I would have a 3 and a half hour drive to Winston-Salem.   My initial split second thought was, “Kaitlyn is in trouble!  She’s never been in trouble in her life,” then my thoughts turned to other things and the blood left my body as he told me what happened. He said that she was deceased.  I envisioned her getting into an auto accident and when I asked him what had happened, he said that she had taken her own life.  My world and everything I’ve ever known came crashing to an end at that moment.

How could this have happened?  My daughter seemed to be the most together person I have ever known in my life.  Graduated valedictorian from Whiteville High School, graduated summa cum laude from Campbell university in 2 and a half years and got accepted to medical school where she could pursue her lifelong dream of being a doctor and she was doing extremely well in it.  She had friends; she had just taken a Step One medical board exam that she felt she did well on.  She was an artist, a writer, avid runner, she had common sense and was wise well beyond her years.  She was excelling and seemed to have the world in her grasp.

I had just seen Kaitlyn the weekend before as she had come home for a few days for Easter.  We had a wonderful mother/daughter day and we went shopping, out to eat and the movies.  We had a wonderful time and she seemed totally happy.  How could this have happened?

She wrote my husband and I a two page suicide note, (as well as letters to some of her friends and her sister Stephanie.)  In this letter she stated that she had been sad all of her life and had worked very hard all her life to hide it and protect us from it.  She said that she knew she would have been a successful doctor, wife and mother, but that she was exhausted from the weight of the sadness she has had all her life, could not go on, and this is what made sense to her.  She stated that I might wonder why she had not sought help and that she did not know why herself.

She was a high achiever, but we never put any pressure on her to succeed because she set these high goals for herself.

The reason I am writing this letter is to tell all parents, friends, or spouses, that no matter how happy someone seems to be, there may be a devastating depression within that they are hiding.  Parents, ask your children from time to time, “how are you really doing” and make them talk about their feelings.  As you do this, I hope that they are forthcoming with you, my daughter was not and we had a very good and close relationship.

I’m devastated by her loss, lost in a sea of “what could have been”, the wonderful life that she could have continued to have had.  But I celebrate her life, thanking God that I had the honor of having this beautiful being in my life for 23 years.  But I wish I had more.

If this letter helps at least one person to come forward with their depression, or a loved one to ask about it and have that child open up to them, then it is worth it.

Rest in peace my beautiful daughter, the peace that I thought you already had.  And as I’ve always told you, I love you bigger than the universe.

Rhonda Sellers Elkins

Clarkton, NC

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52 Comments

  1. Oh no what a sad story. I am so sorry for your loss. This story makes me think that it is often those that seem to have it all together that we need to watch even more. High achievers put an immense amount of pressure on themselves to succeed and I imagine that has a degree of impact. It just isn’t a natural way for us to think, to look at the successful among us for issues. Thank you for sharing your story so we may see these possibilities and maybe save someone we love and care for.

    Reply
    • You are so right. I have found that high achievers do put so much pressure on themselves, but I did not realize to what extent until it was too late. I thought she did everything with ease and was basically happy with herself. Mothers sure don’t know everything I have sadly come to realize.

      Reply
  2. I’m so sorry. A drunk driver took the lives of our son and his best friend. The loss of a child is not an easy thing to bear. I pray for God’s peace and comfort for you, too.

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  3. Thank you so much for sharing my story about my beautiful daughter. I want the world to know that it’s not always obvious when someone is severely depressed. Anyone can contact me any time for comments or they need to talk.

    Reply
  4. I am so sorry for you loss. A mother myself, I can’t even start to imagine how you and your husband must feel and how hard it must’ve been for you to write this post.

    Mental illness is a terrible, terrible thing. HUGS

    Reply
    • Thank you. I was very hard to write this and I wrote it only a few weeks after she died. But I felt a strong need to do it and get the message out that sometimes people that seem to have everything can still be severely depressed. We never kinow what goes on inside someone no matter how well we think we know them.

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      • I agree with you. You definitely did the right thing. Until I tried to take my own life, people didn’t suspect I was dealing with depression. They always saw me as a very happy, optimistc, achieving person

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  5. I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing it and may it help someone out there.

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  6. Sorry for your loss. If YOU need support, there is help out there for suicide survivors at http://www.suicidology.org.

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  7. Thank you for sharing. I can’t even begin to imagine. It has helped me.

