Deborah Greene

@deborah-greene | contributor
Deborah Greene lives in Erie, CO with her husband and three daughters. She lost her father, Lowell Herman, to suicide on April 20, 2015. She is a devoted advocate on issues of mental illness and suicide prevention/awareness. She blogs at Reflecting Out Loud.
Deborah Greene

Why the Media Needs to Follow Reporting Guidelines After a Suicide

Dear Members of the Media, This past week, as you reported on the death of Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, many of you once again ignored the recommendations for responsible reporting on suicide. These recommendations are in place for a number of reasons, not the least of which is to try and minimize the chances of suicide contagion, or copycat suicides. According to the The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount duration and prominence of the coverage. Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines & images and repeated extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death. But I would like to add another reason that following the recommendations matters. You see for people like me, survivors of suicide loss, the notion of how our loved ones died is hard enough to live with. We may struggle with flashbacks, nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of us found our loved ones, some have recreated images in our own minds based upon the details we came to know. But for all of us, it is a pain that is indescribable and one we must live with for the rest of our days. My father took his own life at the age of 72, just over two years ago. It has taken a great deal of work for me to navigate this path through the traumatic loss. And there is not a day that goes by that I am not haunted by an image of his final moments. In the beginning those images were a constant assault on my senses. Two years later they still remain, but they are no longer at the forefront of my every waking moment. I am grateful for that healing, though I can not ever think about my dad in life without being confronted by his death. I can’t savor a memory without the taint of pain and trauma. And I am constantly vulnerable to triggers that will, without warning, blindside me and bring me to my knees with despair. So, when you choose to ignore the recommendations for responsive reporting on suicide loss, and I am confronted with a barrage of headlines on the radio, social media, in the paper or on the television, you also do harm to me. Because those headlines serve as a trigger, one that rips open the very fragile scab that has formed over my loss and exposes every ounce of my pain. The images I’ve worked to place on the back burner of my days come roaring in with a vengeance, the tears begin to flow and I feel assaulted by your salacious details. And long after I turn you off your words linger. You as members of the media have the power to change the conversation around suicide. You can help to break down the walls of shame and stigma by talking about mental illness, and how none of us is immune. You can share important information that might reach someone in crisis and enable them to get the help they need. You can report on issues around suicide prevention and shed light on important programs. You can ask politicians and leaders questions about addressing issues of mental health in our country. You can take the tragic death of someone famous and help meaning to come of it. In the case of Chester Bennington or Chris Cornell, you can talk about substance abuse as well, because substance abuse and mental health go hand in hand. You can make good come out of sorrow and loss. And you can remember the vulnerable who are watching. Those living with suicidal ideation, and struggling to hold on. You can help to ensure that those of us who have already suffered the unimaginable do not have our pain compounded by your words and images. You can do your job responsibly and ethically. It’s not that hard to do. And you might just save a life along the way. Sincerely Yours, A Suicide Loss Survivor If you are in crisis and need help call 1-800-273-TALK Click here for media guidelines on Responsible Reporting on Suicide Follow this journey on Reflecting Out Loud. 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 o r text “HOME” to 741-741 . Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via seb_ra

