May 17, 2017 – If I were to go back eight years to the moment I lost my father to suicide, I never would have thought I would be where I am today. On January 12, 2009 I received a call from my uncle that forever changed my life. It felt unreal. I had always been a daddy’s girl, and now I didn’t have a father. I looked around at my family. My brother and I could see the immense amount of pain in each other’s eyes. I saw the heartbreak on my mom’s face. Before that moment, I felt we had a picture-perfect family. Now my picture was shattered. Our family felt broken.
At first, no one wanted to believe that it was a suicide. My father’s death was referred to as an accident, but I knew deep down what my father battled. I knew it was suicide. One of the worst parts about losing someone you love to suicide is the feeling of stigma. Our pastor refused to let us name the church in my father’s obituary. I didn’t understand why my dad couldn’t be remembered by the amazing life he had lived rather than how he died. My father was a retired Master Chief from the Navy who had served 25 years. He was incredibly put together. No one would have ever thought his life would have ended this way. Unfortunately, mental health conditions do not discriminate.
Following his death, I went through the darkest time of my life. I battled depression and struggled with suicidal thoughts. I almost attempted. Losing someone to suicide is tough: a very complex type of grief unlike any other. Eventually, I found a support group for survivors of suicide loss through the AFSP website. It was a safe place where I felt like I wasn’t alone, without any judgment. That support group was a big part of my healing. Struggling with depression isn’t easy. I have to treat it with a combination of medication, counseling, helping others, and doing simple things for myself like scheduling a relaxing beach day. I have my low times, but I don’t let them defeat me. I choose every day to love the life I live. Some days it’s harder to make that choice than others, but I know with my support system I can do it. It bothers me when people say, “Time heals,” because I believe that time does not heal. Instead, time helps. It is the act of getting help for yourself — and taking care of yourself — that heals.
One way I choose to honor my father is through my involvement with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I was once scared to even say the word suicide. But now I know that talking about mental health and suicide prevention is key to erasing the ugly stigma it can still hold for some people. My dad lived an amazing 46 years of life. I will not let his final moment define him. Instead, I will let the memory of him live on through my involvement with AFSP. Suicide is a major public health issue that must be addressed. It is nothing to be ashamed of.
Seven years after I lost my father, I stood in front of a podium at a press conference where I had been invited to speak about suicide prevention in conjunction with AFSP Florida State Capitol Day. I felt my heart pounding and my hands shaking. I wasn’t a natural public speaker, and the topic of suicide was still one that was hard for me to talk about. But it was time for me to raise my voice to help make change. I looked into the TV cameras, and spoke with passion about why legislators needed to support a bill that would allow teachers to be trained in suicide prevention using effective, research-based programs. I shared my story about losing my father to suicide. As a teacher and suicide loss survivor, I was passionate about this issue and knew that education and research are key components to preventing suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and a major public health issue.
Advocacy isn’t the only way to get involved and volunteer with AFSP. There are walks, Survivor Day, fundraising events, and the Survivor Outreach Program. AFSP enables people to band together for a common purpose, providing healing and hope to those who have lost someone to suicide and those with lived experience of suicidal thoughts themselves.
AFSP has given me a purpose for my tragedy. I am currently the board secretary for AFSP’s Tampa Bay chapter. Don’t be afraid to get involved, talk about mental health, discuss your personal struggles, or speak your loved one’s name. Together we can be a voice to stop suicide.
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