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    • I am so glad it has helped you. That is one of my main purposes, helping and keeping my daughter’s memory alive.

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  8. I am so very sorry for your loss. I have suffered from depression for my whole life, and last summer I attempted suicide. My parents, siblings, and wife were devastated and had no idea that it was coming.

    Even after realizing how much people love me, I still comtemplate trying it again. However, I am now open about my thoughts with those around me. It is a horrible, horrible illness. Thank you very much for writing about this, and I do hope it helps others.

    Reply
    • I am so very glad your attempt was not successful and I hope you are now getting the help you need. When someone is depressed, the most important thing is getting help. If not, it is deadly. People don’t mean to hurt their loved ones but in the depths of their despair the most important thing is ending the excruciating mental pain they are in. Suicide is not a coward’s way out, it’s a way out when people have lost all hope. But there is help if only they ask for it.

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  9. “And as I’ve always told you, I love you bigger than the universe.” This really hits home to me, because my mother has never told me anything like this. At least Kaitlyn went to her eternal home knowing she was loved, even though she could not stay. People, take this lesson home if nothing else: tell your loved ones that you love them, every day if you can, and if you’re far away geographically, tell them in your heart. It means everything.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much. One thing I know without a shadow of a doubt, she knew we loved her more than life itself. I told her all the time. On the phone, on facebook, in person and I hugged her all the time when she was home. I adored her and she knew this. We don’t have her tombstone completed yet, as it’s one they had to order special. When we ordered it we gave instructions for it to read, “I love you bigger than the universe.” Because I always told her that the universe was not big enough to contain the love I had for her. If love could have saved her, she would still be here.

      Reply
  10. Rhonda, I am so sorry. Depression is so often missed in medical students, I know because I see it on my campus too. Sending hugs your way.

    Reply
    • I know. Med school is a place where you think you have to be perfect and that’s an impossible thing to live up to.

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  11. I cannot possibly fathom losing one of my children, especially at their own hand. But I do know all about deep depression and how it can cloud your thinking and believe that killing yourself is a viable option. Thankfully for me, the thoughts of being better dead do trigger me to know I need help. I think a lot of that has to do with having been a therapist myself. Getting therapy is of vital importance for someone suffering with depression, and usually medication to go along with that because depression, as you know, is a chemical imbalance in the brain. The therapy is particularly important those first 4-6 weeks while waiting for the meds to work! (Just for anyone reading this)
    One more unbelievably difficult situation you have had to deal with…you must have great strength and a good support system, not to mention knowing when to simply let it all out and cry and grieve. Bless you and Peace to your heart

    Reply
    • I appreciate your reply and you have very good advice for people out there that need help. I suffer from depression as well. My daughter watched me as I went through all the different meds and counseling. She had studied all the psychotropic meds and psychology in her courses in med school, she was very intelligent and knew good and well what people have to do if they have these problems. But I think (and I’m just guessing) she didn’t want to admit she had a problem, that maybe people would see her as weak and she was a perfectionist. I believe she worried about the stigma and could not ever face having that thrown upon her, a person who has always been a “golden child.” She may have feared taking meds that would alter her thinking in ways. She also did not want to worry people that she loved with this. (this is the only reason she gave in her note). But to all out there, reaching out for help, no matter what, is better than being in your grave. Far better.

      Reply
      • You’ve touched upon something that I worry about with my own child, who is 28 and thank God doing very well after a long, long (20-ish years) haul though many difficulties. One big problem for him is that he sees my struggles with depression and bipolar, all the treatments and meds and now total disability after being a department chairman, and he feels like it’s the Sword of Damocles hanging over his head. At least his father only has Asperger’s and is a brilliant scientist (like his son) so I’m hoping he will take after his father and not after me; but fortunately or unfortunately, he’s a very sensitive soul (like me and not like his father) and feels everything very acutely. I myself feel sad and ashamed to present him with such an example of (what I know is really not) failure. Fortunately he remains loyal to me and we are good friends. He is what keeps me alive, as sometimes I get very weary of life and wish it to be over, but I know that if I were to leave life for any reason he would be devastated, and I couldn’t do that to him.

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        • Yes, I know how you feel. Kaitlyn was my bright shining light and the one vision I saw when I was on the brink that always brought me back. Now she’s gone….off her own brink.