Deborah Greene

Letter to Anderson Cooper From a Fellow Suicide Loss Survivor

Dear Anderson Cooper, You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. But we do share something in common. We are both survivors of suicide loss. In 1988 you lost your brother Carter to suicide, and 17 months ago, on April 20, 2015, I lost my father. In just a few days, you will join Martha Raddatz at Washington University in St. Louis to moderate the second presidential debate of 2016. This is a chance to speak to some of the biggest challenges our country is facing and open up a dialogue with each candidate as to how they might solve those issues — or at the very least, tackle them in such a way as to make a meaningful difference. And so, as a fellow survivor of suicide loss, I am asking you to raise the issue of suicide. Every day, it is estimated that we lose 117 people to suicide — people like your brother and my father. And every 12.3 minutes, another family in this nation is left to navigate the painful aftermath your family and mine have faced. You probably understand better than most in the media, every person who dies by suicide is more than a statistic; they are parents, children, siblings, spouses, friends and neighbors. The most recent federal data analysis tell us suicide rates in the United States have surged to a 30-year high. The same research showed an alarming increase in suicide among girls 10 to 14, whose suicide rate, while still very low, had tripled. The suicide rate for middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, rose by 63 percent over the course of the study, while it increased by 43 percent for men in that age range, the sharpest increase for males of any age. And men over the age of 75 have the highest suicide rate of any age group. Add to that the fact that we lose 20 veterans a day to suicide, and that the suicide rate among female veterans is six times higher than the rate of non-veteran women. Anderson, these are statistics, numbers, and they are staggering to say the least. But they are so much more than that. These are the casualties of a war that is being fought in the dark. These are deaths so often cloaked in shame, stigma and silence that those of us left to grieve a suicide loss often find ourselves feeling alone and isolated in the experience. But you can help to change that. Don’t you think it is time we shine a national spotlight on the realities of suicide loss, Anderson? Don’t you think it is time that any conversation about our nation’s health care includes issues of mental health and suicide prevention? Isn’t it time we normalize those conversations as part of our national dialogue? And I might add, isn’t it time to change the discourse in the media and on the campaign trail when it comes to the language we use, being mindful not to belittle and further stigmatize those living with mental illness? It’s been 17 months since I lost my father to suicide. And not a day has gone by when I have not tried to make some meaning come from his death. I have shared my story openly in the hopes that doing so can help spare another family the pain mine has endured, a pain you are intimately acquainted with. You told People magazine in a March 2016 interview that your brother’s suicide had a definite impact on your career: “I started going overseas and going to places where life and death was very real and where people were suffering tremendous losses. Hearing their stories and hearing people talk about it sort of helped me to get to a place where I could talk about it, I think.” This Sunday night, with millions of people watching, you have the chance to further the conversation about suicide in this country. The struggle of those who die by suicide is very real, and families like yours and mine are living with tremendous loss. You’ve learned to talk about it, and so have I. So let’s use what we have endured to make a difference. Let’s talk about it. Let’s ask our nation’s potential leadership to talk about it. The spotlight is yours to shine. As a fellow survivor, I hope you will use it. Sincerely Yours, Deborah Greene Image via Wikimedia Commons / Tulane Public Relations 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. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. A version of this post originally appeared on Reflecting Out Loud.

