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Finding Strength Through Connection As a Healing Conversations Coordinator

8 Mar 2023 — 3 min read

By Paul Augustyniak

AFSP Tennessee chapter volunteer Paul Augustyniak smiling and looking at the camera.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Applauds President Biden on the Inclusion of Critical Suicide Prevention and Crisis Care Funding in the FY 2024 Budget Proposal

This Volunteer Spotlight Story originally appeared in AFSP’s 2022 Annual Report. To read other inspiring Volunteer Spotlight Stories, and learn more about our exciting work, click here.

My wife Alice and I had known each other for 35 years and been married for 33 years – more than half our lives. Losing her to suicide in 2016 was a terrible, traumatic experience. I had lost my wife and friend. My sons had lost their mother.

It is so difficult to quantify all the elements Alice brought to our family: she was a working mother, an empathetic listener, a loving partner, a thoughtful collaborator, a fun date and adventurous vacation companion. Raising a family is a team sport and I think Alice and I made a great team. Of all the jobs Alice had, she excelled at the most important one: raising a family. It is difficult to adequately describe the strength and courage of my wife. I know she was as strong as she could be for as long as possible. I will love her and hold her in my heart forever. International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day occurs each year very close to the time Alice passed away. I’d heard about the local Survivor Day event and placed it on my calendar. But it took a lot for me to drive myself to the event that day. I really didn’t know what to expect.

I felt less anxious once I entered the building. There were folks seated at tables – caring faces, some of which reminded me of my own face in the mirror. They were the faces of those who had lost someone close to them. It gave me comfort to be with others that day who carried the same weight I carried. I gained a greater understanding of what we know about suicide, and the resources and support that are available for people.

There have been so many ‘firsts’ in my healing journey. This was an important one.

That day, I connected with many people, including the board chair at the time of AFSP’s Tennessee chapter. She had lost her husband. She demonstrated the courage it takes to shoulder the burden of a spouse lost to suicide.

It was the people I met through AFSP who convinced me to become involved as a volunteer. I realized that we gain more strength through connection.

I’m now the Healing Conversations Coordinator for our chapter, along with being chair of the Tennessee board. I see the Healing Conversations program as a lifeline of support, through which we who have walked this journey help others take their first brave, crucial steps as survivors of suicide loss. I am honored to work with other passionate volunteers who remember those first days of feeling lost, confused, sleep deprived, emotionally exhausted, upset, mad and heartbroken. Healing Conversations volunteers recognize our role as guides through a heartbreaking emotional jungle. We let more recent survivors of loss know we’ve been there before them. We don’t know exactly how they feel in relation to their loss, but we do have an understanding of what they might be feeling.

As guides in this healing journey, we are there for their questions, we point to helpful resources, and we listen. None of us have all the answers, as healing is unique to every individual. But we are a group who understands, and often, that’s what is needed.

Everyone’s journey is so personal. There really isn’t a roadmap. It was helpful for me to learn more, and connect with others. In those early days, I forced myself to continue to move forward, even if it was only centimeters at a time. Some days it was only millimeters, or not at all. I tried very hard to be patient with myself.

I recall another survivor of suicide loss once saying, “The hurt doesn’t go away. The weight on your shoulders doesn’t go away. But in time, your shoulders grow stronger.”

I am proud that through my involvement with AFSP, I can help give that strength to other people.

Connection makes a difference

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