What I've Learned About Grief Since My Dad's Suicide

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February 7.

This is a date I will always dread and never forget.

A year ago that day, my life got turned upside down. A year ago my dad took his own life. But I didn’t just lose my dad that day — I lost my hero, my biggest supporter and inspiration, the funniest person I’ve ever known and the one person who could make me smile without saying a word.

If I were to be completely honest, the past year has been one big blur that has all rolled into one, and I’ve really struggled to adjust in a world without him in it.

Over the past year, I have learned the true meaning of grief, for me anyway. It’s different for everybody, of course, and I’m still learning. But I’ve learned grief isn’t what I thought. I’d lost family members before, but this loss took it to a new level.

Grief is, well, it’s far from easy. It’s guilt. It’s constant chest pain. It’s always there, and it pokes its head into the most unwanted of situations and has the ability to ruin the few good times manageable in the wake of death. It’s not being able to sleep through fear I’ll lose somebody else. It’s telling my story as if it was happening to somebody else, not me. It’s having a few moments of reality but still not being able to believe it. It’s complete and utter disassociation, defense and heartache.

But it’s also continuing with my degree, using it as motivation and doing everything I can to make my dad proud. It’s reaching my goal, helping those who, like my dad, struggle to help themselves and helping to improve mental health services and in turn (and hopefully) reducing suicide rates.

Suicide is often associated with selfishness by people who don’t understand it. This isn’t true. But in saying that, if you ever think the world will be better off without you, I can assure you it isn’t. There will always be somebody who loves you & will miss you.

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Please, ask for help.

You are worth it, and you deserve to live, I promise. It might not be easy, but it’ll be OK — some day!

Dad… a year on from losing you, I’ll be forever thankful for the time I had with you and proud of your achievements and bravery despite your pain. I miss you more than you could ever imagine.

All my love,

Your Little Girl

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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

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The First Time I Felt Real Hope Again After My Son's Suicide

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It’s been just over five years since I encountered the life-changing tragedy of losing my oldest son John to suicide. Looking back, I honestly believed I wouldn’t survive even five days. How could I? A mother’s job is to protect her children. To know their heart and to be able to see their pain, even when they do their best to hide that pain behind their smiles. We have superhuman powers. We know our children, and we can fix anything. The call that morning that brought me to my knees changed all of that forever. It changed me forever.

Many in our community know of the work I’ve done raising funds and advocating for suicide prevention. What most don’t know about the year prior to that… that first and toughest year after losing my son. The year I buried myself in work and in “life” and in proving to the world and to myself that I was OK. I had to be. I was still a mom to two other children. I still had a job that needed me. I still had friends who included me in all they do. There simply wasn’t time for me not to be OK. What would people think if I didn’t keep doing all I was doing? I would look weak and I would let others down. I simply did not think it was OK for me not to be OK. Those closest to me knew what I presented on the exterior was not what truly lived inside of me. They saw it. They told me they saw it. I ignored it… I was OK.

Yeah, no. I was so not.

It took a day eight months or so after my son passed, when I had a complete meltdown at work, for me to finally realize it. A breakdown in front of coworkers and patients to force to me finally reach out. I found a support group for parents who had lost children, and while it definitely helped, it just wasn’t enough. Losing a child in any way is devastating, but losing one to suicide was something no one in the group had experienced, and therefore I still felt like I was lost on an island all alone. No one knew my shame, the blame, or the gut-wrenching guilt I carried. All I harbored that made it impossible for me to feel I had the right to really just grieve for the tragic loss of my beautiful child.

Months later, I came across information about an Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention in Portland, Oregon. It was within a month or so of the event and an hour drive away, but I thought it was worth checking out. I needed to do something. I had to do something. So, I started a small team with a friend and my daughter. We raised a little money, put on our shirts and showed up at the walk. From the moment I stepped into that mob of beautiful people, my heart knew for the first time what real hope felt like again. I was home… I would never, ever feel alone in my loss again. Others out there shared my story. Others out there knew my heart.

That morning brought me back to being me and turned on a new light in me as well. Most of all, it forced me to see that feeling like we have to keep our suffering a secret because it’s what society tells us to do is simply not right. My son did just that, and for nearly a year following his death, I had done the very same thing. I knew then I had to somehow help others see it too.

