Halfway through my freshman year of high school, just before I turned 15, my mother, Trish, killed herself. We were very close.
Over the years, through therapy and introspection, I learned that losing a loved one to suicide engenders a very different grieving process, because on top of the pain of sudden loss suicide “survivors” also tend to experience personal guilt and shame.
For me, shame reared its head the night of my mother’s death. “Don’t tell anyone how your mother died,” my grandmother told me. So I took what happened and buried it deep, deep inside myself. But as months passed, the suppression and denial started to rip me apart, and like my mother, I came face to face with mental illness. There was a battle happening inside me. I longed for normal teen stresses like achieving popularity or charming a guy I was crushing on. Instead, I struggled to get up in the morning; I had trouble facing myself in the mirror; I thought of hurting myself almost all the time.
I started therapy near my senior year of high school and teen group therapy as well. One day, I opened up in detail about the death of my mother to the group. A few weeks later another member began telling us how deeply he had been struggling lately, how badly he’d wanted to end his own life one night. My heart went out to him. Then he said he didn’t harm himself because of me—because of my story—because he’d learned from me that suicide does not affect one person but every single person you have ever touched in your entire life. Knowing I’d helped him helped me move forward.
Now I must admit my healing process was not linear: I had ups and downs, but I graduated high school and in college found the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a nonprofit through which I do the work I believe in, as well as continue to open up about my mother’s death and my own depression. Doing the 17-mile AFSP Out of the Darkness Walk in 2014, I raised $900. When I got to the walk, which was held in Philadelphia, I was speechless: Hundreds of people were gathered—at 8 o’clock at night—and I heard countless stories just like mine. I remembered I am not alone—I have an important cause I’ll fight to further as long as I live. The AFSP and I hold the same goal close: to lower the rate of suicide and to save lives—because suicide is preventable. The AFSP raises awareness, funds scientific research and provides resources and aid to those affected by suicide. I will always mourn the death of my mother. But thanks to the people I’ve met through the AFSP, I understand I have no reason to continue to hold shame and guilt in my heart.
Today I live I Baltimore, and I have graduated West Virginia University with a degree in theater. I house manage at Everyman theatre and nanny for a family I adore. I hope to work with and inspire kids through theater—the arts has always served as such an outlet to me. I still volunteer for the AFSP. In fact, on November 5th I will participate in the AFSP Community Walk in Patterson Park from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfill the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.” This quote rings so right to me. I aim to live each day fully for myself and for my mother, too. After existing so long in the dark, the sun is so beautiful.
If you have lost a love one to suicide, if you struggle with mental illness or if you simply want to support the cause, consider donating to my page or joining my Baltimore group, Team Goonies, in the walk in November.
And if you are struggling with thoughts of suicide call the national suicide prevention lifeline at: 1-800-273-8255. Someone is available 24 hours every day.
Follow this link to donate/join the walk by going here. I hope to meet you there!