A Daughter Talks With Her Father About Coping With Her Mother's Suicide

Dec 6, 2019
Originally published on December 6, 2019 1:50 pm

This story is part of StoryCorps' Road to Resilience project, which leverages the power of storytelling to help children cope with the death of a parent, sibling or loved one.

Sylvia Grosvold was 5 years old when her mother died by suicide.

Now 16, Sylvia recently sat down with her father, Josh Weiner, 52, at StoryCorps. They talked about the day Sylvia's mother, Kari Grosvold, died and the years that followed.

Sylvia vividly remembers going to school that morning in October 2008. It was the last time she would see her mom.

"Mom would always walk me inside to the classroom," she said. "And this day she walked me onto the playground and then she said I could go in by myself, if I wanted. And I felt so grown up."

Sylvia didn't hug her mom as usual, or even say goodbye. But she didn't get far before she realized she wanted to give her mom a proper goodbye.

"I got into the classroom and I immediately started crying, and I ran back out," Sylvia said. "But by that time, she was gone. I just felt so guilty that I hadn't given her one last hug."

At their StoryCorps interview in Portland, Ore., in March, Josh Weiner and his daughter, Sylvia Grosvold, remember Grosvold's mother, who died by suicide 11 years ago.
Beth Duckles / StoryCorps

At the end of that day, Sylvia's school called her dad to tell him that his wife had not picked up their daughter. Josh later found out that his wife had died by suicide.

"In the first year or two after your mom died, I just remember feeling helpless, like there's nothing I can do to fix this," Josh said.

He remembered apologizing to Sylvia for throwing away her mom's suicide note before she had a chance to read it. "I think I was just so angry when I read that," he told her.

"I mean, I totally understand why you did it," Sylvia said.

Josh and his daughter developed their own ways of coping.

And they remembered how Sylvia had conjured a story for herself about how her mother lived in a city on the moon.

"We had that bathroom window that opened up and didn't have a screen, and you could see the moon perfectly from there," she said. "So I would look out the window and talk to her."

If she could talk to her now, Sylvia says she'd want her mom to know what her personality is like. Sylvia's dad tells her that her friendly nature reminds him of her mom.

"You have a lot of enthusiasm for your relationships with other people," he said. "She was like that, you know, she really wanted to get to know people and connect with them."

"I think she would be very proud of you," Josh said.

Over the past 11 years, Sylvia says she has overcome her biggest fear.

"I've learned a lot about death and dealing with it because I struggled with that for so long. I couldn't go to sleep. I didn't want you to leave because I was worried something would happen," she told her dad.

"But one time I was at camp and we were supposed to say our biggest fear. And I was like, 'Death' — hold up, wait ... that's not my biggest fear anymore."

"I guess I'm stronger than I think I am."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Aisha Turner and Mitra Bonshahi.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

NOEL KING, HOST:

It's Friday, which means it's time for StoryCorps. Today we have a hard conversation. It's about suicide. Sylvia Grosvold was 5 1/2 years old when her mother died. Ten years later, she came to StoryCorps with her dad, Josh Weiner, to talk about that day.

SYLVIA GROSVOLD: I pretty clearly remember going to school. And mom would always walk me inside to the classroom. And this day, she walked me onto the playground, and then she said I could go in by myself if I wanted. And I felt so grown up. And I didn't give her a hug that day, and I didn't say goodbye. And I got into the classroom, and I immediately started crying. And I ran back out, but by that time, she was gone. I just felt so guilty that I hadn't given her one last hug.

JOSH WEINER: I remember getting the call from the office that she had not picked you up. In those first year or two after your mom died, I just remember feeling helpless - you know, like there's nothing I can do to fix this. Do you remember when I apologized to you for throwing away...

SYLVIA: For throwing away the note.

WEINER: Yeah.

SYLVIA: Yeah because I learned that some people write suicide notes. And I was like, where's mom's? I really wanted to read that for a long time.

WEINER: I know. And I felt really bad. But I think I was just so angry when I read that.

SYLVIA: I mean, I totally understand why you did it.

WEINER: Do you remember how when you were little, you would look up at the moon?

SYLVIA: Yeah.

WEINER: And you would say, oh, mom's up there on the moon.

SYLVIA: I had this whole story about how she lived in a city on the moon. We had that bathroom window that opened up and didn't have a screen. And you could see the moon perfectly from there, and so I'd look out the window and talk to her.

WEINER: So what would you want your mom to know about you now?

SYLVIA: I'd want her to know my personality. And I would want her to know how tall I am. I'm almost taller than you, and I don't know where I get being tall from. It's not like our family is giant.

WEINER: I think she would be very proud of you. Is there anything that you've learned about yourself?

SYLVIA: I've learned a lot about death and dealing with it because I struggled with that for so long. I couldn't go to sleep. I didn't want you to leave because I was worried something would happen. But one time, I was at camp, and we were supposed to say our biggest fear. And I was, like, death. Hold up. Wait, that's not my biggest fear anymore.

WEINER: Yeah.

SYLVIA: So I guess I'm stronger than I think I am.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRIS ZABRISKIE'S "THAT KID IN FOURTH GRADE WHO REALLY LIKED THE DENVER BRONCOS")

SYLVIA: That was Josh Wiener with his daughter, Sylvia Grosvold. Their story is part of StoryCorps's Road to Resilience Project. It uses storytelling to help kids cope with the death of a parent or loved one. If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.