June 22, 2017 – I recently returned from my fourth AFSP Advocacy Forum. (My wife, Beverly, has also joined me in the past.) Each year, AFSP chapter volunteers, field advocates and staff join together in Washington, D.C. to discuss the latest suicide prevention issues and research, participate in talks, network, and attend panel discussions on a subject that is so important, and personal, to so many of us. The forum culminates with a day of taking meetings in both the Senate and the House of Representatives to speak with members of Congress and encourage them to promote the kinds of policies and legislation that can help prevent suicide. We consider it both an honor, and a responsibility, to participate.
It’s hard to believe that, four years ago, on July 7, 2013, we lost our daughter, Abby, to suicide. She was 13 years old. Abby, the youngest of three children, was a straight A student, talented musician and competitive swimmer. She was a beautiful, fun-loving kid, inside and out. Abby had an amazing moral compass, strong sense of justice, and was a loyal friend. She touched a lot of lives in her too short life and helped make the world around her a little better of a place for others. And yet, like so many others, as parents, family and friends in similar situations, we were unware of Abby’s deep inner struggles. Like so many others, we were shocked… and our pain and sadness is too immeasurable to describe.
Almost immediately after Abby passed away we learned about AFSP. In the past four years, we have attended walks, raised money, became board members and field advocates in the Wisconsin chapter, and attended the Advocacy Forum in Washington, DC.
The Advocacy Forum is a very special event. For one thing, you are among so many others who share your experience. The AFSP team and leadership are wonderful. While they feel and empathize with your pain, they are passionate and positive (and always smiling) about making a difference in the fight to reduce suicide. Their relentless pursuit to “beat the drums” and “be the voice” for those who are gone is extraordinary. We are proud to be a part of AFSP.
To be sure, the experience of going to “The Hill” to meet your legislatures and advocate for your cause is awesome. (Especially, the first time you do it.) There are many nervous moments leading up to it, but once you have your first meeting, and “tell your story,” your passion and emotion for this cause comes through and takes over. Before you know it, you’re a pro! You’re an advocate. It’s an awesome experience and I would encourage everyone to try it.
In addition to the thrill of the “Storming the Hill,” and all the good stuff that occurs during the Advocacy Forum, the AFSP leadership manages to bring forth high quality, marquee speakers, and lead enlightening, engaging discussions. This year, in a remarkable display of bipartisanship, we had the opportunity of meeting and listening to David Axelrod (Chief Strategist for President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign) and Karl Rove (Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush). For those not familiar with these names, these two gents are fiercely opposing political figures. And while they may not agree on much, they both recently learned that they share something in common. Sadly, David lost his father, and Karl lost his mother, to suicide. While I would not attempt to repeat their individual stories in this post, I will say that their stories, and the open, heartfelt, and transparent way in which they shared their own experiences, was incredibly moving.
As our country seems politically divided on so many issues these days, it was particularly meaningful and refreshing to witness these two courageous men come together to share their personal stories in hopes that it may help the greater good. To paraphrase David Axelrod, “This is not a political issue, or even an American issue. Rather, this is an issue of humanity.” To paraphrase Karl Rove, “Suicide is not a matter of character, it’s a matter of chemistry.” Well said, gentlemen!
In addition to the conversation with Rove and Axelrod, the Forum was packed with other meetings and talks on subjects including the importance of medical research; why Medicaid funding matters; mental health legislation in the 115th Congress; and suicide prevention policy at the state and local level. AFSP’s advocacy team made sure to prepare participants for our day on the Hill with an overview of this year’s key priorities and talking points, and even a plenary session on the art of persuasion, and how to deliver an effective “Ask.”
Since losing our daughter, the phrase, “Abby Goldberg – In Our Hearts Forever,” has become a mantra etched on our hearts. In Abby’s honor, we have committed ourselves to helping others who may be struggling, and doing our part to spread awareness, and encourage smart, effective policies to help prevent this leading cause of death.
We could not be more proud of AFSP and the work they are doing – that we all are doing – to reduce the number of suicides in the United States. Get involved. Be the Voice. Join AFSP. Go to Washington D.C., and your local government. We can all make a difference. Tell your story. It matters!
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