It is OK to not be OK.

My relentless crusade was born from that single morning. I vowed to myself that I would do more. I raised my goal the next year to $5,000 and rallied for an even bigger team. I told my story to anyone and everyone who would listen, and people listened. That year our team raised nearly $7,000, but more than that, the awareness was spreading. People really wanted to help. Schools reached out to hear my story. Those who donated often shared their story of how suicide had touched their own lives and thanked me for the opportunity to share their heart and help with our cause.

People were finally talking about it!

It was working.

The next year my team raised nearly $12,000 for the Portland walk event, but the money raised was only second to all the awareness we raised.

In October 2016, I was honored to be a part of bringing this lifesaving event to my own community by chairing the 1st Annual Out of the Darkness Walk in Salem, Oregon.

Nearly 3000 beautiful souls gathered in our community to support each other and to walk with one another to help stop suicide. Our community came together in a way that words cannot possibly describe. A day embedded into my heart like no other.

We raised over $100,000 at our very first event to help bring prevention programs and resources to our community, but more than that we brought hope to countless. We brought light to their darkness.

Nothing could have prepared me for the loss of my child to suicide. No one could have convinced me I’d ever find even a speck of faith in this world or in myself again. Now I can say, faith lives on and that huge hole in me the size of my child? Oh, it’s still there, but it hurts a whole lot less because I can feel that he is proud of my fight to save others, and that gives me strength when I need it most.

I began this crusade to somehow honor my own child, but I tirelessly keep trudging along and remain committed to it for everyone else’s.

I do not believe that “everything happens for a reason.” There is no reason a parent should ever bury their child. But I do believe we have the power to channel that gut-wrenching grief into something pretty incredibly beautiful for others.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in helping others.”

No statement could be truer

Through my work with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, I found myself again. Suicide is preventable. We don’t have to be doctors or therapists. We just have to care.

I care.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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

Thinkstock photo by stevanovicigor

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The 4 Most Important Words I Heard After My Suicide Attempt

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“It’s not your fault.”

Dr. D got down on her knees, forced me to make eye contact and said very clearly… “It’s not your fault.”

It was less than 48 hours after my last suicide attempt. I don’t remember a lot of what was asked of me that day. I don’t remember a lot of what was said, but I do remember those four words. Dr. D knew exactly what she was talking about.

After hearing my story and seeing the multiple medications the doctors and clinics had put me on in another city, she could say with absolute certainty…. this was not my fault.

Let’s jump back a few months.

I knew something was wrong. I didn’t feel like myself anymore. I felt like my life was swirling around me… going too fast or not fast enough but always dizzy. I would spend hours crying. Countless hours of my day just lying in bed. Going to school or keeping up with homework was just too much to deal with.

So I made the decision to get help. I went to counseling over a course of a few months. One counselor said I had depression. Another said anxiety. Everyone else said it was “typical college student stress.”

Things continued to escalate with every medication they prescribed.

On top of my uncontrollable emotions, I had the worst migraines I have ever had in my life. They lasted for days. So they gave me more medication for that as well.

By the time I found myself in Dr. D’s office, I was on a cocktail of medication – most that were very clearly labelled not to be taken with each other. But the manic mind does not say to read the paper that comes with your prescription. The doctor would do that… right?

Things went from bad to worse, and I spent over a month going to the emergency room, telling them I felt suicidal. Telling them I didn’t feel safe. Asking for help because I knew something was wrong. They would have me wait until a crisis counselor would come down, usually hours after I had arrived. I was exhausted by the time they got there and then they wanted to talk. It was the same conversation every single time.

“Why do you feel suicidal?”

“Do you have a plan?”

“Are you having thoughts of harming others?”

“Why do you feel this way?”

After answering the same questions, they would deem me safe to go home. The last time I went in, I looked the nurse right in the eye and told her I was going to kill myself. I looked the doctor in the eye and told him I was going to kill myself. I looked the crisis counselor right in the eye. I told him I was going to kill myself. They sent me home a couple hours later.