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          • That terrifies me to think of. How are you holding on, yourself? Are you feeling any wishes to follow her? That’s a tough question, but I have to ask it.

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            • No, my depression was always me centered and feelings of disillusionment of the world. I pictured my funeral with only a few people attending and things like that. But the way I feel now, even though I’m devastated, is focusing on what my baby experienced and the suffering she must have gone through that I knew nothing about. I hurt, but in a different way and I have no desire for anyone to go through something like this from me doing the same thing.

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      • You know, I can relate to your daughter in terms of not wanting to share any imperfection. It was very, very hard for me to share with my family that I was depressed…and really didn’t the first time I went through a moderate depression. Then, when I had to be hospitalized I did share it, then the resulting therapy helped me deal with those issues of feeling judged and wanting to appear perfect. I believe those issues often develop when children are easily accomplished and often praised for all their accomplishments…we fear what people will think if we don’t live up to everything we’ve always been. I was blessed to be a little farther along in my life and my growth than your daughter when the heavy depression hit. My heart breaks for you…keep reaching out for support, as this times must really be challenging your own depressive issues. Peace, Sara

        Reply
        • “”Then, when I had to be hospitalized I did share it, then the resulting therapy helped me deal with those issues of feeling judged and wanting to appear perfect. I believe those issues often develop when children are easily accomplished and often praised for all their accomplishments…we fear what people will think if we don’t live up to everything we’ve always been.”

          Wow, you certainly said words of wisdom and truth there. I think that is the way my daughter thought and sometimes I actually feel guilty for praising her too much. She had so much to live up to because she was very accomplished and did so easily. It’s hard to keep us with one’s own perfectionism. I wish I had known this so very much. If I had things to do over again. I never pushed her, she pushed herself, but that was enough to end badly eventually.

          Reply
          • Believe me…there really is nothing you could have done differently. Certainly, with the information you had at the time, the resources, the skills, the knowledge…you could not have! Please know this in your heart and soul! Even knowing what you know now, would you really want to *not* praise your daughter? Of course not. Even with my own awareness I praise my kids. My daughter, especially, deals with the same issues, though, even though I knew to try to be cautious with praise. She just hates it when she thinks we might not think her perfect…though she has grown some in this department. We have had to outright tell her repeated times…”it’s okay” “no one is perfect” “we love you no matter what” “we support you”. Somehow some of us are born with or easily develop this acute need to be “approved of” or whatever you might call it. I do think it has a lot to do with being easily accomplished as we grow up, having good behavior the vast majority of the time as a child…we just never heard many negatives/weaknesses about ourselves and grow to not know how to deal with that. That is why I think the therapy is so important. And perhaps that is something that other parents can take from this…if you have a child/teen/young adult who is very easily accomplished, rarely misbehaves if at all and hears only positives about themselves we need to encourage them or get them into therapy to learn how to cope with this, to know it’s okay if we’re not perfect, etc. Because, like you said, so often the pressure comes from the perfectionist themselves much of the time (thought there are parents who push it as well, unfortunatley). Maybe you can find a way to make this a legacy for your daughter, if you choose to do so.
            You continue to be in my thoughts and prayers…Peace to your heart…

            Reply
            • I cannot begin to tell you how wise you are in this regard. I truly feel that Kaitlyn was so used to being seen as perfect, she could accept nothing else. Perhaps she saw herself as unworthy as life and school got harder though she continued to excell maybe it wasn’t good enough for her. I knew from the time she was a young child she would hate to lose. As a little girl she could beat me in any card or board game. Except one time I beat her in Monopoly and she cried like the world would end. I tried to tell her that she cannot be perfect at everything and there will be many times that she will lose at something and that it’s ok. She also told me once when she was even younger that everyone at school expected her to be perfect and it bothered her. I told her no one is perfect and all she had to do was do her best and that would be good enough even if it was not the best of all the rest. She seemed to accept that. Then as she became a teenager, I noticed that it bothered her considerably to be wrong. It’s not that she felt herself better than anyone else, it’s that being wrong hurt her inside somehow. I knew this was a problem, but did not realize the severity of it. I wish I could go back in time. I would handle it so much more seriously. So much food for thought…..and I want to teach this to people.

