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.
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.
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Thinkstock photo by stevanovicigor