Deborah Greene

Deborah Greene: 'Good Morning America' and #SuicideontheBrain

It has taken me a while to sit down and write this letter. Yesterday, when I first read this piece by Dr. Jill Harkavy-Friedman, I was deeply upset and outraged. It was difficult to find the right words to articulate my thoughts in a manner that could be heard and, I hope, be part of a greater dialogue of understanding. On Sept. 8, 2016 The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention showed up in force outside of the “Good Morning America” studio in recognition of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. In a sea of blue shirts that read, “Be the Voice #StopSuicide” they stood ready to bring the message of suicide prevention to the millions of viewers who tune in to your show every day. They came on a mission of hope, ready to offer thoughtful resources, insights and support to those who might need it. They came to shed a bright light on an issue that is most often shrouded in darkness and fear. And then, in a deeply disheartening and disturbing turn of events, they were asked to move out of the camera’s view and told, “It’s the top of our morning show. We don’t want suicide on the brain.” In my mind, that decision by your show was not only woefully misguided and callous, it was a missed opportunity to help save lives. I know a little something about missed opportunities. On April 20, 2015 at the age of 72, my father died by suicide. I often wonder about the missed opportunities my family and I might have had to save him. I don’t share this from a place of guilt anymore, rather from a deep regret I did not know enough to recognize the signs that my father might be suicidal. If I had known then, what I know now, there is a chance I might have been able to respond differently. There is a chance my father might still be here today. The missed opportunities are now part of my story, and every day I strive to share what I have learned in the aftermath of my father’s death. Yes, I may have missed the opportunity to save my father’s life, but in his memory perhaps I can help to save the life of another precious soul and spare another family from the pain mine has endured. So I tell my truth. My painful journey began in a Whole Foods market where I received the call that my father had died by suicide. Mine, by the way, is a story that went viral after I wrote an open letter to the strangers in that store who comforted and cared for me in the immediate aftermath of that devastating call. If they had responded the way your show did, by deciding that it was simply too early on a Monday morning to deal with “suicide on the brain,” the darkest moment in my life might have also been one in which I felt the most alone. Thankfully, that was not the case. And when my story went viral, I heard from hundreds of survivors of suicide loss. Once again, strangers reached out to me, reassuring me that one day healing would come, one day I would be happy again. They reminded me I am far from alone on this journey. As I became stronger, I sought to do the same for others who were newer to their loss and whose wounds were fresh and raw. From the deep roots of our shared sorrow, we gave one another faith and hope. “Suicide on the brain” in our community of survivors means we understand intimately what the other is feeling, and we want to be a beacon of light and a source of support for one another. That shared sense of knowing binds us together, though we are strangers in every other way. For many of us, it also means we want to learn from what we have endured. We have lost those we love in the most senseless of ways. We want to give their death some meaning. I have educated myself about the prevalence of suicide in our nation and what can be done to turn the tide on what is now the 10th leading cause of death. Much of what I have learned and the support I have received began with the very organization you asked to step out of the camera’s view, lest their shirts and their message upset those who had tuned in to your show. I have raised money for this organization, participating in their Out of the Darkness Walks, supporting their efforts to reduce suicide 20 percent by 2025. I have lobbied on Capitol Hill with them to bring the message of suicide prevention to our country’s leaders. This is an organization that embodies hope. “Suicide on the brain” for this group of people means devoting every day to contemplating how we can do better and help those who are deep in the depths of despair. It is about motivation to open minds and hearts so that lives can be saved. Ignorance may be bliss for some, but knowledge is power and power can be used to break down the very walls of shame, stigma and silence that your show chose to feed into last Thursday morning. Missed opportunities are hard to live with, especially when we know we won’t ever get another chance to make things right. I may have missed the opportunity to save my father, but I sure won’t waste the opportunity to imbue his death with purpose and allow his legacy to be one of life and of hope. The representatives of your show said they didn’t “want suicide on the brain” at the top of your morning show. If the estimates are that someone in this country dies by suicide every 12.3 minutes, then in the span of your two-hour show approximately 10 people will have been lost to suicide. Their loved ones represent one of the largest mental health casualties of this largely preventable form of death. On Sept. 8th, just two days before World Suicide Prevention Day, your show missed an opportunity to talk about suicide with the very people devoted to stopping it. But you get another chance, another opportunity to make it right. It isn’t enough to visit this issue only in the aftermath of another celebrity death. It’s time to talk openly and honestly every day and to stop relegating those of us who have lived experience, or who have lost someone we care about, to the periphery, far outside of the camera’s view. We deserve better than that. And we will keep raising our voices for as long as it takes. You owe this community of survivors, advocates and messengers of hope a sincere apology. And to truly make this right, you owe us a place in front of the camera and a platform from which to speak. Let us say the word suicide, let us put it on the brains of those who tune in to watch your show. Let us empower, educate and share a message of hope. The shirts we wear say, “Be The Voice #StopSuicide” so let our voices be heard. Because the truth is, it might just save the life of some of those very same viewers that you sought to hide us from. Sincerely, Deborah Greene This piece was originally published on Reflecting Out Loud. 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. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Deborah Greene

Thinking of a Magic Trick as I Reflect on My Father’s Suicide

When I was little, my father had a magic trick. He would light a cotton ball on fire and put it in his mouth to extinguish the flame. It never failed to impress. Then one day, an actor who was famous at the time for his role in “ The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams” had an accident. A flaming drink set fire to his beard, and he was hospitalized with severe burns. News of that accident caused my father, who also had a beard and mustache, to stop performing his magic trick. It turns out that trying to swallow fire could be far more dangerous than he believed. I think of that trick often these days as I reflect on my father’s suicide. Depression is the flame not extinguished when swallowed. Rather, it grows and festers in the darkness. And in time, it was the depression that consumed my father. Like a sweeping brushfire, its power was overwhelming, and it progressed too fast to be put out. Anxiety, an added accelerant, fanned the flames, further and higher. A wildfire bent on destruction of spirit and soul. Still, he kept the full truth of it contained. No, depression is not meant to be swallowed. It needs to be exposed to the light. Because left to smolder on the inside, its flame will smother the embers of hope and ignite despair. Once upon a time my father knew that swallowing fire could be dangerous. Until one day, it was the fire that devoured him. And we who loved him most are left standing in the ashes. This piece was originally published on Reflecting Out Loud. 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 . Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Deborah Greene

