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What You Should Know About Those Who've Died by Suicide, as Told by Their Loved Ones

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Until you are personally affected by suicide, you might have an image in your head of what a person who attempts suicide is “like.”

A loner. A coward. Someone who just couldn’t “handle” life.

Unfortunelty, it’s sometimes not until you lose a loved one that these dangerous stereotypes come crashing down. Because then, the person who died by suicide is no longer that person you heard about on the news. Suddenly, it’s your brother. Your friend. Your parent. Someone you knew intimately or even just a co-worker you saw every day. You knew their interests, their quirks, what made them tick. And you realize, as someone you love becomes the “type of person” who tries to kill themselves, there’s really no “type of person” at all. Anyone can fall to mental illness or to other situations that lead to suicide. It’s complicated, it’s tragic — and we have to stop pretending it can only happen to “those people.”

It’s us. Our communities. And for some of us, the people we love.

So for this year’s International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day— the term used for those who’ve lost someone to suicide — we teamed up with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to put a human face on those lost to suicide. We asked suicide loss survivors in their community to tell us something they want the world to know about their loved one who died by suicide.

Before we share their answers, we want you to know that if you or someone you know needs help, you can visit our suicide prevention resources page. If you need support right now, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. 

Thanks for being here.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “One day did not nor ever will define my 15-year-old son, Samuel. The kindest, most loving, compassionate and funny young man to ever walk this world! His gifts and love changed lives. He is missed every minute of every day.” — Tammy R.

2. “He did the best he could. He was warm and funny, and he was a dedicated and loving father. I know he wouldn’t have wished his struggles on anyone, and he tried very hard to shield his loved ones from the darkness he was fighting.” — Erica M.

3. “How my brother, Jed, died does not define him — how he lived does! I want to talk about him. Please ask about him because I want to talk about him and remember him! He was far from perfect, but he was a really great guy.” — Emily H.

4. “My beautiful mother was so much more than her mental illness or the way that she died. She was funny, kind, warm and loving. She fought depression like a warrior her entire life, and only when my brother, her beloved son died, did she finally end her fight.” — Cherish Mc.

5. “My dad, Ron, was a man full of life, loved people and was one of the friendliest guys you would meet. He was genuinely interested in others and had a passion for the outdoors. He died by suicide on May 9, 2015 after a grueling battle with stress-induced anxiety and depression. These were not the characteristics that defined him, simply the very ‘real’ circumstances that overtook him. He is loved and missed every day. I want to help others in his memory and continue his legacy through compassion, kindness and awareness.” — Ryan H.

6. “My mom fought. She held on for many many years. She was a good mother, grandma, friend and loved everyone. She gave what she craved, unconditional love. She helped others selflessly. Our mom Vicki is missed so much, everyday.” — Rosie R.

7. “He could make anybody feel better about anything by throwing lemons at them while shopping at Whole Foods and say, ‘When life throws you lemons, you gotta catch them.’” — Patty K.

8. “She is more than the method of death. She is more than a statistic. She is my daughter, she is every dragonfly I see and everything Christmas.” — Jen H.

9. “My sister was someone who helped other people. She listened to everyone’s problems, defended and befriended those who weren’t well-liked in school and took care of her friends and family, even when she couldn’t take care of herself.” – Michelle M.

10. “He never would have dreamed of hurting anyone. He had so many dreams and ambitions. It wasn’t his fault. It took me a long time to realize, but it wasn’t a choice he made. The illness clouded his vision and stole him from us. It shouldn’t be taboo to talk about mental illness. It’s real and people who have it need to face it head on. They deserve all the support they can get.” — Colleen D.

11. “He indeed passed away still a Christian. He indeed loved God with all his heart. He indeed did not go straight to hell. He indeed is sitting by the right hand of God. Indeed we will see him again. This stems from being told by a total stranger that Jimmy would go to hell. That even though he was saved, his spirit would burn in hell. And the God I know and love will not turn his back on those who pass from suicide. Once we ask him into our hearts, he’s there. This is what I want people to know about Jimmy and all those we’ve lost to suicide.” — Jennifer E.

12. “My husband wasn’t selfish, he was hurting. He tried everything and couldn’t find a way to exist in the world that didn’t cause him pain. He was deeply loved and loved deeply. Maybe a little too much. And he is missed, every single day.” — Emily V.

13. “My dad was a very determined man. He overcame obstacles such as being hard of hearing, and dyslexic, and he survived a tough childhood. He wanted to become a doctor, but the only way to go to medical school because of his academic record was to go to Mexico. So off he went, not even knowing Spanish. He came back and completed medical school here in the U.S. and spoke Spanish fluently. He became a family practitioner in a small town in Michigan, where he traded services for patients who couldn’t pay and still did house calls. Nothing brought him more joy than to help deliver a baby.” — Jessica C.

