Below is a picture of my parents, Sandy & Jim.
My dad—my person—died suddenly two weeks after my 10th birthday in the summer of 1978 of an apparent heart attack. It wasn’t until I was 45 years old that I learned he had actually taken his own life.
I’m 54 now, with two grown daughters of my own, and this weekend I’ll be walking in my first Out of The Darkness Walk to Fight Suicide sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention with my husband and girls. And I have to say, in the days leading up to the walk, I’ve definitely been feeling all the feels; so I thought this would be the perfect place to share what’s in my head and heart space right now.
It’s been close to a decade since I learned the truth about my father’s death, but only a handful of years since I rewrote my internal narrative of suicide and mental illness and begun advocating for suicide prevention and sharing my story. Because, for the longest time, as so many people do, I believed suicide to be a selfish act. But not anymore. Now, I can say with total certainty, that learning the truth about my dad’s mental illness has not only changed my belief system about suicide, but it’s changed the trajectory of my life.
Since learning that my dad ended his own life, I’ve come to understand that mental illness is an illness like any other, one that needs to be acknowledged and understood and treated. I’ve also begun sharing my personal experience with suicide and grief and loss with everyone who’s willing been to listen. And I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of people expressing their gratitude that I’m talking so openly about something that’s been hidden in the shadows for so long.
So many of the people who have heard my story of losing my dad twice have said they’ve felt less alone, simply by virtue of our shared experience. And that’s a gift. Because there’s a beautiful community here within this unique “club” we’re all a part of, and within that community is healing and forgiveness and hope.
In the days leading up to tomorrow’s walk, I’ve definitely felt feelings of anxiousness because I’ve yet to be surrounded, at one time, by that many people who’ve endured a similar level of loss and trauma to mine. At the same time, though, I’m also feeling feelings of anticipation and an almost eagerness to be around people who so deeply understand what I’m feeling. So, I’m doing the hard thing and walking to honor my dad’s life and to show my support for those who are still struggling with mental illness. Most importantly, tho, I’m showing up as a reminder that we’re not alone as we navigate grief and loss and mental illness. And that’s been the key for me as I’ve unpacked and unearthed so many emotions over the course of this loss. Knowing that I’m not alone has been a guiding light for me. And knowing that even with grief comes love and growth.
Have you shared your story of loss? If you have, has sharing given you strength and hope?