My introduction to Finn was through his mom Heidi’s post to a Facebook grief group we both belong to. Her words and Finn’s utterly beguiling smile compelled me to get to know this family better:
“It’s been five weeks since my 14 year old transgender son Finn took his life. We had a discussion that night at dinner about his next Lupron shot, and how we were going to pay for it since we’d just gotten a letter that day of our second denial of state insurance, and had been told by Lupron’s owner company that we were slightly over income and it was unlikely that we’d qualify for their patient assistance program. We couldn’t afford the $1400 out of pocket payment. We talked about other options, but he was afraid of the side effect of weight gain. He left the table upset. Oh, how I wished I would have checked in on him. But he spent most of his time holed up in his room, and I was trying to be respectful of not intruding. Later that night, while I slept in the next room, he quietly left the house and walked to the railroad a few blocks away, and lay his body across the track. It was the 11:00 train. Monday. June 19. I didn’t find out until the next morning. I was well on my way to the Chicago airport to take my husband to the airport-he was flying to France to join my 16 yr old daughter who was finishing up her year as a high school exchange student. We turned around and drove back home in shock. There was no note.
It is my intention that death and sadness not win this story. 18 years ago, I had a stillborn child, and I trusted her journey. I loved her unconditionally, so that meant to love her dead or alive. I feel the same way about Finn. I trust his journey. It is my belief that we do not cross over without permission from the Creator, so I trust his path. Finn’s death is stretching my heart beyond what I thought possible. It has happened for me, not to me. I am not always ensconced in the light. I have a tricky mind, filled with what ifs. A few nights ago, I visited the tracks, saw the stain. I spiraled down, hard. It was as if Finn was leading me into his darkness, the trap of his mind before he left. It felt like an avalanche of soot, and inside it a sticky, gooey blanket that I could not get off me. I wanted out. My mind looked for an egress. The solutions were frightening. I understood him better, could see what he had been up against. I saw that I had tools; Finn did not. I began connecting with my body, breathing, praying to the angels, guides, God, Divine Mother. Anyone bigger than my shrouded mentations. I texted my husband that I wasn’t doing well. He came in, held me. I sobbed, then wailed. The ancient wail of a mother who lost her child. I knew this wail. I had it before. And I came out the other side. Wobbly, raw, weak, but intact.”
I am so grateful Heidi agreed to share more of their story with me.
We went to the mortuary to identify the body, and I went straight over to him, stroked his head. He was just so beautiful, but he was dead. He looked so much older, he looked like he was twenty. We didn’t do an autopsy, we knew no one had pushed him. We knew he wasn’t on any drugs.
How did your child die?
This is going to be a long answer…when Finn was twelve, right before his sixth grade ended (he was still Emily back then but I’m going to stick with his name as Finn), he came in to cuddle with me. It was warm out, but he was wearing long sleeves. Suddenly my hands felt scarring. So I jumped up and turned on the light, and I counted, and he had 33 cuts on the back of his arm, not the front where all the blood vessels are, but on the back, going up to his elbow. And I said, “What happened? I didn’t know you were in pain!” We got Finn into counseling, art counseling, but he didn’t take to it. He said it ruined his art. When seventh grade started, we got him a new counselor. In October that year, his teacher called us in and said she had noticed some cuts on his ankle. So he was back to cutting again. Not long after that, I found a big knife in his backpack. His therapist couldn’t get him to make a commitment not to harm himself, so we took him to the hospital in Iowa City. When Finn came out of the hospital, we took him out of school to homeschool him, and I took him to Maui, just to do some things to try to change things up. In the following months, Finn made four suicide attempts. We tried to have a safe setting at home: we locked up all the sharps and the meds, and we made him stay on the same ﬂoor as us, always eyes on, but you can’t keep someone alive who doesn’t want to…He’d come to me and say, “I did it again” meaning he’d overdosed after finding some pills we thought we’d locked up or once he “cheeked” his daily medication. One time he took fifty Benadryl in the middle of the night, and we had to ambulance him to Iowa city. I thought he was going to die…it was terrifying, terrifying! One of those times he curled up on my arm in bed and said, “I feel like I’m on a mission to die.” And I said, “How can you say that? I couldn’t live without you! You’re so important to me. I love you!” And he said, “I don’t know. I just feel like I’m on a mission to die.”
