Greene tumbled to the ground in tears, heartbroken and seemingly inconsolable. But what happened next was just what Greene needed in that moment. A group of women dropped what they were doing to comfort Greene as she took in the worst news of her entire life. They also helped her find her friend Pam, who worked at Whole Foods.
Greene was taken aback by the kindness of these women who didn’t even know her, and ultimately wrote an open letter on her blog thanking them for supporting a stranger during the saddest experience of her life. Greene’s emotional open letter was then republished on The Mighty, a site that focuses on mental health issues and disabilities, and more than a dozen other news outlets caught wind of her story and decided to cover it as well. Greene’s experience touched so many hearts, she thinks, because it shows that even in the most crushing moments of life, you can have faith in the goodness of other people.
ATTN: had a chance to interview Greene about her incredible experience in Whole Foods, grief, losing a parent to suicide, and how to talk about loss with others. Here is what Greene had to say…
To read the interview in it’s entirety go to ATTN: We Asked This Woman About What It’s Like To Lose A Parent To Suicide
Last year, only months after my father’s suicide, I participated in the Denver Metro Out of the Darkness Walk. I remember most vividly the pain of creating a leaf for my father on the Memory Tree and seeing his beautiful smiling face, hanging there, surrounded by hundreds of other smiling faces, all lost to suicide. It took my breath away. How did we end up in this place? How is this my family’s reality? How did we miss the signs? My daughters and I wept openly as we stood there, far from alone in our tears.
Regret is my constant companion since April 20, 2015. It started as guilt, but I soon found that guilt could consume me if I let it. Regret, I can live with, even if it isn’t always easy. The regret of missed signs, of not knowing then, what I know now. What if, if only & why, still reverberate, quieter now almost 16 months out, but still present.
But regret serves as my fuel. Daily I wake up with the mission to try and make some meaning come from my father’s loss and my family’s pain. Regret drives me forward, with a fierce determination to take what I have learned, what I have lived, what I have lost and use it to spare another family the anguish of a suicide loss. Regret busts down the walls of shame or stigma and imbues me with a voice far more powerful than they could ever be. I tell the truth, I tell my father’s story, sometimes in a whisper, sometimes in a roar, sometimes through tears, and sometimes clear eyed and determined.
This blog has brought so many other survivors into my world. Survivors of suicide loss, those with lived experience and those struggling just to get through each day. That has been a blessing. Strangers have continued to touch my world, long after those women who surrounded me in Whole Foods when I learned about my father’s death. Every voice, every story, every heartfelt exchange fuels me to continue in my mission, to bring meaning to my father’s death and to be a voice for the voiceless.
I don’t use this blog to self-promote, but here it goes anyway. Since you’ve shared in my journey, I will share with you that I will, once again, be walking in the Denver Metro Out of the Darkness Walk with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention this September. If you are so inclined, to help me in my efforts to raise money for the research, advocacy, education and prevention efforts of this amazing organization that is devoted to stopping suicide, I’d be most grateful. Any donation, big or small, would be a gift. And if you can’t, I continue to be grateful that you have opened yourself up to my story and allowed me to share out loud in a way that feels safe and full of support.
In Jewish tradition, 18 signifies “chai” or life. Last year, I raised over $5,000 but this year, I took a derivative of 18 and used that to set a goal of $7200. Our team is Team Tikvah. Tikvah, in Hebrew means hope. My dad loved lighthouses, and so that is our team symbol. As we strive to be a beacon of hope to those who are lost in despair.
Regret fuels me forward. I use my voice, my words, and my feet to honor the father I loved so much and lost far too soon. I know I’ll cry again as I walk. As I stare at that tree that will once again bear his image, my heart will break all over again. Because I still can’t believe that we lost him the way that we did. I’m walking for him. And I’m walking for everyone who has shared their pain with me, and to honor all of the precious lives lost to suicide.
I have a shirt that says, “Be The Voice: Stop Suicide.” I am my father’s voice. And I hope that I am making him proud, as I try to build a legacy of life, out of the ashes of his death.
The home should be the treasure chest of living. Le Corbusier
Leaving my childhood home today for the very last time, I have so many mixed emotions. I am grateful for the love that lived there. I am grateful for the childhood that began in that place after our move from Brooklyn, when I was in the first grade. That house that saw family celebrations, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and more. That house that knew anger, sadness, loss and pain just as intimately. That house where I found friendship, first crushes, first romance and even first heartbreak. If those walls could speak, they would tell so much of my story.
