Archives for category: Coping with Suicide

April 1 does not herald in a day of jokes, trickery and laughs for me.

Instead it feels like a kick in the gut. The fight or flight mode that seeped in during the month of March, is now in full swing. I don’t sleep well. I feel anxious. My emotions feel like a daily roller coaster ride over which I have little control. It takes almost nothing to make me cry, or to push me over the edge. Raw. That is how I feel. I am remembering the days leading up to his death and regret is so present I can taste it. In twenty days it will be two years since my father’s suicide. In twenty days I will begin putting the word years around his death, instead of months.

Sometimes all I want is to go up into the mountains and scream. I want to scream at the top of my lungs. I want to scream out the pain, the trauma, the regret, the anger, the feeling of abandonment, the sadness and the missing. I want to scream at my father, I want to scream at God. I want to let all of my hurt out in the most primal way that I know how. I want to scream until I can’t make another sound. I want to give all of the grief a place to go outside of myself.

But I don’t.

Because sometimes I am afraid that if I start screaming, I may never stop. The wellspring of trauma, sorrow and loss feels, at times, as if it is without end. And so I try to contain the feelings. It’s not that I don’t express or address them, I do. I write, I talk, I go to therapy. I do all of the work so that I can continue the journey forward and find some healing. But I do it in a way that feels controlled.

And there has been progress. There has been healing. And I am so grateful for that.

But there is a wound in my soul that is hard to give voice to. And I am not sure it will ever fully heal. Words seem inadequate. Other survivors know it. They’ve shared their wounds with me. It is a deep and intimate sense of knowing, that despite being strangers in every other way, binds us together. Because only we truly understand what it feels like.

I want to scream out, but I don’t know what I want to say. I want to tap into that endless wellspring of pain that I have lived with for two years now, and like a dam that overflows, I want to let it all out. I want to rage and cry, stomp my feet, pound my fists until every ounce of me is free from what I carry.

But in truth, I know I will never truly be free of it. I’ll learn to carry it. It will ease into a dull ache. It will scab. And every now and again life will pour salt into that wound and reawaken the pain, as it did today when the month of April began.

I am sad. I miss my Dad.

Twenty days until the months become years. I want to scream out all of the sorrow and trauma; like a cleansing of the spirit. I want to scream until I am out of breath, I want to scream to reveal to those around me all that I still hold inside. I want them to know.  I want them to see. I want my screams to shake the foundation so very hard that all of the walls I erect come crashing down. It will make me vulnerable yes, but will it strengthen me as well?

And yet, I am afraid to expose my wounds. How do I allow others to bear witness to every unnerving truth? I am afraid that they won’t, they can’t understand how my father’s death haunts me, how it has altered me.

So instead, quietly, when others are not around, I scream silently into the void. And I pray that the internal tsunami will slowly subside into a wave and then a ripple. And that a whisper in the wind, will still help me to heal all that I still carry within.

mask

My father wore a mask in his final weeks on earth. He let us see much of his pain & torment. Depression & anxiety took hold and tag teamed him in every manner of cruelty. But he compartmentalized and he did not reveal to us the truest and deepest depths of his suffering. We all got pieces of the puzzle but in the end, without the full truth we could not/did not put it together.

He saw his illness of the mind as a personal fault and his inability to simply will himself out of the darkness, a failure. I don’t know, I’ll never know what was that final straw, the moment that his descension into the darkness led him to believe that death was the only way to end his pain. That part of the puzzle will always remain incomplete. Believe me when I say, the question of “why” haunts me, though not with the same fervor it did in the earliest days/weeks/months of his suicide. I believe that unanswerable question and the regret of all I didn’t know or see, will reside within me forever, but the edges have and will soften over time.

Still, I wish he had taken off the mask. I wish he had revealed all of his truth, including those about ending his own life. If he had given me his full truth I would’ve held him and all that he felt with love, compassion and hope enough for the both of us. I would’ve reminded him again that he was still deeply loved even in his most broken state, feeling vulnerable & lost. I would’ve helped him to find every tool that he needed to fight back against his illness. I would have liked the chance to help him to live, to heal and to find hope once again. I could not and didn’t promise that it would be easy. I never offered empty promises. I knew better. I loved him with all I had, and listened with an open heart.

I was only a few weeks away from visiting him & my mom. And he kept telling me how much he was looking forward to my coming, to time together to talk, really talk and simply be with one another. And I wanted to just hug him with every ounce of strength I had, to meet his pain head on, not across the telephone line. But that never happened. I never got that time, that hug, that chance…


My father wore a mask. We all do. But when that mask hides the parts of us that most need to be shared, exposed, honored and loved… the light within us begins to dim. And if we hide the truth of deep suffering, the darkness can envelop us.


I can only pray that in sharing my truth, I’ve allowed others to feel safe taking off their masks, sharing their illness of the mind and seeking help for their pain & struggles. I can only hope that my words chip away ever so slowly at the added burden of shame & stigma that compound their hurting souls & cause them to hold ever tighter to those masks.


If I can do that, I bring meaning to his death and to my sorrow. Because my father had an illness, no less true than a physical diagnosis. But it didn’t have to be fatal. If only he’d taken off the mask, he might still be here today.

calendar-photo-845x321

When we lived in Atlanta, I kept a giant calendar on the side of our refrigerator. Having three kids in three schools, plus after school activities and my husband’s busy rabbi schedule to juggle, that calendar  helped me to organize life for myself & my family. Yes, in these days of smart phones and technology, I preferred to have life laid out in black and white, on paper. I still do.