From a Suicide Loss Survivor: Stop Making Light of Suicide

The other day, while in Target I overheard two young women in the bathing suit department. One held up a bathing suit and jokingly showed it to the other, asking “How about this one?” The other girl responded “I’d kill myself if I had to wear that.” The following day I was in Kohl’s camp shopping for my daughters. A frazzled mother was talking aloud to herself as she passed me, her toddler in tow. “Did I get a gift receipt? I can’t remember if I did. Damn it! I’d like to just shoot myself today.” Both moments felt like a sucker punch and momentarily took my breath away. We are so flippant in our language. I am certain I was once guilty of it too. It’s so easy to make light of suicide — until it touches your life or the life of someone you love. And then, you quickly discover, there’s not a single funny thing about suicide. Survivors of suicide loss spend much of our days dodging triggers. We sit down to watch a television show only to have a joke made about suicide. We deal with the drug commercials that lump suicidal thoughts and actions right next to hives and rashes,when discussing possible side effects; as if they are even close to being on par with one another. We try to tune into election coverage only to hear words like “political suicide” tossed about. Yeah, here’s the thing — if you can wake up in the morning, kiss your loved ones, walk outdoors and breathe in the fresh air, then there is no “suicide” in the demise of your political career. We survivors are everywhere. And there is nothing funny about the loss we are learning to live with. So how about we stop treating it like a punch line or a reasonable response to a moment of frustration. How about we treat it like the serious and painful issue that it is; an issue that claims another life every 12.8 minutes in this country and shatters the world of those left behind.The triggers are abundant, we dodge them all day long. But that places the burden on us. And quite frankly, our shoulders can only take so much before our knees buckle. So please, take ownership of your words. Because I’m fairly certain a missing receipt or an ill fitting bathing suit is not something you would seriously end your life over. And if they were, I promise you, it would be no laughing matter. This piece was originally published on Reflecting Out Loud. If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources. If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Deborah Greene

X Ambassadors Song Unsteady That Reflects Feelings About Suicide Loss

You know how it is. Sometimes you’re driving along in your car and a song comes on the radio that touches on something deep within. And before you know it, your vision is blurred as you drive through your tears. One year has passed since my father’s suicide. More than 365 days since the call that changed my life forever. The ground shifted beneath my feet the moment the words were spoken. And I’ve not known what it feels like to be on solid ground since. How do you love someone through a loss like mine? It is fraught with so many layers, pitfalls and obstacles. You can’t walk this path for me. You can’t drag me along at a pace that you believe will hasten my healing. But you can accompany me. The song by X Ambassadors is called “Unsteady.” Today was the first time I’ve heard it. The chorus is simple, yet deeply profound. Hold on, hold onto me ‘Cause I’m a little unsteady A little unsteady And that is all I ask. In time, I will find my footing. I will learn to carry this altered sense of self with strides that are more certain and strong. I will wear my status as “survivor” with a greater depth of purpose, but a lessened degree of palpable pain. I’m learning. It is still new. And I am hurting, even as I am healing. The song says: If you love me, don’t let go If you love me, don’t let g o Hold tight to my hand. Walk with me in loving silence. Open your heart and listen. Let me tell you my truth. I do not trust this ground quite yet, lest it shift once again just as I find my stance. What was never supposed to happen, did. My faith provides no clear compass through this new terrain; like the GPS when I make a wrong turn, it is constantly recalculating. So how do you love me through this loss, this unfamiliar terrain of suicide loss? The song says it all… Hold on, hold onto me ‘Cause I’m a little unsteady If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources. If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. This blog was originally published on Reflecting Out Loud. The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a scene or line from a movie that’s stuck with you through your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Deborah Greene

