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.
Register at https://autismandsuicide2019.eventbrite.com
RSVP here: https://candleceremony.eventbrite.com
Back by popular demand!
STOP Suicide Northeast Indiana & Barb Smith Suicide Resource & Response Network presents TWO different workshops for professionals:
Workshop #1 (First Responders)
This workshop will prepare first responders to work with families in the aftermath of a completed or attempted suicide. Learn about how to work with families at a scene, how to deliver a death notification, and what puts first responders at risk for suicide.
This workshop is ideal for law enforcement, EMS, chaplains, medical staff & medical examiners. A separate workshop for community agencies, schools, and mental health providers in the afternoon.
Date: February 9, 8:00-10:00 am
Location: FWCS Family and Community Engagement Center, 230 E Douglas Ave, Fort Wayne, IN 46802 Cost: $15 (ILEA approved)
Registration: Click here register: https://goo.gl/oihZc5
Workshop #2 (for caregivers & family members)
Develop a better understanding of suicide and how to help families who often have many unanswered questions. Case stories of survivors will be shared to demonstrate how to offer encouragement and hope, using words that help rather than hurt.
Date: February 9, 12:30-2:30 pm
Location: FWCS Family and Community Engagement Center, 230 E Douglas Ave, Fort Wayne, IN 46802
Cost: $15 (CEUs available)
Registration: Click here to register: https://goo.gl/bw7T5C
Questions? Contact STOP Suicide at 260-438-6763.
Don’t forget our Help & Hope for Survivors of Suicide Loss.
My name is Jennifer. I have lost 3 loved ones to suicide. Like many of you, I have dealt with the journey that is being left behind. I welcome you this evening and want to tell each and everyone of you that I am so proud of you for being here. Grief is hard, grief takes work, grief can suck every ounce of our energy. It can follow you wherever you go. Sometimes getting out of bed is enough. You chose to meet grief head on tonight. You took a step forward in this unknown journey and I hope tonight you come away with a few things.
I’d like you to know that you’re not alone. We each walk a different journey unique to us but we all carry the burden of losing someone we love to suicide. Know that there are safe places and resources for healing, coping, and walking on this journey that you had no say in. You DO have what it takes to meet each day or hour, moment or second at a time. Understand that even through healing, it is ok to grieve and be open about what you’re going through. Missing and remembering your loved one outwardly, no matter how long you’ve been on this journey, is therapeutic. It’s bittersweet and it’s something no one should put a timetable on. Don’t be afraid to tell others if they’ve said or done something that isn’t helpful to your journey. Be open with those you know you can about how they can help you.
In our support group, We the Living, we like to say that we know we won’t ever get over this loss, we just get through it and work to find a new normal…a normal that won’t ever be like the one before. We want you to be gentle with yourself. Loss alone is hard to process but trying to process how your loved one died can be even more trying at times.
You all have courage that is insurmountable. You may not feel like it at the moment. Some of you beat may yourselves up for not being in a certain stage of your grief or not dealing with it the way society wants (which is quick, clean, and sterile – that just isn’t how grief works). Love is one of the most powerful emotions anyone can experience and when you cannot physically have someone you love with you anymore, grief is more than normal…it’s a necessity. It is how our brains cope. Grief can tear open our hearts, it creates in us wounds that get ripped open and open again. But one day you turn around and say, “I’m still here. I’m a survivor, I am getting through this and boy did I doubt myself in the start”. You will grow and change in this process. You’ll never not miss the person you lost, you’ll just cope a bit differently with each passing day.
It’s been said what’s day without night? Let your tears flow and know that through these grief bursts and times of great sadness comes hope, healing and strength. I used to hold my grief in and over the years, I realized how unhealthy that was. I was sabotaging my own journey.
My first loss was a dear friend of mine 15 years ago. Her name was Alicia. She had the most beautiful thick red hair and a smile to brighten an entire room. Everyone loved her and everyone who knew her was truly blessed to be in her presence. 1 year later at age 17, I lost my dad, Stan Wilson. He was everyone’s best friend and loved everyone but himself. He struggled with depression and undiagnosed/undertreated mental illness for over 30 years. He never realized his worth. He never saw himself as everyone else did. His brain told him lies and he ultimately believed them. He was the type to give his all to everyone else, but expected perfection for himself…which is unattainable. He never gave himself the credit he deserved.
In 2015, I lost my baby cousin Emily. She had a giggle and zest for life like no one else I knew. She was fearless and lived everyday to the fullest. She too, struggled with mental illness and had hidden it for much of her life. She was brilliant with many friends and so much future ahead. With each suicide, I felt different things for different reasons but the loss of my father left me reeling. I wanted answers, I wanted clarity, I wanted to know that I wasn’t alone. I reached out to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). My mom found a support group called We the Living and after being forced to go to the first meeting, I stand here today as lead facilitator.
The meetings gave me hope for my future. They gave me survivors at all stages of grief to learn from. It gave me constant words of wisdom and help in tough situations. Most of all it gave me the opportunity to realize consistently that I wasn’t alone. Whether it’s a support group, one on one therapy, reading books, online support groups, AFSP walks, STOP Suicide/Mental Health America (MHA) events like this evening, surround yourself with those dealing with this loss and figure out what works best for you.