And then not long after the fourth attempt, when he was in the hospital, and he’d just turned thirteen, he called me and said, “I had a moment of clarity last night. I’m a boy inside. And I want to be called Finn.” And I said, “Well, welcome Finn! I’m so glad you’re clear.” And when we’d visit him in the hospital on weekends, I’d sneak my phone in there and we’d order some boy clothes. We got permission for a friend of mine to bring scissors and cut his hair into a boy haircut. We just met it. We just totally met it. In the hospital they have these purple cards they use every day to assess suicidal risk. It’s a scale of zero to seven. Finn had been at a six or a seven every day bar none until the day he came out as a boy, when it dropped to zero. Every day. That told me something. It became time for him to be discharged from his hospital stay, however it was clear that he needed to be in a long-term facility to be secure, so he went to a place in Cedar Rapids for five months. During that time, my husband and I did a lot of deep spiritual and psychological work on letting go of thinking we knew how things were supposed to go. We just kept digging and digging and digging at the attachments.
By autumn that year, Finn wanted to come home and go to school. He loved school. School was his anchor. He said he wanted to learn everything there is to know. We met with the head of school and he said it was okay as long as Finn was taking his meds and going to therapy. The school brought in a specialist on gender identity who talked to the staﬀ and the parents and the kids. He loved his teachers. He studied all the time, school was his thing.
We got through that eighth-grade year okay. He was loving school. Around March, he hit some emotional trouble. One day he had a lot of anxiety, and he told me, “I want to tell you something but I’m afraid.” We reassured him it was okay. He showed us that he’d been cutting himself. They were deep cuts, all over his legs. He was afraid we would take him out of school, which was anchoring him. We didn’t want him taken him out of school either; it seemed too important to him.
At his eighth grade graduation, Finn got this big award for courage, integrity, kindness, and wisdom. I have a picture of him with that award, wow, he was so happy! That summer, I got a job promotion to clinical director, and I got private insurance, so we lost the coverage for Lupron. So he’s not in therapy, and he’s not getting his medication to be a boy, and school let out, so he didn’t have that anchor. We told him that night that we couldn’t aﬀord July’s shot, we didn’t have the money, but that we were going to do something. We’d thought about birth control pills to stop his periods but he was afraid that was going to make him gain weight. I told him we’d find something. Part of me wishes…I mean, I only have a few regrets. If I could do it again, I wouldn’t have told him that we couldn’t afford his shot, I would have gone back to the doctor and said let’s put him on testosterone, forget Lupron. Testosterone is fifty dollars a month. I thought we had more time. I didn’t know we were at this dire place.
Finn threw himself against my lap four days after school was out and he said, “I’m so lonesome.” He didn’t grow up with his guy friends, you know, rough and tumble and all that, and his girlfriends were a little bit older and they were already making that turn into a diﬀerent stage.
He didn’t belong anywhere. But I remember being lonely as a kid, and I said, “Finn, that’s part of childhood, school gets out and you don’t know what to do.” He was bored, though he did have a job working four hours a day a couple days a week at a grocery store around the corner. Anyway, that night, he got really upset, and he said, “Can’t you do a Go-Fund me?” And I said, “We already did one, before, when you were having such a hard time and we were trying to get alternative treatments for you, I don’t know if my friends would go for hormone treatment.” I said, “You could do one, where you could ask your customers.” He said, “But this is for my happiness!” I said, “I know, we’ll think of something.” And he got up and went to his room. And I was giving him space. I thought I was doing the right thing by letting him feel how life is hard sometimes, and learn to tolerate it…I’m not a helicopter parent. At least that’s what I told myself.
I was going to be driving my husband to the airport in Chicago five hours away the next morning. So late that night, to prepare for the trip, my husband took the car to get the tires checked and get gas, and he drove by the railroad tracks. There’s an underpass, and he saw that the train was stopped, and he was like, that’s odd. And on his way back from getting gas, he saw a couple of cop cars, blue lights, in the parking lot by the tracks, and he just thought the building right there had been robbed or something. He came home, we went to bed, and got up at six to leave for the airport. I was going to be away all day, but my stepson was there. We left, my husband and I and three women friends, we were going to see Ammachi, a spiritual teacher of ours, on our way to Chicago.
About two hours into the drive, I got a call from someone at work, saying, “Heidi, I have a police chief and a coroner here and they want to talk to you.” And I said, “Okay,” thinking it was something to do with one of the clients. So I got on the phone, and he said, “Heidi, when are you going to come home?” And I said, “Oh, not until midnight”. And he said, “When’s the last time you saw Emily?” And I said, “Emily?” and I was thinking, do I have a client named Emily?
And he said, “Oh, this is awkward.” And then he said, “Do you remember what jewelry Emily was wearing?” And I’m like, jewelry? Now this is getting personal. And I said, “You mean Finn?” And he said yeah. And I said, “Well, Finn wears a Kavach, it’s a silver rectangle with numbers on it, around either a red or a black string.” And the guy said, “Red?” And then I knew. He had Finn. And I said, “Is he alive?” And he said, “No.” And I said, “Well, where did you find him?” And he said, “By the tracks.” And I said, “Okay. We’ll turn around now.” Someone else took over driving, and my husband and I were in the back, and we were in shock. And then it dawned on me that Fairfield is a small town, and Facebook is a big thing, and I didn’t want our daughter in France hearing about this on Facebook. So we started making calls…And when we got home, I went straight up to his room to look for a note, and when I got there, his phone was in its charger and his computer was open to an Ellen DeGeneres website about amazing kids who’ve been bullied. There was no note.
