Courage Amidst the Darkness – Suicide Awareness
This year represents the fifth time I am honored to speak at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) on National Survivor Day. I feel challenged as I contemplate what to present this year and how to help people affected by suicide loss. For the first time, I am choosing to put one chapter in writing. It’s a new chapter, my chapter, and I dedicate it to my brothers John, DI, Michael, my son Alex and all our family, including my sister in law and her family. This chapter is personal and is my journey. This is for my father and brother in law who made their choice, their choice to die by suicide and mine to show up.
Recently I was asked how have I survived? How have I lived these past 36 years and appear to “have gone on” with my life? To be honest, it hasn’t always been pretty. Being a huge fan of Brené Brown, I am stirred to write this chapter and use this as my opportunity to “dare greatly’. I realized while reflecting on my life I have indeed been “rising strong!”. As a young woman about to marry I didn’t consider myself a ‘survivor of suicide.’ I didn’t even know what that meant. All I knew was to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. In other words, I show up. To show up is often ugly: it’s the ugly cry, the temper tantrums, being lost in anger and hate. It can also be contemplative, peaceful, joyful, loving and fun. I show up. Period. I no longer judge the feelings or keep them bottled up, well, on most days anyway. I choose to be vulnerable, to allow others to witness my story in the hopes that it might help them. This is my truth, not my families- they each have their own unique perspectives. However, this is the chapter I choose to write today, and I am aware there are more chapters to be written.
For years, I was haunted by the questions ‘why did I not stay after dinner? How could I have left him alone? Why didn’t I show up five minutes earlier? Why was I the one to find him? Why was I the one to witness his body in that way? Why didn’t I do more, why didn’t I beg for help louder? Why wouldn’t they listen? Why……
It took time, energy, and strength to realize I was not the one to blame; the choice was my father’s. In time, the blame was replaced with sadness that my father could not find life worth living. Sadness was replaced by anger and questions of how dare he not choose to walk me down the aisle, see my son born? Anger was eventually replaced with acceptance that he was troubled, lonely, sad, and he saw no other way, he did not see his options.
I would love to say I have erased that miserable day from my memory, that I can forget the moment of walking in to find him, watching him be wheeled into the ER, only to realize it was my brother on duty that night and he would have to attempt to revive our father. Then there were the calls to my brothers and other family members. I wish I could tell you those thoughts have disappeared, but I can’t. Some of that night is vague, and some of it is crystal clear as if it happened yesterday. There are times I am instantly transported back to every minute detail. And yet over time, it has softened, and I continue to show up.
The funny thing is, he shows up too! There is the time on my honeymoon when my husband reached into the borrowed down coat to find my father’s “favorite” silver lighter. He was with us! Or the time while rocking Alex he came to visit, to say hello. Oh, how I remember the day my son went on his first “by myself” shopping trip. When asked to model his new purchases, I shed a few tears when this incredible 16-year-old came out in a gorgeous purple dress shirt. You see, purple was my dad’s favorite color, and I explained this to Alex. These tears came from joy knowing the old guy must have passed his love of purple to my son. I know he was with Alex on the free-throw line in college, encouraging him to score his 1000th point. I felt his presence. He shows up.
How do I show up? I show up by waking up every day, loving my son, loving the smell of freshly brewed coffee, walking my dog, advocating for my clients, being vulnerable, daring to love, being happy, nourishing my body and spirit, knowing I am enough.
Gratitude. Gratitude has been my greatest healer. The challenge came in the middle of a great depression. I was challenged to write ten things I was grateful for 30 days. It was tough! Slowly with time and effort, the list included all kinds of things big and small and the depressed state lifted. My journey into studying gratitude and how it transforms thoughts and feelings has grown by leaps and bounds. I even offer this challenge to my clients because I believe in the healing it provides.
Again, this 60th chapter of my story is for me. It is a chance to be vulnerable and dare greatly by writing my thoughts and feelings. It’s an opportunity for me to be challenged, to admit the ugliness and witness the beautiful growth. Whether this is read or inspires anyone is to miss the point. Writing this is my choice; I have the courage amidst the darkness. I show up.
MIND Your Health!