Be open and upfront about mental illness. I stand here today with anxiety and OCD. Both much more managed than the early stages of my grief, because at that time they became my coping mechanisms. I just learned to live in a constant state of panic until I couldn’t handle it anymore. I then made some changes to better deal with them. I have outwardly sought treatment and have a plan of action that allows me to live my life more fully and more managed. I don’t fear getting help, I know what the terrible outcome would be to my friends and family if I didn’t get the help I needed. I know I need fresh air, weekly runs, time to shut down and be with myself, my music, and my thoughts. I surround myself with those I know I can rely on and those who bring me up versus down. I have to actively focus on the present and it may be a 24/7 struggle to do so, but I know what I need and who to talk to when I can’t do it alone.
Music is my therapy. It’s been my constant from day 1. Coldplay has many songs that have carried my grief like Everglow, Fix You and Trouble to name a few. There is a song from a Disney movie called If I Never Knew You with lyrics that I feel explains the bittersweet losses we have endured:
“If I never knew you, if I never felt this love, I would have no inkling of how precious life can be. And if I never held you, I would never have a clue how at last I find in you the missing part of me. I’m so grateful to you, I would have lived my whole life through, lost forever if I never knew you. If I never knew you, I’d be safe but half as real never knowing I could feel a love so strong and true. If I never knew you, I’d have lived my whole life through empty as the sky, never knowing why, lost forever if I never knew you”.
“Take the love you have and carry it as a pillar. Let it ground you and keep you going when you feel you cannot…even for a moment to breathe. Those moments turn into days, weeks, and years. Take the love you learned and share it with the world in their honor. Take the love you have and love them from afar…because grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go”. -Jamie Anderson
Everything is temporary…but love, love outlives us all.” -R. Queen
You are in charge of your grief and don’t ever let anyone tell you differently. Look for signs of courage and acknowledge them. For my mother and I, we are left dimes by my daddy, the saying no worries from our Emily and I see Alicia in any young woman with talent and persistence in reaching her goals.
Give yourself acknowledgement for moving forward, for taking steps, for finding what works for you. Know that some people need help in whatever form works for them for months, others years, others decades, some consistently, some off and on, and some prefer to do it alone, there is no right or wrong. There is getting to the next day and the next and the next. Take the memories, the grief bursts, the songs, the love and embrace them. Live them and allow them to shape the new person you will become, never fully ending this journey but using each day to be made new for what’s ahead.
One day, you’ll look back and say wow, my journey has been treacherous and grueling, but I’m here. What better way to remember our loved ones than to show the strength we wish they could have had. Take every fraction of hope and cling to it…because our loved ones want that for us. They want us to live on in their memory, making them proud and being who you were made to be, with a little bit of who they were too. I believe they see us, they’re with us, just in a different form. Let us never forget who they were, who they are and who we saw them to be.
[Shared at the 3rd Annual STOP Suicide Candlelight Ceremony, September 12, 2017]
The new Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why, which depicts a young person’s suicide, is the new ‘hottest’ show for some groups of young people.
There are concerns about the way suicide is portrayed (stigmatized, inevitable, failure of helpers) and also that it could trigger those who are already struggling or have struggled with suicide (via graphic depiction).
- Youth tend to mimic other’s behavior and are easily influenced by the norms of their peer group (including what they see in the media). We want to avoid stating or implying that suicidal behavior (not thoughts) are what most people typically do in a situation or that most people would approve of, value, think is cool, or similar (e.g. most youth who are bullied attempt or die by suicide). It’s true that suicide thoughts are common for youth, but acting on them and dying from them is not.
- A reminder to all that suicide is not the simple consequence of stressors or coping challenges, but rather, it is most typically a combined result of treatable mental illness and overwhelming/intolerable stressors in combination with not reaching out for/getting help (NASP).
- Despite of the portrayal of a serious treatment failure in 13RW, there are many treatment options for life challenges, distress and mental illness. Treatment works. Here is a resource list.
- Please encourage people like school administrators, parents, and teachers to engage in supportive conversations with youth as well as provide resources and offer expertise in preventing harmful behaviors.
- Please see this 3 1/2 minute video as a reminder for how to recognize and respond to suicide risk among youth (and adults).
- This Netflix series can be seen as a great opportunity to better understand young people’s experiences, thoughts, and feelings by engaging and educating parents, teachers, and youth about suicide warning signs, and reinforcing the message that suicide is not a solution to problems – there are resources out there – and that we are willing to help!
Facilitator of STOP Suicide Northeast Indiana
Suicide Prevention Trainer & Consultant
- 6th Annual Candlelight Ceremony for Suicide LossSeptember 11, 2020 - 8:37 pm
- 5th Annual Candlelight Ceremony for Suicide Loss, September 10, 2019September 11, 2020 - 8:31 pm
- Autism & Suicide Prevention: Strategies for Positive OutcomesAugust 16, 2019 - 8:40 pm
- 5th Annual Candlelight Ceremony for Suicide LossAugust 16, 2019 - 8:30 pm
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