Parents Of Suicide
Writings Library

Ruth Burleson
May 17, 2000

My son, Claude, died on May 22, 1996, two days before his 41st birthday. We had planned a birthday party, guests were invited, and birthday gifts were wrapped. But instead of a party, we had a wake.

Claude was a "people" person, loved everyone and everyone loved him; he never met a stranger. He never spoke critical of anyone. He was an avid reader and, in his professional life, was an over-the-road truck driver, a hard worker. His marriage broke up the year before his death (his marriage had been troubled for a long time) leaving him with many, many insurmountable (so he thought) problems. Because of the immediate financial problems, he moved back home temporarily. This was probably a mistake, especially since my husband is not his father. He never felt especially comfortable even though I made every effort to make him feel comfortable.


I awoke him early and told him I was preparing breakfast for the two of us. He said, "mama, I don't have time for breakfast, I have to be at a certain place at a given time." My last words to him were, "son, I can hardly stand for you to leave without a good breakfast."

His route that day, unbeknown to me, left him with some extra time in the immediate area and he went by a local tavern (about 2 miles from home) and spent time there with his friends. I'm sure he had a few beers. He would drink a little too much at times on the weekend, but was real good at not letting it interfere with his job. Drinking had broken up our home years before with his father being diagnosed as a "sporadic alcoholic." Drinking caused me so many problems in my marriage and I certainly did not want my two sons to choose it in any way, shape, or form. I know there are some people that can handle it and I am not critical of them by any means.

He left there and set out on his trip to "wherever" he had to go about 7:00 in the evening. A "concerned citizen" behind him phoned the highway patrol and reported that he seemed to be wobbling a little over the centerline of the highway. The patrolman stopped him and asked him had be been drinking, to which he replied "yes." He was taken to the local jail and charged with DUI. He called his employer and the employer told him he would be there the next morning to get him out. The jailer reported that Claude was just as nice as he could be, giving him no problems whatsoever, and talked to him at length that night about his family problems. Claude loved life and I'm sure he didn't want to die but, with this set of circumstances, felt he had no way out. Unbeknown to Claude, the charge of DUI had already been changed to a lesser charge (the jailer reported). His employer told me this the next day.

But I can only imagine what went though his mind when they locked the doors on him that night (he was alone in the cell). The thought of it constantly haunts me. He knew that I constantly advised against any drinking because the least bit gave him problems. I'm sure he didn't want to call and tell me what had happened. I'm sure he thought that he would lose his job and have no way to pay his alimony, child support, etc., etc. And I'm sure at the moment, he thought there was no way out. He was found the next morning in the shower where he had hung himself with his own belt (that's so hard to think about). His employer's wife brought the news to me (an unforgettable moment) and stayed with me and helped to make the arrangements for the funeral. He died on May 22, his birthday is May 24, and we buried him on May 25 (would have been a day earlier but we did not want to bury him on his birthday).

I have one other child, a son, who refuses to talk about Claude's death, it is too painful. I honor that. Claude had two daughters that he loved dearly (the older one was adopted by him), the older one is married and has a son that was born a year after Claude died, and the other one is a junior in high school.

I carry a "lot" of guilt, maybe I was too hard on him, maybe I "mama-ed" him too much, giving him too much "unsolicited" advice, when he probably thought he was doing the best he could. In retrospect, I could see how worried he was about everything, but I never (in my wildest dreams) thought it would come to this.

I am doing something special in honor of my precious son this year. We had a young missionary come to our small church a few Sundays ago. He spoke of how rapidly the message of Christ is spreading throughout the world now, and that many people are coming to Christ. He spoke of a village in a third world country where the people come together to learn of Christ, but have no bathroom facilities to accommodate their gatherings. I was so honored to have the privilege of providing the funds for such a facility to be built in my son's name. It made me feel so good to do this.

“There is something definitely different about a "suicide" death, although the death of a child by any means is devastating.”

Written by:
Ruth Burleson
Claude's mom
5/24/55 - 5/22/96