A man in a wetsuit

Slipped Away” is a celebration of the life of Steve Tarpinian, my soulmate, best friend and the love of my life for more than 33 years. At the age of 54, Steve took his own life on March 15, 2015 in Sedona, Arizona, the day after checking out of a one-month stay at an inpatient mental health facility there.

After he died, I didn’t want Steve to be forgotten. I wanted him to be remembered not only as a good athlete, a great coach and a visionary entrepreneur who laid the foundation for the sport of triathlon on Long Island. More importantly, I wanted him to be remembered most as a kind, compassionate man who tried his best to help people and in the process, profoundly impacted the lives of many in positive ways both in sport and in life. This, I believe, is Steve’s true legacy. Thus, the telling of Steve’s story became a big part of my grief journey.

“Slipped Away” had its origins in the daily Facebook postings I made about Steve in the weeks following his death. My friends told me I should write a book as they loved reading my anecdotes about life with Steve. Since I didn’t consider myself a writer and knew nothing about publishing, I decided to channel my grief into creating a Shutterfly photo book, which I now call my first edition of the eventually published “Slipped Away.” The hours I spent creating this photo book gave me a respite from the crushing grief I was dealing with.

After I finished the photo book, I felt I was ready to publish something. Since I still didn’t feel like a  writer, my thought was to publish a children’s book based on the true short story Steve had written about the mice that came into our home after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. However, I felt that I wanted to do more than write a children’s book, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly what I wanted to do. Eventually, in June of 2015, my true purpose for writing Steve’s memoir became apparent to me. I wanted to carry on Steve’s legacy in such a way that he could still help people even though he is no longer with us. I believe the telling of his story will inspire conversation about suicide and mental illness.

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In the early days after Steve died, I did not want to talk about Steve’s suicide and was adamant with a local reporter that he could not publish the cause of death. I was telling people that Steve died in his sleep. Then, I realized I was guilty of propagating the stigma with my silence about the true cause of Steve’s death and re-enforcing the shame associated with suicide. We, as a society, are OK with talking about other causes of death. We do not feel embarrassment when one of those illnesses may be the cause of death for a loved one. The same is not usually true for suicide.

In years past, breast cancer and HIV/AIDS were stigmatized. Society has made tremendous strides since then. Due to awareness campaigns, there is less embarrassment around talking about these illnesses, which I believe has resulted in more treatment options and those who struggle now have more hope.

We need to get to that point with mental illness. Until we as a society can talk openly and freely about suicide and mental illness, things will not change. Yes, progress has been made, but we still have a long way to go.

Steve, like so many others, had a disease that was unseen, and like so many others who are similarly affected, his anguish was further exacerbated by trying to hide his pain. So many people were shocked that Steve took his own life. Many thought Steve “had it all” as he was handsome, athletic, intelligent, well loved and successful in business.

a photo of a man in swimming gear cropped into a page of text

Although I knew he struggled, I had no idea to what extent. I never would have thought he would take his own life. Steve was my pillar of strength, my rock. I believed he would be able to win his war against his demons. If I only knew then what I know now…

Steve will continue to help others even though he is no longer with us. The proceeds of his memoir are donated to Project 9 LINE, a nonprofit organization of veterans helping other veterans by offering outlets in the arts to those struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

And so, my grief journey continues, along with my mission to carry on the legacy of a man who dared greatly.

Follow my journey on Slipped Away.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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We asked suicide loss survivor what piece of advice they would give someone who recently lost a loved one to suicide during the holidays.

Read the full story.


Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741

There is an increasingly open dialogue among people and their experiences with attempted suicide as well as issues with suicidal ideation. I find this to be impressive and heartwarming — regardless of the subject. I am happy people are willing to be open and share freely. I hope these discussions — now happening outside the closed doors of the therapist offices — will enable us to see for ourselves not only what the spectrum of struggle there is, but what degree of hope there may be.

My entry into adult life brought me crashing into depression and anxiety. As I struggled to control and understand it, so began my issues with self-harm and suicide. I’ve since pushed away the ritual of self-harm as I’ve matured. I’m not actively suicidal, but — as many can relate to — the feelings of worthlessness drives episodes of suicidal ideation.  

These attacks can be short or can last for days. In my own personal experience, it’s like someone is following me around with a gun to my head ready to pull the trigger at any moment. If I make one wrong move I’m done. I have to behave normally to get through the day, but on the inside I’m screaming to be set free from the terrorist that is my own mind.

