American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

@americanfoundationforsuicideprevention | partner
AFSP’s mission is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.
Monica Ormes

Reflections a Year After I Lost My Sister to Suicide

It has been a year since you left, my lifelong friend and sister, one of the best parts of my soul. I want you to know some of the things I have learned since you departed so I write this open letter for anyone to read in hopes that wherever you may be, at least some of it will get back to you. This will also serve as a glimmer of hope for those forced into the kind of destructive grief that follows losing someone — a sibling, a friend, a family member — to suicide. The last year was one of the hardest emotionally in my entire life. When you left and I fell, I didn’t know if I was strong enough to get back up. I didn’t know if I would ever stop sobbing or if I’d ever feel like me again. I didn’t know if I had it in me to survive this world without my big sister beside me. I didn’t know if I could parent my children in a way that was still wholesome and true. I really didn’t know if I would ever find my way back. I have found in the last 12 months that I am allowed to be destroyed over this type of loss. That it is absolutely OK to lose my mind for a minute, get a hotel room, drink a 12-pack of beer and sit up all night crying while binging “Anne with an E.” It is not the best coping skill, so I also now know not to stay there. I have tried to be patient with myself even if somewhere deep inside of me there is a terrible sense of guilt for those who have had to carry me or my weight as a byproduct of my grief. Through this experience, I have learned what it is like to be loved in a very raw sense by those people. I have also learned that nothing I could have said or done would have changed things for you and that this terrible sense of guilt for being angry with you when you died will one day dissipate. It may take the rest of my life, but I can slowly feel that part of me healing. You were at rock bottom and I refused to see it. I am sorry. I took your strength for granted and thought you would pull out of it just as you had many times before. Turns out, I was wrong. I have learned that my mental illness is real and can be dangerous, so I decided the repetitive thoughts about suicide that have ravaged my brain and my heart for most of my life are not allowed to live there anymore. These thoughts are not invited to the party. I’ve mostly determined this in my decision to live mostly for myself but also for the part of me that houses you. I have decided to start living again, to seek out comforts in our happiest memories. When I take a breath, I do it with the intention of not only myself feeling the crisp cool autumn energy that fills my lungs, but also for you to feel it in the space you keep in my heart. I know you are with every step I take and the things you could not see or love about this life, I will see or love for the both of us. My hope is that wherever your full spirit resides, it sees and feels the love and appreciation I have for this life. I hope that you feel my joy, laughter, nostalgia, and appreciation for having the chance to show you what this life should have given you in yours. I hope to show you that you deserved so much from this life and it’s not fair that you weren’t given the chance to feel that. It was hard to get back up after you left, but I tried every day. I hope you are proud of me. I hope you know that the only anger I hold comes from the knowledge that I will never get you back. I have lost one of my greatest friends and protectors, but I also hope you know that I know you are with me, carrying me through the rough stuff because you know that only on the other side of said rough stuff is the reason I still belong in this body, on this earth, in this lifetime with these people I so love and adore. In closing, I will say that I have also learned that I will not stop grieving your loss and that I miss you more that I can put into words, but with that comes the knowledge that it is time for the best part of  this life to begin for me. Though I am sad that you are not here to live it with me, you are walking beside me taking it all in as I walk my path. Thank you for filling me with strength and love and intention. I promise, I’ll do my best.

