Advocacy Lets Me Be the Voice

April 7, 2017 – “I guess I am going to have to face the fact that I’m just not very good at relationships.” My brother Richard typed this heavy and emotional sentence in an email dated October 18, 2003. This email – the “last” email – also stated that he was proud of me because I did not repeat our mother and father’s failed marriage. On November 12, 2003, my brother Richard took his own life. The pain was right there in black and white. I reached out to him after receiving this email, but I do not think my words were strong enough to take on what he was feeling.

Richard was 12 years older than me and had been exposed longer to my parents’ abusive relationship. I was the youngest of four and the only girl, so my brother was my voice. I have a faint memory of my brother comforting me as I began kindergarten. Richard then went on to enlist in the Navy. My time with him consisted of little moments when he was home on leave. I have a priceless little jewelry box that he brought me back from Italy. I also unfortunately have the memory of Richard being home on leave and driving our mom’s car into a chicken coop. Though I was young at the time, I knew something had happened and that it hadn’t been an accident. I don’t think that incident, along with any of the others that happened over the years, were ever brought back up or discussed.

Our parents finally ended their horrible marriage when I was 17. The divorce was ugly and not something I would ever want to go through again. I was fought over in court, but no one really wanted me. When I was 17, my pain became unbearable. I tried to end my own life. I was a long distance from my other brothers and I felt completely alone. I dropped out of high school twice. I didn’t see a future for myself as I moved from one unstable environment to another. A year and a half later, I was finally able to take a positive turn and graduate high school.

Richard and I were both adults living our lives and seeing each other at the holidays. I regret not having kept up a closer relationship with him. I still cry every time I think about that sobbing call from my mom on November 12, 2003. We became a family of someone who died by suicide.  Going through my deep dark experience somehow made me feel closer to Richard and proud to call him my brother.

Becoming a mother was one of the best moments in my life because it showed me an endless maternal love. That love would transpire into a need to make sure my children never felt that hopeless kind of pain. I will do everything to show my children that they are loved and that I will always be there for them, even if they are sad or angry.

In 2013, I found out about the AFSP Out of The Darkness Community Walk in Fulton, Missouri. I signed up without a second thought. But on the day of the walk, I felt overcome by fear and anxiety. I walked up to the AFSP beads table and saw that orange beads signified the loss of a sibling. As tears filled my eyes, I reached for them. I then turned around and saw that someone behind me had on orange beads. That moment brought me so much peace. I realized for the first time since Richard’s death that I was not alone. After the 2014 Out of the Darkness Walk, I emailed the walk chair and thanked her for what she created. She then asked me to become a volunteer. I happily accepted. At my second board meeting, I agreed to organize a walk in the community I lived in. Anxious and scared, I became the walk chair of the Out of the Darkness Columbia Community Walk for 2015 and 2016. These walks were needed in my community. I just needed to have a strong enough voice to get the word out.

I immediately felt accepted by the AFSP Greater Mid Missouri Chapter. I began to learn more about advocacy. My first experience with advocacy was to testify for a bill that was being heard by a committee. The bill would require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop suicide prevention training guidelines, and for school districts to adopt a policy for youth suicide awareness and prevention education. I spoke about my brother. I also spoke about my own attempt, which I never really intended on doing. I became involved in AFSP because of my brother, not because of myself. To speak of my vulnerability was almost unbearable. But after the hearing, I felt as though I had just received the biggest hug from my brother. I knew he was there right beside me.

Our Missouri State Capitol Day helped me understand exactly where and what our impact was. I went door-to-door with other advocates in a government office to share the most personal stories of our lives. We even had the chance to sit down and talk one-on-one with some of our senators or state representatives. The day was emotionally and physically exhausting. However, to have my feelings finally validated was beyond anything I could describe. I saw a place where I felt like I was needed. I could finally stand up for my brother and myself.

The first time my chapter chair told me that I would be going to Washington, D.C. for the annual AFSP Advocacy Forum, I had goosebumps and tears in my eyes. My brother and I had lived through some rough times. But I did not expect the opportunity to be this vocal about them. Nervous and excited, I boarded the plane for Washington, D.C. Instantly, I knew I was supposed to be there.

I do this for my brother, for myself, for my sons, and for all those who do not have the courage to speak out. I grew up being a shy girl who never thought much of myself. As I look back on these recent accomplishments, I wish I could shake the little girl from many years ago and tell her to just speak out. Advocacy lets me be the voice.


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