Reaching out to others is difficult when this happens. At first I got some very negative reactions and I felt like I was doing something very wrong. Responses took the form of, “How could you do this to me?” “We need to get you to a mental hospital right away!” and “Where is the number to your psychiatrist?” At this point I went from looking for comfort into a full blown panic thinking, “Look what I’ve done now! I hurt/confused/angered them by just letting them know what I’m experiencing. If I share what I’m going through, it makes people angry.”

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Or, there were the responses like, “But, look at how much you have?” and “Look at all you can do? So many people in this world have so much less.” I can’t disagree. It’s all true. And, I feel even worse because I have all these good things and I want to die. This makes me feel twice as horrible.  

These reactions made it clear to me I needed to keep my troubles inside the walls of my therapist’s and psychiatrist’s offices. For the most part, I do. But 20 years have passed, and it is pretty much impossible to not learn something and grow a little in the span of 20 years, even if your symptoms don’t change. I want to share it with you — especially for those of you starting this dialogue for the first time and for those of you who may be starting a relationship with someone who has these issues. Because, communication will be critical. So, read on to learn some of the tools that have been helpful to me.

It’s time to really examine the situation from both perspectives.

First, the receiver of the information. If the receiver is not prepared, he/she is at a disadvantage from the start. Reactions like the one described above are normal, given what they perceive as a scary situation with someone they love.

So, what to do? First, try not to overreact. The fact someone is sharing this deeply personal information at the risk of being judged is a sign they are in need of some comfort and acceptance. The experiences they’ve had include a repetitive dialogue that goes something like this:  “You don’t belong here, you are making everyone’s life worse, remove yourself so things can be better without you.” These thoughts are very real to them and while it’s OK to say you don’t feel the same way, do not to deny their feelings.

Please keep in mind the people struggling with these issues often have been through a lot before they open up to you about it. Repetitive negative thoughts like the ones described above stem from a multitude of issues you likely aren’t totally familiar with. Often, just listening without judgement, without trying to fix the problem, without overreacting and simply saying, “I’m always here for you. I love you and I’m glad you can share these thoughts with me,” goes a long way to building a support system they can feel safe with.

A key distinction to note is these feelings are often thoughts and not suicidal plans. There is a big difference. Will talk more about that in a couple paragraphs.

Next, therapists and psychiatrists are there to help. They are trained to handle these discussions with care. They know what questions to ask, signals to look for and instructions to give to both parties. Ask if you can go to the next appointment so you can learn how to best communicate in a therapeutic way. If your loved one says no and you still feel you need help, it may be worthwhile to find yourself a therapist to get some input.

Next, for the person in crisis. You are in a vulnerable state. You have a huge burden you are trying to lessen. Remember, the information you are communicating is familiar to you but very new to the person you are sharing with.

If you can, try to remember how scared you were the first time you had these thoughts. You likely overreacted, called everything in your life into question and made some bad decisions.  You cannot expect others to be as cool, calm and collected as your therapist and know what triggers to avoid. Remember, they truly want to help and they are going to do what comes naturally to them – which may make you feel worse.  If you can, guide them to help you. Tell them, “I have some upsetting news to share with you. I would like you to just listen to me and be here for me. I need someone to accept me for who I am right now. Please don’t try to fix the situation, just say that you love me.”

If your loved one doesn’t respond in the way you need, this does not mean all hope is lost and you will never have a support system. It means it takes education, communication and patience from both parties to develop a supportive relationship.  

The person in recovery wants to be understood, but it has to go the other way too. Talking about suicidal ideation is also hard on the people around the individual struggling and a practical perspective of this cannot be lost. For example, try not to overreact when people don’t comfort you in a way you need. If you’re too upset in the moment, remove yourself and come back when you’re calm and explain what you need and why their instinctual reactions do not work for you. This is your responsibility in developing your support system.

It is very easy for things to get very emotional for both parties and for a healing encounter to turn into a hating encounter. Try not to set yourself up for that additional stress.  

Being able to communicate with your partner or family and friends effectively is complementary to and does not replace professional help.

Last, some pointers for both parties. One thing both parties have to accept is you must do a real, honest, check-in about planning. Suicidal ideation and planning are two different things. It’s one thing to have a voice in your head telling you that you should be dead and you don’t deserve to be part of the world around you. It’s another thing entirely to start thinking about a plan and put a plan together. It doesn’t take a lot of stress to go from ideation to planning. Please, be honest with yourself and those around you and reach out if you need help.

Follow this journey on Pieces of My Mind

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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