Quarentines Is Helping Teens Connect During COVID-19

Since high schools closed nationwide due to COVID-19, the ongoing pandemic has shut teens like me in and away from many of the people that made life bearable. I had previously pledged a few months before to create a project to help uplift teen mental health over the quarantine, and already knew that Zoom meetings weren’t going to cut it. To be frank, socializing with others during a time of social distance is far easier said than done — especially being a person struggling with depression. Also as someone with an immunocompromised family, I had started writing letters as a unique way to communicate with my friends over the quarantine, as some sort of alternative to the static video call. I was shocked by how much it helped me. Lettering was a way for me to release my feelings out on paper, while also allowing me to be creative and share something beautiful with others. I was already having a difficult time staying alone with my thoughts all day, and releasing some of my thoughts on paper was extremely useful and cathartic for me. I wrote about new changes in my day, experiences with online summer school and even what books I was reading. Getting a letter back helped me connect with other people while realizing that I wasn’t alone. A few letters later, I knew specifically what I wanted my project to be about, and what its goals would be. “Quarentines” (rhyming with Valentines) is an interactive pen-pal project I created to help bond teens at a time of self-isolation and to reinforce the well-being of a group often overlooked in terms of mental health during the times of COVID-19. High schoolers are the last demographic on the list to re-open schools for, and the first demographic most likely to be spending their days alone at home if lacking means of transportation. I knew I had to cater my project to them, but to also make sure my project was as safe and accessible as possible so anyone could participate. For this reason, I changed my plan to make sure no addresses are ever shared, even that of the participant’s partner. So far, Quarentines has been a great success. We’ve gotten dozens of participants and great feedback by teens telling us how to improve our outreach (and make killer Instagram graphics!). Throughout receiving my letters, I’ve also noticed how much closer partners were becoming over the duration of their pen-palling. I saw letters all stickered-up and with friendly notes on the outside, DIY-ed envelopes and even some with homemade wax seals! It’s been so rewarding helping teens connect during the quarantine, and see how much having a pen pal to write to can increase motivation to do something. As someone in a school district pushing re-opening dates to January, it’s already apparent how much strength is needed to pass the often mentally-strenuous wintertime. Since then, we’ve even created a kids-only version of our project, “Quarentine Kids,” focused on the mental health and literacy skills of children under quarantine. Experts already agree that the “Summer Slide” (the period over summer vacation where children lose previously retained information gained over the school year) is going to be especially brutal this year due to the “extended” summer vacation, and our goal is to help students get interested in literacy and gain socialization skills over the summer to help with long-term mental hygiene. This has also been a great success, and we hope it helps younger children establish a routine of taking care of themselves over times of loneliness. Times like this require an extra amount of self-care — and having the regimen and social interaction of having a pen-pal have already been so useful to many. Join us!

Community Voices
Karen Peloquin

How a Suicide Support Group Helped Me After My Brother's Death

The saying, “There is comfort in misery” is often viewed as a negative statement. But not when it comes to being surrounded by others who truly get where you’ve been, where you are and where you have no idea of where you are going. After losing my beloved brother, David, to suicide, I found myself in a form of grief I couldn’t navigate alone. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to hide from the world. I too wanted to die because the pain was too unbearable. But I knew I had to go on and I knew I needed help. Losing a loved one to suicide has so many layers of guilt, fear, abandonment, despair and confusion. We not only grieve our lost loved one to suicide, we also grieve ourselves, our families and our future that all appear to be lost in grief. A dear friend of mine who sadly lost her brother to suicide years before I lost mine, introduced me to our local Triangle Survivors of Suicide group that met weekly. My friend attended my first meeting with me and held my hand the whole time. That first meeting was very difficult. I was forced to touch my pain and it hurt so very much. I remember hyperventilating, trying to get my words out to explain what brought me to the group. I could have passed and if you ever attend a group, please know that passing is always an option. But something inside told me I had to get it out and I could feel I was in the safest place to share all of my pain and sorrow. The group listened. They didn’t offer advice. They didn’t flinch when I said the word “suicide.” They didn’t interrupt — they just listened. When I finished sharing what brought me to the group, everyone else shared what brought them there as well. And I listened. But not in the usual form of listening with my ears. I felt my whole body listening, especially my heart — and I didn’t have that overwhelming feeling of being alone in my grief. They heard me and I heard them. They saw me, the me I was, the me I am and the me I wanted to be — even though I didn’t even know who I wanted to be. And I saw them the same way. They shared things they would never share with even their closest friends and I shared the same. It’s been almost three years since I lost my brother. Some days, I’m truly living a life I’m proud of after such a profound loss. Other days, I still feel that overwhelming feeling of grief that brings me to my knees. But I know that’s OK. Group taught me that I loved my brother for 34 years and my feelings are valid to miss him for more than what society expected my grief timeline to look like. Group taught me that grief is going to feel like your emotions are on a rollercoaster and you can experience “high highs” and “low lows” — sometimes even in the same minute. And that’s OK. Group taught me that even though the world sometimes seems fast, scary, vain and harsh, there are people who are full of love, empathy, compassion and support. It is also full of people who are rooting for you to live your best life. Who knew that just sitting in a chair, in a circle, and only speaking for roughly five out of 90 minutes, could be so therapeutic? It’s amazing how the quote, “Find your tribe and love them hard” is so true, especially when you add, “Find your tribe and let them love you hard.” Larry Bernstein has been the Triangle Survivors of Suicide Bereavement Facilitator for over 20 years after losing his son to suicide 27 years ago. He has opened the doors 52 times a year (no matter if it’s a holiday or inclement weather) for those who have lost a loved one to suicide to come and share. He knows the power of talking and listening with others who understand, and he makes it possible for people like me (and hundreds and thousands of people through the years) to not feel alone. He’s a hero, he’s my hero — and I’m honored to know him. I’m also eternally grateful to him for seeing a light in me I thought I had lost after my brother died. He asked me if I would like to facilitate our amazing Survivors of Suicide meetings and paid for me to attend the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention Survivors of Suicide Bereavement Facilitator Training. I’m now a facilitator once a month and I’m able to try to give back all the group has given to me. When I unlock the doors for our group to meet, I know I’m giving others a safe place to share their suicide grief. If you have lost someone to suicide, I hope you have a Survivors of Suicide bereavement group near you. If you don’t, I hope you find that beautiful, burning light that still shines deep within you to have the courage to start one in your area.