Then we went to the mortuary to identify the body, and I went straight over to him, stroked his head. He was just so beautiful, but he was dead. He looked so much older, he looked like he was twenty. We didn’t do an autopsy, we knew no one had pushed him. We knew he wasn’t on any drugs.
Did anything help prepare you for this experience?
As a therapist I learned DBT, and the term Radical Acceptance, which was a big one for me. And over the years I’ve done more and more things to accept and adjust. More recently I’ve learned NARM (Neuro-Aﬀective-Relational-Model), which is a developmental trauma model, and it basically has the premise that most of us were mis-attuned to, not by anybody’s fault, but just the way it played out, so the strategies that we developed to survive prevented connection with our true self. We live on these strategies, and they become addictions, they become people- pleasing, and wind us up in therapy. The process of going through that training added another level of easing the pressure that I put on myself to be anything other than I am, and I wish that had had this when I was raising my children. I wish that I could have given this to Finn. I’m sure I mis-attuned Finn and me a lot. I am who I am, I try not to blame myself; I don’t blame my mother; this isn’t about blaming anyone: it’s more about relational health than trauma, it is for me. It’s about how to have relational health with myself, and the people in my life, with institutions and organizations, it’s bringing it back to that core connection, that authenticity. That has been my journey, and Finn’s death and post-death and life have interwoven into all of that.
The biggest thing for me is overcoming that being ensconced in regret that I should have done something. I even asked Amma, “Is there something we could have done?” And she said, “No, he had a short destiny.” You can’t fight that…
What has helped you in your grieving process?
We went up to see Amma the next day, after getting Beatrice and my sister at the airport, and we just got held by her. I think she took on some of the grief. She heard the story and her eyes went back and she just took it in. There were so many people on so many levels of life that were moved by this, that were touched by this. We did a Vedic ceremony. The body is there for that ceremony. It’s done with ﬂower petals, it’s a way of tending to the spirit. By the end he’s covered in ﬂower petals, rose petals from Amma. The entire community came through and placed them on his body. And then we burned his body, had him cremated. And the next day, at his school, the auditorium was filled, my sister led it and she started out by saying, “Here in Fairfield, we know that we’re more than just a body, we’re consciousness.” She led with that and described that Finn is a Manifester in Human Design, and Manifesters mess with the field around them, they’re powerful, they don’t need people in the same way. And then people got up and shared. And it was not ﬂoating-above-the-clouds. It was not a spiritual bypass. It was real. It was honoring and holding of us all. And then there was this incredible rainbow and cloud outside as we left the auditorium, which was amazing.
So many people were supporting me and my family in the best way they could: The local yoga studio owner oﬀered me to be a guest to any class for free for as long as I needed. It took me a while to take that up but I did and I started doing yoga. Having those yoga sessions helped my body integrate the trauma of losing Finn. Someone gave me free Ayurvedic herbal products for a few months. Someone cleaned our house for no charge. The first haircut I got, no charge. I’d be in the store and someone would come up to me and say, “I’d like to gift you a massage.” People kept giving and giving. And of course I had therapy. I did some EMDR in the beginning. I had a really wise older woman who held space for us. And I had my therapist. With suicide, it’s really easy to find the regrets, and what I should have done, and how did I miss the cues, a therapist, right? How could I miss those? It’s hard not to fall into the mentality of regrets. Why didn’t I check on him? How could my husband not have had an intuition— we’re highly intuitive people— how could he have driven under that underpass and not thought?…We weren’t meant to know, I think. The biggest thing for me is overcoming that being ensconced in regret that I should have done something. I even asked Amma, “Is there something we could have done?” And she said, “No, he had a short destiny.” You can’t fight that…
It really helped when people came and did something, like change the water of all the flowers we were getting, or pick up someone from the airport. It helped that my husband is the cook around here, he’s very nurturing. I didn’t have to function, until I was able to get my own footing.
What has not helped?
People said things like, “He made his choice.” Well, I don’t think he chose. The pain chose. The feeling of being alienated and isolated. Or they would say, “He’s in a better place.” Well, now I know that’s true but at the time he wasn’t with me and that sucked. Or when they would try to join in my club, like, “I have a cousin who killed themselves.” Or they would talk about their dad who died. I just didn’t have the bandwidth for that. The best things were when people said, “I don’t even know what to say.” And I would be like, “Yeah, me, too”. And we would just sit there. The people who could tolerate silence, that was really helpful.
