Jul. 24, 2020 - My mother Helen is the reason why I fight to raise awareness of mental health and suicide prevention. Helen was an amazing mentor and confidant to me. I felt I could tell her anything. She was supportive, and helped me embrace all the aspects of life I was truly passionate about.
Above all, she pushed me to be a better person.
My life had been fairly ordinary up until one day in April of 2003. I was a junior in high school, and had my sights set on what the rest of my life would look like: going to college, landing a career, getting married, and starting a family of my own. But then, everything seemed to change for me in an instant.
I was only a couple of hours into my school day when the overhead speaker interrupted my teacher, requesting that I report to the principal’s office. A call had been made into the school asking for me to be sent home immediately, due to an emergency.
All the “what-ifs” I could imagine crossed my mind. It was only about a 15-minute commute between school and home, but I managed to cut it down to less than 10. I needed to know what was wrong.
I was halfway down the driveway when my brother’s fiancé stopped me, and let me know that my mother had died by suicide.
The pain I felt that day – that I continue to feel as a suicide loss survivor – is not a pain I would want anyone to experience.
It was thirteen years later when I was first introduced to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. A dear friend of mine, Madison, shared with me that she participates in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk in Pittsburgh, an event held every year to raise awareness and bring together people who have been affected by suicide. These walks, held in communities across the country, are also a way to remember those we have lost.
That year, Madison offered to walk in honor of my mother. The selfless act touched me, and this introduction sparked a curiosity within me to learn more about AFSP. The following year, she asked me to join her and her sister for the Community Walk.
It was a pivotal moment in my healing journey. At the Walk, I was surrounded by countless people who had all experienced the same pain I had experienced and shared the same mission to help others. The Community Walk gave me the support system I had been looking for since my mother’s passing. I found that the people I met understood what I had been through, without needing an explanation. These people, and those connected to AFSP through chapters across the country, are the heart of an organization that strives tirelessly for change.
Not too long after that, I decided to sign up to be a volunteer for our local AFSP Western Pennsylvania Chapter. As I officially joined the fight to raise mental health awareness and educate others about suicide prevention, I felt a new sense of purpose in life. I proudly donated my time to the chapter, tabling at several events and delivering Talk Saves Lives presentations in our community. These presentations, offered by local chapters nationwide, educate participants on risk factors and warning signs for suicide, and how to connect people to help when they need it. Facilitating these programs was incredibly fulfilling.
Soon after, an opportunity to act as our chapter’s Loss and Healing Chair presented itself. In that role, I’m afforded the opportunity to host our annual International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, an event that takes place each year on the Saturday before American Thanksgiving. Survivor Day is a unique event filled with many emotions, but most importantly it is a day of hope and healing for our community of loss survivors. In addition, as our chapter’s Loss and Healing Chair, I work closely with our volunteers through our Healing Conversations program, which provides myself and other chapter volunteers who are loss survivors the opportunity to provide one-on-one support to those who have experienced a recent loss of a loved one by suicide.
It wasn’t until I joined AFSP that I truly started to heal from the loss of my mother. While the pain does not go away completely, it has been much easier to bear over time, because I’m continually healing by helping and supporting those who are just starting their healing journey themselves. The journey as a loss survivor can feel so isolating at times, and it helps a great deal to know we are not alone.
I have always wanted to help others in an impactful way, but I never knew how I was going to do that to the extent that I wanted to, until now. This journey has felt like the universe was opening the door for me to start to help those affected by suicide, and I’ve eagerly seized the opportunity.
This organization, and in particular our local chapter, mean so much to me. The work we do continues to aid in my healing, and I will continue this fight until I am confident no other son has to experience the loss of his mother.
The work of AFSP, such an important component in my own healing journey, gives me hope that someday we will have a world without suicide.