Hannah Moch

5 Songs That Make Me Feel Seen as a Suicide Loss Survivor

When I was 13, I lost my friend Malaya to suicide. The year after her death, I got involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and I’ve been involved in the suicide prevention world to varying degrees ever since. Even with all the community I’ve found over the last 13 years, I still get a certain feeling when suicide loss comes up in pop culture: the feeling of being seen. Representation matters, especially when it comes to our life experiences. There are a lot of songs about grief and those can speak to the experience of suicide loss, but these five songs are specifically about it. 1. “Wounded Healer” by Watsky Based on the lyrics, it seems this song is about the suicide death of Watsky’s father’s friend. As a young suicide loss survivor, the song does a beautiful job of wrestling with the awareness of mortality I felt after Malaya died. The first verse after mentioning the suicide loss has Watsky discussing his fear of his father getting older. Losing a friend brought a whole new awareness of mortality. (Content warning: method mentioned in the song.) 2. “Suicide Doors” by Mona Haydar “I can see her mama with my eyes closed… I remember those first few nights, we shared the bed and just cried.” This line resonated with me so strongly the first time I heard it (and still does); it nearly brought tears to my eyes. I so vividly remember being with my friends the first few days after Malaya died and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the image of her mom at the funeral. This song makes me feel seen as a friend loss survivor as well. Mona opens the song talking about things her friend used to say, signs she might’ve shown. She goes on to talk about wishing she could have done more. Though friends obviously have a part to play in suicide prevention because they sometimes hear or see the most, we often feel helpless because there’s vital information we don’t know (health insurance and family history information, for example). 3. “Send in the Sun” by Watsky “…who am I to say a choice you made was stupid, but there’s a bunch of us who love you… F-ing stuck here pointing fingers at ourselves for something you did.” I think this is the first song I ever heard that really made me feel seen as a loss survivor when it came out in 2013. The beautiful balance that Watsky expresses in this song between compassion and anger is something I’ve seen countless suicide loss survivors experience. You can hear Watsky struggle to keep himself from yelling as he levels accusations that his friends “went away forever to a new place.” I also know very few suicide loss survivors who didn’t point fingers at themselves and others at some moment in their journey. It’s a part of the process, the search for why. (Content warning: method mentioned in the song.)   4. “Not a Damn Thing Changed” by Lukas Graham “Some of my friends started leaving this life ’cause they couldn’t wait. They know how it feels without hope. I’m glad I got somewhere to go.” Lukas Graham has a habit of releasing songs that express a lot of emotional anguish, but this one specifically about losing a friend to suicide always hits the hardest. The lyrics come fast in this song, but “they know how it feels without hope” sticks. When the album first came out, I looked up the lyrics to understand exactly what he was saying about this loss. “Not a Damn Thing Changed” is such a beautiful and tragic theme for suicide loss because that’s how it feels sometimes –especially if you don’t know someone’s reasons. Yesterday, that person was alive and today, everything is the same, except they’re gone. When Malaya died, we were still a few months away from graduating middle school, living life in NYC like regular 13 year olds, but we were doing it without her. (Content warning: method mentioned in the song.) 5. “Twenty-Three” by MC Lars This is the one song on the list that was made explicitly for suicide prevention awareness. The most powerful part of this song for me is when MC Lars plays a clip of his friend’s voice. It’s so simple but I remember the relief of finding a clip of Malaya on my phone. Having recordings like that keep their voice alive long after they’re gone. I’m sure it’s hard for MC Lars to listen to the clip, but it is an incredibly powerful way to remind people that those lost to suicide are ordinary humans, who had fun and good times with friends. If you’re a suicide loss survivor, is there a song that resonates with you? Let us know in the comments below.