And I am grateful for the reconciliation that it was witness to. After six years had passed, in the driveway of my childhood home, I shared a first emotional embrace with my father and my mother, and healing took hold. Yes, I am grateful for the joy and even the hardship that shaped me into who I am, so much of it in that place that I once called home.
But I am also grateful to let go of the place where my father ended his life, and the palpable pain & grief that brings each time I enter the space, where he drew his final breath. The house haunts me only with sorrow now, it is filled with what was and what should have been. I look for him in every corner, out on the porch basking in the sun, sitting in his recliner in the family room or his favorite spot in the living room. I can’t even bring myself to sit in his chairs. I hear his voice on the answering machine and he still sounds so very alive. He recites the phone number I’ve committed to memory and he says that “we” can’t get to the phone right now, but “we” will get back to you as soon as “we” can. But my mother is a widow now, and we will never hear his voice in life again.
So fare thee well house. I’ll hold the good you gave me close and in leaving you, I hope to leave behind some of the pain. Be good to the next family that calls you home. A new chapter begins for my mom and for us. Another door closes, and somewhere else a window opens…
To live a life of meaning is to know that nothing is ever set in stone. Possibilities dwell on each new horizon and even the setting sun is touched by the promise of tomorrow.
And yet today, 14 months after your suicide we dedicate a stone that stands in stark contrast to that notion of hope and promise. This stone feels so very final, noted with a beginning and an end. The words speak of who you were to us in life; a husband, a father, a grandfather, a brother and friend. But there is no space or place to honor who or what you might have become. The finality is undeniable and in truth, still unfathomable.
And then there are those fourteen words, meant to share what mattered most to you, and how you will be remembered. What did you value in your time on this earth?
To bask in the loving warmth of family and friends was his greatest blessing.
They can be used to build bridges or be a source of destruction
They can trip us up, placing obstacles in our path, or be the foundation of a new beginning
They can be collected as remembrances of new places we visit and memories we make
They can be polished, smooth, turned into ornaments
They can be rough and jagged, worn down by the elements
They can weigh us down if we try to carry too many of them on our own, a truth we know all too well
They can mark a final resting place
An eloquent monument for a loved one we’ve lost, whose death didn’t have to be.
Dad, today I lay on your footstone a piece of my home
Stones, shaped like hearts from the flatirons of Colorado
Lovingly gathered for me by friends that you will never get to meet
From the mountains so beautiful, that you will never get to see.
Mother Theresa said:
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
We who loved you are the ripples
The continuing legacy to that stone your life cast
And it is in those ripples that we must find you and carry you forward
This stone we dedicate today will stand for eternity
It is heavy like grief
Yet strong like the human spirit
It will not wither
Neither is it left untouched by passing storms
It is not where we find you, but where we instead honor you
It is where we come to remember, to cry, to talk and to feel as if we are with you.
And as we strive to move forward in a world without you
One where so many others know the same pain that you felt
Suffering in silence and feeling alone
I offer you one last promise
It won’t be for nothing nor be without meaning.
No stone will be left unturned
No matter how deeply rooted they are in shame or stigma
If even one life can be saved from telling our story
Then the ripples of your legacy, your life
And even your loss
Will be without end.
July 5, 2016
Honored to have my voice be apart of this first podcast from The Mighty. I hope that you will listen to my story and the others featured. Sharing our truths helps us to humanize the issues of mental illness and suicide, and allows us to break down the barriers of shame & stigma.
I pray that my story of that morning in Whole Foods, those beautiful strangers and the loss of my father to suicide will bring meaning to his death. I will not be silent when lives can be saved. My truth carries no shame, but it does carry purpose.
The other day, while in Target I overheard two young women in the bathing suit department. One held up a bathing suit and jokingly showed it to the other, asking “How about this one?” The other girl responded “I’d kill myself if I had to wear that.”
The following day I was in Kohl’s camp shopping for my daughters. A frazzled mother was talking aloud to herself as she passed me, her toddler in tow. “Did I get a gift receipt? I can’t remember if I did. Damn it!! I’d like to just shoot myself today.”