There’s no need to for anyone to relive what happened between that time and this moment with Dr. D. The whole point of this post is to write about a moment of kindness related to my health that didn’t seem significant then, but is important now.

That moment was when Dr. D said those powerful words:

“It’s not your fault.”

Those four words are written on a sticky note above my desk. Not as an excuse for my actions… I truly believe we should live with the consequences of our actions. I leave it there as a reminder that living with undiagnosed and untreated bipolar disorder allowed a lot of things to happen. A lot are things I am ashamed of. But those words put my past manic actions into context. I can sleep soundly at night knowing had I not been manic, I wouldn’t have acted the way I had.

That moment where Dr. D stood up for me — that was where my life began to change.

I had the opportunity to meet Dr. D again a few months ago. She had no idea who I was… but I knew her. I told her I was an old patient. I told her a short version of my story, and as my eyes began to water and my voice began to crack, I thanked her for those four words – now on a sticky note on my desk – and told her how they were a main part of my healing.

Dr. D retired a few days later. I am so thankful for her and the work she has done. It’s doctors like her who make a world of a difference for those of us who are diagnosed and/or struggle with a mental illness.

Dr. D, if you’re reading this, thank you. You were the first doctor to see my illness for what it was. You were the first doctor who stood up for me and demanded a recovery plan. Well done.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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

Thinkstock photo by megaflopp

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To the People Who Stuck by Me After My Suicide Attempt

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1. Thank you for seeing me at my worst and still loving me. I know it must have been incredibly difficult to see me like that. It was hard for me, too.

2. Thank you for never giving up on me, even when I gave up on myself. You are the reason I forced myself to stay alive after the second attempt.

3. Thank you for sitting up with me when I felt alone. I know it was probably hard talking to me in that state. I truly did appreciate your efforts.

4. Thank you for not seeing me as a lost cause. I looked in the mirror and saw nothing but wasted space and rotting potential. In my eyes, I was worth nothing, but through your eyes, I started to see myself as something.

5. Thank you for not making me talk about it before I was ready. I know you wanted to know what was going through my head when it happened. I know it was hard to comprehend why I tried to end my life.

6. Thank you for reminding me I am loved. The thoughts that always ran through my brain told me otherwise.

7. Thank you for joking around with me like you always did. I needed that hint of normality in my life when everything else was a mess.

8. Thank you for the extra hugs. I was never a big hugger, but looking back the hugs definitely brought a smile to my face.

9. Thank you for giving me some space when I needed it. I know it must have been hard to leave me alone when I was still in such a fragile state. You probably worried about what I might do to myself when I was alone, but I really did need my own space to heal.

10. Thank you for loving me more than I loved myself. Your love and support pushed me to keep breathing, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to stay alive. I may not have loved myself enough to keep living, but my love for you kept me alive.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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

Thinkstock photo via Liubov Marchuk

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Why My Pizza Slice Tattoo Represents Suicide Prevention Awareness

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I am frequently asked about the pizza slice tattoo on my ankle, but I have never publicly shared the story behind it.

This story is not my own, and I have reason to believe a lot of the important information has been changed due to privacy of the real person who experienced this. But the way I heard and understood this story is the way it will remain in my mind, and it is something I think about regularly.

In a high school elective, we were invited to take the Suicide Prevention Training via a local crisis line. During the process, we were told a story about a woman who called the line and the first thing she said was:

“I dropped my pizza on the floor!”

When I first heard that, I laughed. It’s OK, you can too. My mind immediately went to, “Well, buy a new one” or something along those lines.

Fortunately, the member of the crisis line stayed with the woman and gathered more information. It seemed that it was near Christmastime, and the woman couldn’t afford gifts for her loved ones. She sat at a mall that day and ran into an old high school friend who had become a successful lawyer and was married with kids. The woman must have felt quite small in comparison, as she still lived with a roommate and both of them relied on welfare to get by. Once a month, when they received their checks, the roommates could splurge a little and buy a 2-for-1 pizza.

Of course, you might understand the importance of this pizza now. When she dropped it, it felt like the last straw. She felt like she just couldn’t do it anymore.