It showed me that avoiding my feelings makes things worse. That feeling the emotions was the way through. I feel blessed to be Finn’s mom and I feel blessed that he died. He could have tried to take his life and been paralyzed and suﬀering…he’s not.
Has anything about this experience surprised you?
It surprised me that this tragedy became a portal of awakening. That there could be so much aliveness and connection. I learned a really important lesson. When I was suﬀering, when I was in the self-blame and regrets, how did I fuck up so bad? How did I, a therapist, miss the cues? I was in pain. And what I noticed was, when I was in that self-berating pain, I couldn’t feel Finn. I couldn’t feel the connection. When I went into the sharp prongs of grief, when I felt it and it burned and I thought I was going to die, and I couldn’t breathe because there was nowhere else to go…and then there was this relief, this expansion of love, and connection with Finn and myself and all that is and all of life. And it showed me that avoiding my feelings makes things worse. That feeling the emotions was the way through. I feel blessed to be Finn’s mom and I feel blessed that he died. He could have tried to take his life and been paralyzed and suﬀering…he’s not.
How have you changed?
The biggest change is that I don’t live from the “I know” mind. I don’t live from the place of I know what’s going to happen, what the right way is, because there could be something around the bend that’s going to show me diﬀerently. So I’m more tolerant of the unknown than I used to be. I see so many clients and others who feel like they have to control the future as a way to stay safe, and I find the opposite. I find that trying to control the future is not real, and that being in the present is more authentic, there’s no overwhelm. If I stay in the moment, I can deal with one thing at a time. It’s made me a little less sociable. I don’t need to be everyone’s friend, I don’t have the bandwidth. I’m more human, I have more permission to be human.
Do you have other children and if so, has your parenting changed?
I have two other children, Madison who died at birth, and Beatrice, who is now 21. Finn gave through me a gift to Bea, because I’m a diﬀerent parent to Bea. I don’t have a story about how Bee should be. I really got a sense of spaciousness around Bea. Letting Bea be how they are. A little over a year ago, Bea came out as non-binary. And we were like okay, that means new pronouns and that’s hard but okay. And then a couple months ago my husband came out as non-binary. Considering that I conceived all three of my children while in a lesbian relationship, we are a very diverse family!
In some ways I feel more connected to him than I ever did. And he was a mini-me to me. I’m connected with his soul, his spirit that isn’t caught up with strategy and ego. So it’s a clearer shot. And he helps me.
Do you still feel connected to your child and if so, how?
In some ways I feel more connected to him than I ever did. And he was a mini-me to me. I’m connected with his soul, his spirit that isn’t caught up with strategy and ego. So it’s a clearer shot. And he helps me. Like once I had just gotten an iPad-pro, and I had lost the charger. I was about to buy a new one, and Jean and I are meditating, and I’m like, Finn, can you help me? And all of a sudden, all diﬀerent kinds of bags that I own start ﬂashing in my mind, and it stops on this purple backpack. And then I remember, it’s in the pocket of the purple backpack! And I yelled, “Jean, check the purple backpack!” And he comes in holding the charger!
We really trust that Finn’s spirit finds portals to make himself known. His cat is one of them. We just went on this river trip to Colorado with family. And this bird came on the boat, and my nephew Travis was the oarsmen, and he said in his twenty years of rafting he’s never had a bird come on the raft with him. And I said, “Oh, that’s Finn.” And that bird kept coming back. And I said he also comes back as a butterﬂy, and the next day a butterﬂy came on his oar, and my nephew totally got it. Finn has a way of entering, we trust that, we believe that. We feel it.
A medium a family member saw about something else suddenly said, “There’s a 12 year old girl here, and she’s crossed over, do you know her?” And this relative said it must be Finn (showing up as a girl because that’s how this relative knew Finn). And the medium asked if Finn had died on the tracks, so we know it was him. The medium said Finn was helping other people who are thinking of crossing, telling them, “It’s okay, stay, you can do it.” So he’s helping other people.
And then the medium says Finn has a message to pass along: “Tell my mom there’s a Jesus.” And I had chills, because I’m not religious, I’m not anti-Jesus, he was a great guy and everything, but I’m not Christian, and Finn was the same way, he was creeped out by church, even with the Maharishi thing, we’re not Hindu, we’re not Buddhist…so for him to say “Tell my mom there’s a Jesus,” that was really Finn there, and it helped me because I can connect to Jesus now but only through Finn. Whatever it takes, right? So that was pretty amazing. And the gifts just keep coming. I don’t have to connect with Finn through sadness. I feel happy when I think of him.
What do you answer when people ask you how many children you have?
That was really dicey shortly after Finn died. My husband and I would look at each other, like, how do we say this? I usually say I have one adult child who’s 21, and two children who are angels or on the other side.