14. “Even though I did not know her well enough, all I had learned about her from my fiancé was that she was a fighter with a warm smile. She may be gone now, but she was not a ‘coward’ like some call those who die by suicide. We all wish she were still here… but we all know she is a strong woman and she is forever loved.” — Heather N.

15. “My brother Stephen could make anyone smile just by flashing his grin. He had too big of a heart to know what to do with. He was smart and he made me feel safe — he still does. His brain was a book of sports knowledge. Seriously, he knew so much about sports. He was the greatest little brother to me, and only 23 years with him is not enough! He’ll be with me forever.” — Chelsea J.

16. “He isn’t defined by how he died. My uncle was a Christian. He loved the Yankees and the Giants. He adored his wife Margaret and had a soft spot for cats, especially Frisky, who passed away mere months before he did. He was a private person, a creature of habit and a steadfast hard worker. Most of all, he is greatly missed and loved by many.” — Tara A.

17. “He wasn’t a coward. He was more than that one day… He loved his children more than anything in the world, and I’m sure that he’s so very proud of the young adults they’ve become. He is in the hearts of his children, and I see him in them so often.” — Andrea C.

18. “My daughter Emily’s compassion and passion was so deep, it hurt her too deeply. I bring her forward each day with every act of kindness, each piece of litter picked up, every hug I give and any time I advocate about mental health awareness.” — Laura S.

19. “While my mother loved us, she struggled with mental illness her entire life. Most of her family did as well. I never had any doubt of her love for me, but I wish she could of held on through the storm and know a better day was out there. She still in her own way taught me to appreciate little things, be thrifty and take care of items so that they last.” — Christina M.

20. “He never complained. Never. He was in immense pain but kept a smile on his face. He didn’t want to worry people. Yes, he smiled all the time, even up to that day. He was a beautiful, gentle soul. He was a gift to everyone.” — Sherri B.

21. “He impacted more lives than he’ll ever know. That those who knew him best and loved him, we understand and don’t blame. He [struggled] more than we could imagine. The memories and lesson we learned from him have erected some very strong people from the devastation. I honor him in all that I do, in all that I am. I decided to live by what he hoped for all of us. I don’t compromise my values. I speak the truth from my heart. I stand up for what’s right. I do it for him.” — Stacy W.

22. “My brother was 19 years old. He was so full of love and had an infectious personality. My sister and I never had names; we were always known as ‘Josh’s sisters.’ I still love when people recognize me that way.” — Ronni W.

23. “My son fought his way through loss and grief, but in the end everything around him no matter how small felt like a loss. He couldn’t see the big picture even, though he was loved beyond measure and told and shown that every day. He was impulsive and this choice presented itself during a time when his struggles outweighed his ability to cope in that moment. I know he would have never meant to break anyone’s heart.” — Kari H.

24. “I don’t know why depression picked my dad. He was so funny, caring, strong and giving. He provided for all of us, always made us laugh, gave wise advice. I have so many great memories with my dad. I was told when he took his life to not let that one day define who he was. Who he was were the days before then. The vacations, the t-ball practices, the passenger in the car when learning to drive, the interrogator to all the new boyfriends, the Santa at Christmas, the turkey carver at Thanksgiving, the amazing husband to my mom, the rock to us all. That’s who he was. He wasn’t a statistic, he was a husband, father, brother, and friend.” — Sarah J.

25. “I’m not angry at her. I truly understand feeling that low. I just wish I would have known, that she would have told me how low she was, so we could have gotten her some help. I think of her daily, and I’m still sad after three and a half years.” — Emma L.

26. “For a 15-year-old, Clay had a gift for caring for others, no matter gender, race, economic status, intellect etc… An old soul.” — Kathie D.

27. “In his eyes, the world became too much for his gentle soul. In my eyes, his gentle soul, creative mind and simple life will live on forever in his grand babies and me. ‘Square one, my slate is clear. / Rest your head on me my dear. / It took a world of trouble, took a world of tears. / It took a long time to get back here.’ – Tom Petty (his favorite artist).” — Tera Bundgaard D.

28. “My husband, Barry, had purpose. He always said he could never find a reason for being here but he was so good with animals and birds and I truly believe that had he lived, we would have had many more. He loved all things and people, but he had a passion for birds, cats, dogs, and all other species. His death did not define him. He lived and was loved.” — Caroline A.

29. “He was my anchor all through high school, he had that way about him that just made everything better, no matter what you were going through he was a light in the darkness.” — Raymona C.

