June 9, 2017 – I lost my mom to suicide on December 3, 1999, when I was 26. I covered up my pain and grief for eight years. I kept myself busy with a career in graphic design, had children, and bought a home. The year I turned 35, my local paper featured a front page article about a mother who had lost her son to suicide. I was surprised to see the article, because in my experience, suicide was never front page news. It always seemed to be hushed up and pushed under the rug.
This mother was starting a survivors of suicide loss group. I called her right then, thinking, “I can help with this. I can help others.” Meeting monthly, our group was small at first, but then grew beyond what I ever imagined. I thought I was alone in this type of loss. During these meetings, I cried every single time, shared every single time, and felt supported every single time. I grieved truthfully for the first time since my mom’s death. I let it all out and didn’t care who saw or heard. Attending the group saved me from going on to live a bitter and angry life.
When my family moved to Nashville in 2009, I registered for the Out of the Darkness Walk every year…but I never went. I was too scared to face the reality of it. I finally went to my first one in 2015. I cried, but this time I was crying for the other survivors I met. I wasn’t crying for my loss, but for the losses I knew they were grieving over. I realized how hard it was for each and every one of them to be there. I didn’t know any of them, but I was proud of them.
Survivors of suicide loss are where my heart is. They are who I connect to most of all. When I talk to survivors, it’s like I can hear an unspoken message between all the words: one that only fellow survivors can understand.
With the support of our board of directors, after that first walk I started our chapter’s Survivor Outreach Program, which works with survivors on a peer-to-peer level. We’re not counselors or therapists; we’re merely there to listen, comfort and support those walking a path we ourselves have been on for quite some time. Often, we find ourselves making lifelong bonds we would never have found any other way. The “giving back” is another form of healing. In February of 2016, I was given the honor of joining our board, as well. They have become part of my tribe.
I hope my community’s SOP team can help people on their journey to healing. Every minute I spend working with AFSP is healing for me. I also now realize that the work I do with AFSP, helping others, is part of my mom’s legacy. I do the work in her honor. It helps me to always remember compassion and grace.
Most people in my town knew my mom as Dr. Alonso’s wife, Viola. She had thousands of beautiful roses and spent hours in her garden every day, no matter what the temperature was outside. In the past, when I used to think back to my mom, these memories were painful: cold and numb, dark and lost. I felt guilt and anger that she wasn’t here anymore to share in my life’s biggest moments. I would relive how and why she died.
When I think back to my mom now, this is what I remember: her smell…her frosty pink lipsticks…her seemingly bottomless purse filled with coins and gum…her loud laugh…her “tell it like it is” attitude…her garden of roses…her love for animals…her love for horror movies.
I see her now every day: when my youngest son Lukas laughs and when my oldest son Noah smiles. I see, through her eyes, how loyal my dogs are, and how green trees can be. I notice every dragonfly and rose as I walk past them.
This journey of grief doesn’t always become positive for survivors of suicide loss. It’s easy to stay bitter and cold and mad as hell. But it’s not worth it. It’s not what you’re meant to do. Your loved one’s life was worth more than those dark memories.
To find out more about becoming a volunteer for the Survivor Outreach Program, contact your local AFSP chapter. If, on the other hand, your experience is more like that of the starfish stranded in the sand, the Survivor Outreach Program can be a great step towards reconnecting to your life. Visit requests can be made at this link.
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