This story rang in my ears for a long time. It made me realize that even though something as little as a pizza can feel like life or death, depending on your circumstances. Suicide, depression, even simply bad days are all subjective. This is important to me because no matter who I talk to, I am reminded that they are all fighting a battle. When a person says, “Oh, it doesn’t matter…” I always tell them this story because… if it’s affecting them, then it matters. It’s their pizza slice at that moment. To me, that battle may sound trivial or little, but to them? It’s their entire universe, their entire mental health, their entire life. That’s OK. That’s their pizza slice.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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What Madison Holleran's Suicide Taught Me About Chasing Perfection

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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.

My chemistry professor stopped in the middle of his lesson this week and turned toward the quiet the room of freshman.

“If there’s one thing I would change about Washington and Lee students,” he began, “I would wave my magic wand to make you all less afraid of making mistakes.” He went on to preach about how mistakes contribute to the most efficient learning.

This week also happened to mark the third anniversary of Madison Holleran’s death. When my professor turned to the class, I couldn’t help but think Maddy was somehow speaking to me through his words. Maddy’s story has been publicized across the nation, as people over the last three years have become even more infatuated with the girl than they were before her death.

I knew Maddy as a teammate my freshman year. She was a track star, a soccer phenomenon and an academic genius. The girl practically had a fan club, made up of high schoolers, parents, news reporters, sports fans, teachers and coaches.

She had led the Northern Highlands Girls Soccer team to consecutive state championships. She set and beat her own records on the track. She was a member of the National Honor Society. She was absolutely stunning. She was a role model to us little freshmen, someone I personally admired for her beauty, humility and grace. More importantly, she was the daughter to two of the most loving parents in town. She was the middle sister to a crazy group of five siblings. She was the best friend to some, although she was honestly friendly with the whole school.

This is Holleran’s story as told by ESPN.

For those who don’t know the tragic events of Madison Holleran, I’ll provide you with the basics, although the over 700,000 hits from a Google search of her name can also serve that purpose.

On January 17th, 2014, Maddy left her UPenn dorm room to walk around the city of Philadelphia. She stopped at Rittenhouse Square to Instagram a captionless, scenery picture of the tranquil park lights just as dusk began to creep in on the end of the day. Maddy proceeded a block away to a parking garage. There, she would end her own life. Every person that has heard this story seems to have his or her own opinions about Maddy’s “cause of death.” While there’s no doubt that she struggled silently with anxiety and depression, both the media and Madison’s parents have rationalized this tragedy.

Most seem to think Maddy fell off the metaphorical pedestal that she — and we all — had constantly placed her on. People claimed when UPenn turned out to be harder in all aspects of life (socially, athletically and academically), she couldn’t quite manage the struggle. They said she didn’t know how to cope with her less than perfect college life and felt like she couldn’t ask for help. They said Maddy was the girl who once had it all.

Maddy ran after perfection. But now where is she?

While part of me hates how publicized this personal tragedy has become, her story does serve as a lesson to help students for the better. This is especially true in college, where the rigor of classes, intense social scene and demanding schedules can be quite hectic.

Maddy’s loving parents have since started a campaign for students, under the slogan “It’s OK to not be OK,” made famous by ESPN coverage.

In my chemistry professor’s 14 years of teaching at this school, the one thing he would change is our willingness to make mistakes, to be wrong sometimes, to struggle and ask for help. Whether this be by raising your hand in chemistry class to take a risk on a question you don’t quite understand or taking advantage of the free counseling services on campus, the idea remains. Might I add, college may be the last time there will be eager professionals at your full disposal.

College has its demands, but it also has an amazing, uplifting community. There’s no need to maintain a façade at all times with all people. Whether you find an outlet in a best friend, professor, coach, counselor or RA, it’s important to have someone with whom you can let down your walls. In the coming months, especially during the infamous college winter blues, I hope all of us students can support one another, cope with the tough stuff and most importantly, ask for help when needed.

When we find ourselves chasing unrealistic excellence, let’s slow down and take a step back. The only consolation I can give is that no one at this school, no one anywhere, can catch perfection.

For more information about Maddy’s story or how to give a kind donation, please see The Madison Holleran Foundation.

This post originally appeared on The Odyssey.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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

Thinkstock photo via In Memory of Madison Holleran Facebook.

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