Ask Amy: My relative took their own life. Is there some way of saying that this person existed and that their life mattered?

Dear Amy: Forty-two years ago, my uncle died by suicide. I was very young at the time, and for years was told that he died in a car crash.

It was only by accident that I discovered that he had taken his own life. He had a troubled life. It seems he never really felt at home in the world. When he was a teenager, the father with whom he already had a difficult relationship died in tragic circumstances, and I get the impression that this had an impact on his decision to take his own life.

Everyone who knew this young man is either gone or getting older. My grandmother (his mother) died about 10 years ago. We found his school books and other personal items among her belongings.

My question is: What does somebody do with these personal effects? This man lived for not much more than two decades. He did not have any children.

Surely, there should be some way of memorializing his short life?

It seems dreadful to simply throw these items in the trash. Is there some way of saying that this person existed and that their life mattered?

– Niece in Oregon


Dear Niece: This is an intriguing – and poignant – question.

I suggest that if it is possible you might try to sketch an oral history from any family members who might remember more of the fullness of your uncle’s life. You might then be able to prepare a narrative (with photos of some of these objects), and consider posting it as an online memorial. is an online site for survivors of suicide loss. Their “memorial wall,” which features photos of people who have died by suicide – along with inspiring quotes – is deeply moving. Scrolling through the hundreds of beautiful photos reminds those of us who have lost a family member or friend to suicide how important it is to recognize and remember our loved one’s life, and not only their death.

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Dear Readers: Before my departure at the end of June, I’m opening my files and revisiting some previous Q&As. The following was first published in 2021.

Dear Amy: My husband and I have been married for 40 years.

We have two daughters in their 30′s.

I happily was a stay-at-home mom, and my husband was a busy physician. Although busy, he and I never missed a sporting or school event that our daughters participated in.

We traveled, gave them every opportunity in life, and they had a wonderful childhood.

Or so we thought.

My youngest informed me last night that she had some “childhood trauma” (she couldn’t give me an example) that she is going into therapy for.

She also informed me that her older sister told her that she had a horrible childhood.

My oldest has in the past been very disrespectful and dismissive of both my husband and me. She has never provided a reason for her attitude.

She is mother to our only grandchildren, whom we adore.

Could her father and I have gotten it so wrong?

I’m beyond devastated. Thoughts?

– Totally Confused Mom

Dear Mom: Something seems to be amiss in your ideal family, but your angry daughters are not ready – or willing – to illuminate things for you.


You say the daughter who reports childhood trauma cannot give you an example of what she is referring to.

I say that she is not ready. This could be because you and your husband have a habit of denying problems, explaining things away, or glossing things over.

Your other daughter is disrespectful and dismissive, but refuses to explain why.

You are expecting both daughters to explain themselves to you, but they might lack the words, or the wherewithal, to pierce your family’s beautiful façade in order to describe their own experiences and feelings.

They might have had a traumatic experience with a neighbor, a family member, or kids at school. They might have felt afraid, lonely, or harshly judged.

Parents need to make sure that their children understand that they can fail, and fall, and have problems – because that’s what it means to be human.

This is a humbling experience for you. I suggest that you start framing your concern

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Dear Readers: R. Eric Thomas’ will debut his “Asking Eric” column soon.

You can help Eric get started by sending your questions to

Amy Dickinson

Amy Dickinson writes the syndicated advice column, “Ask Amy,” which is carried in over 150 newspapers and read by an estimated 22 million readers daily. Email