Coldplay's 'Fix You' Helped Me Through My Father's Suicide

Music has the power to evoke such strong emotion. It can touch upon our deepest sorrows and our greatest joys. It might be intertwined with a cherished memory, bringing us back to the past, no matter where we stand today. Music can be part of our truth, our narrative of life. It can frame the way we see the world around us. When I first lost my father to suicide I felt like an open wound. The words to a song could be a source of comfort or deepen my sense of pain. If the song, “Fix You” by Coldplay came on the radio, it would unleash sadness so profound it was hard to breathe. And the tears come streaming down your face When you lose something you can’t replace When you love someone, but it goes to waste Could it be worse? Those words spoke to my loss. They were a reflection of the abundance of tears I cried day in and day out. It felt like such a waste to lose my father in this way, to suicide. And I could hardly fathom a pain that would feel worse. It was as if a song written years before my father’s suicide, were somehow written just for me. And then came the part of the song that exposed my deepest wound, the profound guilt that I carried. Lights will guide you home And ignite your bones And I will try to fix you We, his family, were “home” for my father. He was tired. The suffering he felt as he fought a deep depression coupled with severe anxiety had most certainly reached in to his bones. “Bone weary” is the term that comes to mind when I think of how exhausted he must have felt. And oh how we tried to be the light in his darkness. With all that we had to give and with what we knew then, we tried to help him to heal and to find the strength to fight on. We tried to ignite within him that spark of hope that seemed to have gone out. He was caught in a storm, and we stood as a lighthouse, ready to guide him tosafety and calmer waters. But it turns out we could not fix him. And because of that, we thought we had failed. Suicide leaves behind an abundance of blame that we took on as a family. As if our grief was not heavy enough, the missed signs caused our knees to buckle. But I know today that we could not “fix” my father. He had an illness that required treatment. He would have needed to find the strength to seek it out. He would have needed to dig down into his already depleted reserves to find the resilience to work toward recovery. We could offer him love, unconditional and without judgment. And we did. We could reassure him that he was cherished just as he was. And we did. We could listen when he talked, hold him when he cried and support him on his journey towellness. And we did. My father was not broken as a human being, though I believe he felt that way. And none of us is imbued with the power to fix another person, much as we’d like to in the face of such suffering. It wasn’t our fault. I know that now. And I can hear that song today without allowing it to bring me back to that place. I cannot revisit that burden of guilt. The lyrics still evoke tears for the father I loved and lost. But it was not for me to fix that sense of brokenness. And I know  the love we shared, in the time we had, will never go to waste. If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources. If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a scene or line from a movie that’s stuck with you through your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Deborah Greene

Deborah Greene Reflects a Year After Her Father's Suicide

Dear Self, I know you are hurting. The date on the calendar is looming and soon you will mark the one year anniversary of your father’s suicide. The mere thought of it feels like a ton of bricks have been laid upon your chest. It is hard to breathe, and even harder to fathom that 365 days will have passed since your world was changed forever. I know you are tired. It’s OK. You have been a full-time student of traumatic grief. You have sat in support groups and therapy, facing the hardships head on. It is called grief work for a reason. The stages of grief have been anything but linear and navigating through them is depleting. Some days all you want to do is lie in bed, and pull the covers over your head. It would be easier to hide from all of the emotions, the firsts, the triggers and the loss. But you don’t. Every day you get up and out of bed. You put one foot in front of the other and you live your life. You take care of your precious family. You make room for love and laughter. You are present for those you care about. You turn to the things that bring you joy; taking a hike, reading a book, listening to music and the creative joy of cooking. It is time you give yourself credit for all of that. You have not hidden from the truth of your loss, not once. You told all who would listen that your father died by suicide. You were honest about his struggles with depression and anxiety. Right from the start you were determined not to allow his death to be a source of shame or stigma. And you wrote the story of your grief, sharing it with loved ones and strangers alike. You have turned pain into purpose, even when you have done it through an abundance of tears. I know one year later you look in the mirror and you feel as if your father’s death has aged you. And I know you are wondering why you are not further along in your healing. Sometimes you allow a perception of weakness to sneak in and take hold. You think to yourself: If I was stronger, it wouldn’t still hurt this much If I was stronger, I’d have found a better balance by now. If I was stronger, my grief would be a thing of the past and I would once again feel whole. But deep down you know that is not true. You lost your father in a traumatic way and it has left a painful imprint on your soul. The news of his suicide forever altered you and you were shattered. One year later, I want you to see the strength it has taken to simply gather up the pieces. You are slowly putting them in new places, even if they are held there on little more than spit and a prayer. I want you to honor the emotional healing that you have worked so hard to attain, and that allows you to turn towards life and hope. Anyone can go to therapy, but you do the homework. The session begins and you allow your feelings to come spilling out. I want you to forget about that imaginary finish line on the road of grief and instead look back and see all of the things you could not do or feel in those early days of loss, that now you can. Those are victories and milestones to be savored. I want you to think about that letter you wrote to the women who cared for you when you got that devastating phone call in Whole Foods that morning; and how it has traveled across social media, around the country and across the ocean. You helped to humanize the face of suicide loss and got people to talk about a subject that most never want to look at, lest it happen to them. Writing is healing for you, but you must see that your writing has helped to bring some healing to others. You have heard from survivors of suicide loss, survivors of suicide attempts and those living with mental illness and something you said allowed them to feel less alone. And in turn their words reminded you of how many accompany you on this journey, strangers in every other way, but connected in this struggle. You are a survivor of suicide loss. And survival takes strength, tenacity, courage and resilience. To survive is to carry the hardship that life has dealt you and to persevere, to strive to move forward. Survival is the opposite of defeat. So please don’t be defeated. One day, one moment, one breath at a time you are carrying this loss. And you continue to move through the valley of the shadow, striving towards life’s peaks. Some days your stride is certain & quick. Some days your legs feel weak and you inch along ever so slowly. And some days you take ten steps back and surrender to the sadness. But every day you get up and you keep going. April 20, 2016 is coming. You will have endured a whole year of firsts without your father. You have honored his memory. You have learned to honor the grief and the loss. But you must also take the time to honor yourself and all of the growth that you have shown. Honor the brave survivor that you are. Let your scars be a testament to your strength and spirit. And keep on striving towards healing, one baby step at a time. You will get there. Look how far you’ve already come. The last dance Deborah shared with her father. If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources. If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Deborah Greene