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              • You have reminded me about the whole winning/losing thing…yes, that was an issue, too, for myself and two of my kids.
                If I remember right your daughter said in her letter that she just didn’t see herself putting forth the continued effort to try to be perfect? It must have been a huge burden for her, and I can understand that through my own experiences. Not only is there the need to do the best and be perfect, but also to hide those things in our lives that we perceive as imperfect. That can be very taxing because it is such an emotion-filled thing. Not only do we perceive the imperfection, but then hiding things from our loved ones is in itself another imperfection. It’s a good thing that I was able to grow past much of this earlier in my life because now, with chronic health and pain problems, so much of my life is imperfect! My house is a perfect example of this. I remember so many years of deep cleaning my house prior to family coming over because I couldn’t handle it if there was something for them to talk about with each other (this is one negative about my family…we all talk about each other to each other, which much of the time is a good thing, but not when we go on and on about each other’s weaknesses). My husband is also disabled with very serious chronic illness and health/pain problems so our house is usually a huge mess. Cleaning for 45 minutes puts in bed for a day or three or four, so while we do hate the way our home is, there is very little we can do about it. (Can’t afford a maid, darn it!) I could not have handled this emotionally if it were 25 years ago. Now I just say “the house is a disaster but you’re welcome to over” when they are in town. So grateful for my growth!!
                And being able to move past our perfectionism is so imperative to prevent unhappiness and at the extreme, suicides like your daughter. She obviously could see no other options, and in depression this is very dangerous as you know.
                I am sure you can find a way to share this. If I can do anything to help you I will most certainly be glad to do so. Take care of you! Peace to your heart

                Reply
                • Actually, she said she was exhausted from the weight of the sadness she has always had. She mentioned nothing about trying to be perfect. I just assumed this by knowing those things about her.

                  Reply
                  • That’s right, sorry I got it mixed up. Yes, depression is very heavy, especially when carried over so many years. I feel so sad for her that she not only carried all the sadness, but also that she never felt that she could share it. That’s where the perfection comes in, you are assuming, and I would make a bet that you are right, given all that we’ve talked about. It fits, surely.
                    I don’t know how you make it through each day, but I am glad you are doing it. I can’t imagine the incredible grief you are experiencing…again, my thoughts and prayers are with you. Peace

                    Reply
  12. Hector

     /  July 17, 2013

    May she rest in peace and find in her other life what she couldn’t find in this one. I have an 18 yo daughter that has anxiety and mild depression and I am always checking and watching making sure she is alright. I get her to see a Psychiatrist often and therapy as needed. May you find peace within acceptance.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much. You are doing all the right things in helping your child with her anxiety and depression. Some parents may think they will “grow out of it” and sometimes this thinking only lets the problem continue and worsen. I hope my daughter has found peace. It’s the only thing that keeps me going.

      Reply
  13. Catching Happy

     /  July 17, 2013

    Such a devastating loss, but such a strong message – Thank you for being brave enough and strong enough to share and hopefully help others struggling as well. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    Reply
  14. bpshielsy

     /  July 20, 2013

    Sorry for your loss. Your post is very moving. I would like to reblog, in the hope that more people will see it.

    Reply
  15. bpshielsy

     /  July 20, 2013

    Thanks Rhonda / Laura, I’ve reblogged.

    Reply
  16. I am truly sorry for your loss. She looked and sounded like a beautiful girl. I blog about Depression as I too tried to commit suicide 3 years ago. Had I died that day my family would have been lost like you. I hid behind a mask I had put on very young in life and smiled all the way through. The day you decide its going to be your last day…you cry and all you think of is the pain your going to cause your family. But, your pain is so great and that tiredness you talk about is so draining…you just want to have peace.

    You would have been her last thought. I hope i haven’t upset you! I just have an understanding of what she was going through. May she rest in peace. Love and hugs to you, Paula xxx

    Reply
    • Thank you. No, you haven’t upset me. I know how she must have been feeling. I suffer from depression also but sought help. She never did. Thank you for your comments. I’m glad you are doing better now and your attempt was not successful.

      Reply
  17. Howisbradley

     /  July 21, 2013

    I’m speechless. I couldn’t imagine…

    Reply
    • It really is too horrible to imagine if it never happens to you. It’s horrible to even think about if it does happen.

      Reply
  1. Loss and thoughts on life, death, suffering and potential (mom & L, please don’t read this…) | both sides of the wall
  2. Please Read This: In Memory of Kaitlyn | The Bipolar Place

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