Community Voices
Cheryl Lynn

Grieving My Dad's Suicide: What I Wish He'd Told Me

“Daddy, these are the things I wish you would have told me before you took your life…” As I sit in my local café with my steaming cup of coffee, notebook in front of me, ready to start jotting down ideas for my next creative project, I notice a young father and his little girl placing their order at the “way too tall” counter. The little girl’s face is lit with excitement and anticipation for her fruity, frosted and sprinkled drink from the friendly, smiling barista. She seems to genuinely love her job — smiling at people, creating her own type of masterpieces for their pleasing delight and enjoyment. But, there is a familiar look I see in the barista’s eyes as she looks gently at the little girl of about 8 years old: it feels like envy, pain… it’s a look of loss. I know this look so well. I spot it almost immediately in ordinary strangers I come across every day. As the barista handed the little girl her fantastic drink, she smiled tenderly at her and said these words, “You take care of him, OK?” She did this all the while gesturing towards the little girl’s father and then winked at the little girl. The little girl responded with a giggle, “I will always take care of my daddy. As a matter of fact, I’m going to marry my daddy and live with him forever and ever.” The father blushed but was totally enamored by the unconditional love and admiration his little girl had for him. And… then they were gone. As I glanced down at my notebook, I realized I had scribbled down a single sentence. I tried to focus and refocus my eyes to make out what it said, and then it finally became clear. It said, “Daddy, these are the things I wish you would have told me before you took your life…” Losing a parent is shattering at any age, however, the loss of a parent as a young child is life-altering, so much so in the way that it will change the course of your life, every decision you make, every choice you make; it molds you into a person you may not recognize. You start to wonder where that little child with the free spirit, the wild dreams (that were all going to come true) disappeared to. It robs you of your innocence. It alters your future. I’d like to convince you that losing either a mother or father at a young age affects and changes you in the exact same way, but it doesn’t. Each of our parental figures plays a certain role, example in our lives and contributes to our growth, our maturity and our life’s adventures or misadventures. As I sit and contemplate all of this and the loss of my own father (to a tragic suicide when I was 8), I begin to comprehend that I was/am guilty of making unfavorable choices, especially when it came to men in my life because I start to understand that in my 39 years of life I’ve been diligently searching for the one most important person I lost in my life: my daddy. Grieving the loss of a parent to suicide is not like grieving other deaths. There is often no closure. Every morning when I open my eyes, I relive the death all over again. It never gets better. It is almost like a part of my soul dies every day. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I searched for the love lost in every man I met. I searched for the admirable looks and gestures… the unconditional, unparalleled love. I noted that I always, always searched and/or attracted the broken or emotionally unavailable. Why? The only answer I can give you is that it was/is because in my own twisted, tortured mind, I’ve thought if I could find one of these “broken” men, much like my dad, I could/would convince them I was special enough to make them love me, to change them and make them realize my love was worth living and surviving for. I failed…repeatedly. I wish my dad had sat me down and told me to never let my phenomenal heart and spirit be broken and destroyed by people who did not deserve my valuable time, my empathetic nature, my pure being. I wish he told me if a man makes me cry more than makes me smile to abort mission because it would never change; I would just become collateral damage. I wish he would have told me the undeviating calamity that would plague my existence when he decided to take his life. I yearned for him to elucidate all the immoral, unscrupulous choices I’ve made in my life after this unexpected, unforgivable and catastrophic loss. I wish he would have warned me to not look for him in every male I met. I needed him to tell me I would never find what I was so desperately searching for all these years: unconditional love, people who wouldn’t abandon me. I wish he would have told me I was special and entitled to love and happiness. I wish he would have told me that because I, myself, feel broken that I would attract those who were also broken; he needed to advise me that I do not have the power to fix other people… only the power to fix and repair myself. I wish he would have made clear that no matter how relentlessly I searched, no substance, chemical or addictive process would cease the never-ending pain, suffering, guilt and feelings of worthlessness that still plague me today after 31 years. I wish he would have told me that no matter what successes I had/have in life I would never feel they were/are adequate. There is never a day I don’t feel sadness, loss and intense pain. I find myself putting on the same façade my dad did: the smile but the eyes glistening with tears, the laughter but the broken soul. I feel utterly alone most days — just like the day he decided to leave and abandon me, like a deep, dark entity is pushing down on me. I never got to hold my dad’s hand and say goodbye. I never got to hug him and tell him how much he meant to me. Most importantly, I never heard those much-needed words from him, “I love you, Cheryl, and this is not your fault.” I feel so broken at times, so lost. In some ways I feel like he manifested his twisted, tortured soul into mine; I am him. He is me. Please take this true story, and implement it into your life. Know there is help available. Suicide can transfer pain onto someone else. I urge all of you to reach out to those who are suffering. Be supportive, be understanding… Just be there. Please know that you are loved. You do matter and help is always available. “Your story isn’t over yet…”

Community Voices