6th Annual Candlelight Ceremony for Suicide Loss

5th Annual Candlelight Ceremony for Suicide Loss, September 10, 2019

By Peg Maginn

Lakeside Park Rose Garden

My sister was a loving mother and grandmother, as well as a very hard-working registered nurse.  She was also a creative cook and designer.  She could replicate gourmet meals from high end restaurants after just dining there and tasting them. And she took great pride in serving healthy, nutritious meals to family and friends. We used to joke that I didn’t get “the cooking gene”, but she certainly did!

She and her husband remodeled homes so beautifully that contractors hired to implement her designs often requested permission to use the work in their own marketing materials.  Their real estate agent always had a ready buyer in line once they decided to move to a new home.  No advertising was ever necessary, and the sale price was always excellent!

My brother was a talented teacher who – along with my brother in law – created a unique program to educate hard core delinquent teenage boys. In addition to regular academic subjects, the program taught the students practical hands on daily living and survival skills – everything from cooking to basic car repair.  My brother was able to positively influence and change the lives of many young men through his work, and this program was later adopted and incorporated into a large metropolitan public-school system.

My brother was also an excellent chess player and a Class B WI State racquetball champion, who later retired from teaching and managed a racquetball club.

Both these siblings of mine died from suicide by gunshot.  First my brother, at the age of 49, and 15 years later, my sister at the age of 67.

Here is a poem I found meaningful after their deaths: 

In the rising of the sun and in it’s going down

     We remember them;

In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter,

     We remember them;

In the opening of buds and in the warmth of summer,

     We remember them;

In the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn,

     We remember them;

In the beginning of the year and when it ends,

     We remember them;

When we are weary and in need of strength,

     We remember them;

When we are lost and sick of heart,

     We remember them;

When we have joys we yearn to share,

     We remember them;

So long as we live, they too shall live,

 For they are now a part of us,

     As we remember them.

I share this poem not only because it gave me comfort, but also because it illustrates how we are changed after the death of a loved one.  We incorporate parts of their life stories as we remember them, and in doing so, OUR life story is forever changed.

After each death, I was awash in feelings of shock, guilt, confusion, anger, despair, and overwhelming sadness.  I struggled to get through each day, anxiously awaiting the end of each one hoping to sleep and temporarily forget, only to find that most of the time I could do neither. I plodded through one day, then the next, and the next, because the only alternative would have been my own demise. Over time, this moving on with my life got easier. 

However, no, I never “found closure”. I’m not even sure what that is.  I suppose for some maybe it is thinking they know the reason for the person choosing suicide – gleaned from a note left behind or surmised from circumstances.  However, since human motivation is so complex, influenced by both conscious and subconscious factors as well as context, I don’t believe anyone truly knows why another acts;

and NO, I have never – nor do I ever – expect to “get over it”;

and NO, I will also never “get back to normal”, if normal is defined as my life before their deaths. You see, I will never be who I was because my life has been permanently changed. 

Here is something I have learned that helped me, though:

When my brother died first through suicide, I didn’t talk about it.  And since he lived out of state, many of my friends here locally were unaware of his death.  And even the few who knew didn’t know the specific circumstances or details of his death.  I was brought up during a time and in a family that taught me to keep personal information private, and to “suck it up” when misfortune or tragedy struck.

However, when my sister died of suicide six years ago, I decided to take a risk and openly discuss her death and, in doing so, also reach out for help.  I was terrified but committed to doing this and taking whatever consequences came. 

The responses I received from friends were overwhelmingly positive and supportive. And I would like to single out Colleen Carpenter, who was one of those people to whom I am extremely grateful. My speaking out even led a few friends to share their own stories, some of which also involved the suicide of a family member or friend, much to my surprise. 

After this second suicide in my family, I initially felt all the same negative emotions previously described.  However, this time they were countered in many ways by the love and support I received from others.  I learned the importance of recognizing, accepting, and sharing my life story, finding the ability to learn and grow even from yet another horrible experience.

 I have come to better appreciate the fact that we are all a part of the interconnected web of life, and how important that connection is for us as social beings.  However, although tonight we share the commonality of having lost a loved one to suicide, each of our individual experiences and emotions will be diverse and variable – uniquely different. My story is not yours, and your story is not mine…. BUT… in coming together – listening to the stories of others and sharing your own if desired – we create a complex, strong tapestry with each thread that is a personal story.  By coming together publicly, physically, verbally, and emotionally – it is this collage – this bigger communal story – which unites us and brings meaning and purpose back into our lives. We are truly stronger together, and our communal voice can be used not only to support one another, but also to educate others, and to advocate for research and programs which can help us understand and better treat this health crisis that is suicide.

Tonight, you have given me the opportunity to speak and share my thoughts. Where once I was silent and ashamed to speak of my siblings’ death because it involved suicide, I now feel peace in remembering my much loved and missed sister and brother.  I hope for each of you to be able to feel at peace, too.                         

Thank you.