Both moments felt like a sucker punch and momentarily took my breath away. We are so flippant in our language. I am certain I was once guilty of it too. It’s so easy to make light of suicide-until it touches your life or the life of someone you love. And then, you quickly discover, there’s not a single funny thing about suicide.
Survivors of suicide loss spend much of our days dodging triggers. We sit down to watch a television show only to have a joke made about suicide. We deal with the drug commercials that lump suicidal thoughts & actions right next to hives and rashes, when discussing possible side effects; as if they are even close to being on par with one another. We try to tune into election coverage only to hear words like “political suicide” tossed about.
Yeah, here’s the thing–if you can wake up in the morning, kiss your loved ones, walk outdoors and breathe in the fresh air, then there is no “suicide” in the demise of your political career.
We survivors are everywhere. And there is nothing funny about the loss we are learning to live with.
So how about we stop treating it like a punch line or a reasonable response to a moment of frustration. How about we treat it like the serious and painful issue that it is; an issue that claims another life every 12.8 minutes in this country and shatters the world of those left behind.
The triggers are abundant, we dodge them all day long. But that places the burden on us. And quite frankly, our shoulders can only take so much before our knees buckle. So please, take ownership of your words. Because I’m fairly certain a missing receipt or an ill fitting bathing suit is not something you would seriously end your life over. And if they were, I promise you, it would be no laughing matter.
When I was little my father had a magic trick. He would light a cotton ball on fire and put it in his mouth to extinguish the flame. It never failed to impress.
Then one day, an actor who was famous at the time for his role in Grizzly Adams had an accident. A flaming drink set fire to his beard and he was hospitalized with severe burns. News of that accident caused my father, who also had a beard & mustache, to stop performing his magic trick. It turns out that trying to swallow fire could be far more dangerous than he believed.
I think of that trick often these days as I reflect on my father’s suicide. Depression is the flame not extinguished when swallowed. Rather, it grows and festers in the darkness. And in time, it was the depression that consumed my father. Like a sweeping brushfire its power was overwhelming, it progressed too fast to be put out; anxiety an added accelerant, fanning the flames, further & higher. A wildfire bent on destruction of spirit and soul. Still, he kept the full truth of it contained.
No, depression is not meant to be swallowed. It needs to be exposed to the light. Because left to smolder on the inside, its flame will smother the embers of hope and ignite despair.
Once upon a time my father knew that swallowing fire could be dangerous. Until one day, it was the fire that devoured him. And we who loved him most are left standing in the ashes.
You know how it is. Sometimes you’re driving along in your car and a song comes on the radio that touches on something deep within. And before you know it; your vision is blurred as you drive through your tears.
One year has passed since my father’s suicide. More than 365 days since the call that changed my life forever. The ground shifted beneath my feet the moment the words were spoken. And I’ve not known what it feels like to be on solid ground since.
How do you love someone through a loss like mine? It is fraught with so many layers, pitfalls and obstacles. You can’t walk this path for me. You can’t drag me along at a pace that you believe will hasten my healing. But you can accompany me.
The song by X Ambassadors is called “Unsteady.” Today was the first time that I’ve heard it. The chorus is simple, yet deeply profound.
Hold on, hold onto me
‘Cause I’m a little unsteady
A little unsteady
And that is all I ask. In time, I will find my footing. I will learn to carry this altered sense of self with strides that are more certain & strong. I will wear my status as “survivor” with a greater depth of purpose but a lessened degree of palpable pain.
I’m learning. It is still new. And I am hurting, even as I am healing.
The song says:
If you love me, don’t let go
If you love me, don’t let go
Hold tight to my hand. Walk with me in loving silence. Open your heart and listen. Let me tell you my truth. I do not trust this ground quite yet, lest it shift once again just as I find my stance. What was never supposed to happen, did. My faith provides no clear compass through this new terrain; like the GPS when I make a wrong turn, it is constantly recalculating.
So how do you love me through this loss, this unfamiliar terrain of suicide loss?
The song says it all…
Hold on, hold onto me
Cause I’m a little unsteady
This post was also published on The Mighty
When I first lost my father to suicide I felt like an open wound. The words to a song could be a source of comfort or deepen my sense of pain. If the song, “Fix You” by Coldplay came on the radio, it would unleash sadness so profound it was hard to breathe….
Read the full reflection on The Mighty