Faith and Autism: Our Daughter's Journey

“There is nothing in the world so much like prayer as music is.” — William P. Merrill Once, we didn’t know if she would ever utter a complete sentence. Once, we couldn’t bring her into a room full of people and stimuli, knowing it would overwhelm her senses. Once we didn’t know if she would be able to make and sustain friendships. Once we didn’t know if she would ever reach the milestone of becoming a bat mitzvah. Once we were afraid to hope too much, ask for too much, pray for too much. Once it seemed that our faith would never truly belong to her. Once we didn’t know that we could teach her to cut with a scissor, or make beautiful music on an instrument. Once, the simple act of drinking from a straw seemed too much. The only songs we might hear were the rote melodies and words she mimicked, memorized from her favorite TV shows. Once, we heard the word autism and for a brief moment, our world came to a standstill. But we loved her too much to remain in a place of helplessness. We owed her so much more than that. So once, we fought for her. And she fought alongside us. We immersed her in therapies, and she displayed a fortitude and a perseverance that, in the company of that support, brought her forward, tiny step by tiny step. Once, the world overwhelmed her. A clown, a bright gathering of balloons, the sounds of a crowded space. But we did not retreat. She allowed us to slowly expand her world, safely, with trust… inch by inch. Once, she carved out an entryway into her faith, embracing it as her own, determined that she would have a place amongst her peers. Once, we began letting go, allowing her to try, to stumble, to feel her way through, so she would know autism did not own her, it simply inhabited her. Once… once we didn’t see her standing on the bimah, guitar in hand, surrounded by her peers, leading a congregation in prayer and song. Once we didn’t see that smile, full of pride… her smile, our smiles. Once, our hearts broke — sometimes they still do. Autism has changed her journey. Not simply once, but forever. Once we didn’t know where that journey would take her. Today, we still don’t. So we take in the moments, always. And last night, as we watched a very special song leader, our hearts filled with pride. We turned to each other, my husband and I, and said, “Remember when we never thought this would be possible?” Deborah’s daughter, Yael. Once the word “never” occupied a space too painful to bear. We tucked it away, choosing instead to focus on “maybe,” “perhaps,” “one day”… and on this Sabbath eve, we quietly revisited the word “never.” Never underestimate her. Never give up on her. Never forget the quiet courage she displays each and every day. Never be too afraid to hope, to dream. Never stop giving her the tools, the chances, the opportunities. And never forget the moments when we get to witness the incredible blessing of watching her do what once we thought could never be done. In prayer, and in song, and in watching her — her love of music, her love of faith, her love of Jewish community, she shared with us a gift. It’s her gift. And that we will never give up on. Follow this journey on Reflecting Out Loud. The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing you thought on the day of your or a loved one’s diagnosis that you later completely changed your mind about? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Deborah Greene