30. “I would want people to know my son’s death wasn’t inevitable, as the police officer who informed us of it implied. This man said if a negligent security guard at the site of my son’s death had stopped him, my son would just have found another location to die. We must fight the dangerous myth that suicidal people are beyond help.” — Christine S.

31. “My brother was the last person anyone would suspect of falling prey to severe depression. The glow of his life and legacy are serving to shrink the shadows cast by his suicide.” — Kristina C.

32. “I will never be able to encapsulate all that my beautiful sister Jaime was in a few words. She was a million little things that I am reminded of and cherish every single day.” — Dana K.

33. “He was a thoughtful person. One time I was asking a question at the checkout line, he gently stopped me because there was a long line, among which was a pregnant lady. I will always remember how sensitive he was to other people’s needs. Love you Marty, always.” — Claire Z.

34. “He actually wanted to live. It took tremendous courage to go to the hospital and they didn’t give him the quality treatment he needed and instead ignored the warning signs that he was getting worse under their supervision… and it cost him his life. I lost the best brother in the world.” — Will D.

35. “My son was a warrior. An outspoken leader in righting wrongs and fighting for what he believed in. A champion for all who he felt were mistreated. His spirit is still alive in me and I fight in his place.” — Tammy A.

36. “Both my dad and my brother had an illness that were untreated and as a result they both self-medicated. My dad and brother were good people who both became hopeless. Their deaths do not define the people they were or the lives they lived. When they died, they were so loved, but their illnesses clouded their vision.” — Jennifer D.

37. “Just because he died by suicide does not mean he hated life. In fact, he loved life. He had a zest for life unlike anyone else I’ve ever known. He didn’t want to die… he just wanted the pain to stop. He didn’t want us to feel pain, sorrow, or guilt. He just wanted to end his pain. He was ill, but he was still the person we all knew and loved. Suicide could never change who he was.” — Sam B.

38. “He was not his death. He was loving, funny and adventurous. He would make me smile every day, get me to laugh no matter my mood. He was devoted, trustworthy and loyal. Sometimes shy, sometimes insecure, brave, he stood up when it mattered. He had no idea what a beautiful human he was.” — Stephanie T.

39. “He wasn’t selfish. He was the exact opposite. He was highly emotive – sensitive, kind, loving, funny and smart. He was susceptible to the polar extremes of those emotions, too. He never wanted to hurt us. He genuinely only ever wanted to love.” — Kelly F.

40. “My dad deserved better. He never met a stranger and could strike up a conversation with anyone. He was my first friend and best playmate. He was a NYPD detective when I was little, and every Saturday he would take me to Toy Kids (Toys R Us) and would take the bikes off the rack and let me ride them. We’d spend hours there. He took me on countless bike rides and to many playgrounds. He always made sure we’d stay at hotels with a pool when we went on vacations. Every great memory from my childhood involves him. I miss him. He was my hero.” — Francesca C.

41. “He was wickedly funny, believed in equal rights, cried at the end of my favorite movie with me, never got over losing his mom at 18, loved beauty and had a nice family who loved him.” — Karen R.

42. “It’s OK to talk about him… all the good times, all the memories and even the circumstances of how he died. Actually talking about it may help others who are struggling with depression. He put a lot on his shoulders and didn’t tell many what he was going through. He will never be forgotten and will always be loved and missed.” — Jennifer C.

43. “My father wanted to take care of everyone, but he had too much pride to ask for help when he needed us. He had a daughter and granddaughter who loved him dearly, and this was not a selfish act. He fought the depression, and because of his pride didn’t ask for help. It was too much for him to fight alone.” — Carla R.

44. “I know my mom did everything she could to get people to hear her cries for help, but nobody took her seriously. In her mind, suicide was her only way out. She would not want anyone to be angry with her or feel guilty about it. She had a mental disorder that was not commonly known or understood in 1981. I know she loved me and my brother more than anything!” — Heather R.

45. “He is not ‘suicide.’ He was the most smart, loving, stubborn, passionate brother ever. He will be forever gone, but that does not define him. He was a brother, uncle, son and friend. I have a hole inside my heart that will never be healed. I think about him every second of every passing day. I lost a part of myself when I lost him.” — Lacey C.

46. “They mattered. They were hurting beyond comprehension. They were serious. They just wanted the pain to end. They didn’t know any other way to stop the pain. They loved with their whole hearts. They would easily ensure everyone else was OK even though they were not. That they were loved immensely. They were simply amazing.” — Joy L.

To learn more about Survivor Day, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

If you’re a suicide loss survivor, you can check out our list of resources here.

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

*Some answers have been edited for length and clarity

Originally published: November 18, 2016
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