How We Told Our Children Their Grandfather Had Taken His Life

I remember the first time I heard my mother’s voice after I found out my father had taken his life. I was in the back of Whole Foods, where I had received the devastating news, sitting with my friend Pam. My husband was on his way to me. But I needed to speak to my mom. So, with my hands shaking and an endless flow of sobs and tears, I dialed the number to the house that my father and mother had shared for over 40 years. My mother answered, and as she recounted what had happened, we sat on the phone crying. And she said to me, “Deborah, I don’t want the girls to know how their grandpa died.” When I asked her why, she answered, “I don’t want them to think he didn’t love them enough to stay.” We both knew we could not keep this from them. And even more, that we could not possibly grieve a lie. That wasn’t truly what my mother wanted. Her words were not born of shame, but rather the fear that my children would come to see their beloved grandfather as selfish, or perhaps see themselves as “not enough” to keep him here. I promised my mother, vowed to her in fact, that I would make sure my daughters knew how much their grandpa loved them. I would tell them the truth about how he died, but I would remind them of all that they meant to him in life. Somehow I would find the words to impart all of that. My husband took me home. And soon after, our daughters began to arrive from school. They did not all come home at the same time. And while it would have been easier to say the words only once, and to have them all together, it was obvious to them as they walked through the door that something was terribly wrong. There would be no postponing the conversation. It began with my middle daughter, who was beaming because, on that same day, she had gotten her braces taken off. A friend had picked her up from school so she could keep the appointment. And it fell to us to rob her of that smile, as we told her that her grandpa had taken his life. Then we told our oldest, and finally our youngest. We began each conversation with the reminder that I promised my mother I would give. “You know how much Grandpa loved you, right? He loved you so much and he was so proud of you.” As the words came out, the expressions on each of my daughters’ faces quickly changed. They could see in our faces that something was wrong. We then tried to gently frame the harsh news that we were about to deliver, “You know how much Grandpa has been struggling these last months? You know he has been dealing with depression and anxiety.” And before we could go further, my daughters knew. The tears and cries spilled out as they asked if their grandpa had killed himself. And my husband and I had to answer them with the hardest truth they would ever have to take in. “Yes. Grandpa took his life early this morning. He’s dead.” And then through my sobs I said the same thing my brother had said to me that morning when he told me of our father’s suicide: “I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.” The cries and screams that escaped from my children’s mouths, cries that came from a deep and primal place, will never leave me. They are forever seared into my memory. And I can say with certainty that those were the hardest and most painful words I have ever spoken to my children. Everything about them felt wrong. And time hasn’t changed that. My daughters know their grandfather died by suicide. They do not know the details of his death. They don’t need to and they are not ready for the imagery that my brother, my mother and I struggle with. They also know their grandfather loved them very much, and that he died of an illness. It’s taken time for them to reach that place of understanding, and it doesn’t mean they don’t still struggle at times. We talk about it openly. They know there is no right or wrong way to grieve this loss. But just as we did from the moment we shared that painful truth, we face and process the loss honestly. Before my father was buried, each of my daughters wrote him a letter. They told him how much they loved him. They told him how much they would miss him and they shared their own personal memories and feelings. And in each of their letters, they told their grandpa that they were not angry at him. They offered their forgiveness. Those letters were placed in my father’s casket. He was laid to rest with their words and their love for all eternity. They know the truth. Their grandpa died of an illness. It was not a reflection of his love for them. He loved them fully, deeply and wholly. That is his enduring legacy. His suicide is the final footnote they must live with, but it is not and never will be the whole story. Deborah’s daughters with their grandpa. Follow this journey on Reflecting Out Loud. If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources. If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Mighty is asking the following: If you’re a parent with a mental illness, tell us about a time you tried (either successfully or unsuccessfully) to explain to your children about your mental illness/mental health issues. How did they react? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.