My father died on April 20, 2015. And while so much of life felt like a blur in the aftermath of his suicide, the details of that day are etched into my mind with painful & perfect clarity.

When the end of that month came, I took the April calendar down, but I couldn’t throw it away.  That was the last month that my father was alive. It was the last month that I would hear his voice, or tell him that I loved him and hear him say it in return.

And that piece of paper so starkly reflected the truth of my life. Every day leading up to April 20, 2015 was my before. And every day that followed, my after.

That is what it is to lose someone to suicide. You mark your very existence as a survivor in before & after. Because to survive a suicide loss is to be forever altered in ways that at times simply defy words.

The other day I was cleaning out some papers and I came across the calendar once again. My response, almost two years later, was still the same. I can’t throw it away. Some part of me simply can’t give up this piece of paper, filled as it is with the mundane routine of our daily lives as a family.

On the day my father died, my middle daughter was scheduled to have her braces taken off. My friend Karen so graciously picked her up at school and took her to the orthodontist, feigning a story about why I couldn’t get her myself. I recall vividly the picture Karen sent of Leora’s beautiful brace free smile at the end of that appointment. And I remember the pain I felt at knowing that the news of my father’s suicide, would wipe that smile away in an instant. And yet, there it is in black & white, what was supposed to be a far more ordinary afternoon, with an appointment scheduled at 2:00. And written underneath it are notes about carpool and a final class at Religious School. It was supposed to be an ordinary day, that became anything but.

I look at all of the things written on that April calendar that fell after the 20th, and I can’t even remember who took care of what. Who cancelled the appointments before we went to New York for the funeral? The house was due for the final inspection. Who made sure it was tidied up before we left? Who drove carpool? It is all a blur.

There was life before my father’s suicide. And there is life after. And why I can’t throw out that one piece of paper, I don’t know. Except maybe that it is the most concrete reflection of the day my life changed forever.

Time has passed. There has been much heartache, but also a great deal of healing. I try not to dwell in memories of the before. But I hold fast to one torn page from the calendar that reminds me of time I still shared with my father. He lived for 19 days in April 2015. And a single piece of paper is the evidence I cleave to. How could I possibly throw that away?

Time is the longest distance between two places. (Tennessee Williams)

 

dancing with dad at my bat mitzvah

Dancing with my dad at my Bat Mitzvah party

“Tell me something about your dad”, my heart whispered this morning. “Tell me something about his life, a sweet memory, and let it not be tainted by his suicide.”

And my mind answered,”But those moments are hard to find. It seems whenever I try to revisit those memories, his suicide, the way his life ended, inevitably comes crashing in.”

“Try anyway”, my heart answered back. “Do not let his death be all that defines him.”

Eyes closed

A deep breath.

Clearing away the pain.

Making room for something sweeter.

He loved to dance!

I mean, my father LOVED to dance. When I was younger, he and my mom would get dressed up in their disco gear and hit the dance floor on Saturday nights. I remember thinking that I had such cool parents. My mom in her spandex top & leather pants and my dad, looking so suave with his shirt unbuttoned, heading out to Uncle Sam’s disco. Date night was dance night for them.

mom and dad club night

My parents ready to hit the dance floor

But my dad didn’t have to wait for a club or an event to get his groove on. Our living room had a full wall of mirrors. And as part of my dad’s exercise routine, he would pop in an 8 track tape, put on his castanets and shirtless, with just his shorts on, he would dance. I can remember Peaches & Herb blaring through the stereo speakers singing, “Shake your groove thing, shake your groove thing yeah yeah. Show ’em how we do it y’all.” And without a partner, but with total & complete abandon, my father would just dance until he was dripping in sweat.

dad disco days

This is how I remember my dad dancing around the living room.

I don’t know if my father was ever more free, than when he was dancing. He didn’t hold back. The music enveloped him and he just radiated joy. For him, it was clear that dancing was a celebration of life, and on the dance floor, he gave it everything he had.

And he was happy. I can remember him happy. I can remember him free.

And my mind whispered to me, “Hold that memory today. Grasp it tight and don’t let go.”

And my heart whispered to me, “There is room for both the sorrow & the joy. Cleave to the joy today.”

My father loved to dance.

He knew joy. He knew celebration. He could and he did dance like no one was watching.

Today, with everything I’ve got, I hold fast to that memory of my dad.

My father loved to dance. And remembering that, makes me smile.

Let show the world we can dance
Bad enough to strut our stuff
The music gives us a chance
We do more out on the floor

Groovin’ loose or heart to heart
We put in motion every single part
Funky sounds wall to wall
We’re bumpin’ booties, havin’ us a ball, y’all

(Peaches & Herb Shake Your Groove Thing)

 

Today marks 20 months since my father’s suicide. I suppose it is time to begin counting not by months, but rather “year.” One year and a half, one year and 8 months… That word… “year” is hard for me. It makes the time since his death loom larger than I am ready for.

I remain fundamentally and forever altered. I’ve set down the advocacy work for now. Though it imbued my father’s death with some sense of meaning, it had begun to take a toll on me. Dwelling in the world of suicide loss and prevention came at a cost. It felt worth it, until it didn’t. And hard as it was to admit, I needed to step away. Harder to admit was that I wanted to.

I need to figure out who I am, outside of being the survivor of suicide loss. Yes I know I remain a devoted mother, wife and friend. But where these newly altered pieces of me fit and how to fulfill and strengthen myself remains undefined. I began building a jewelry business. A business I once found successful & fulfilling. A business my father was so proud of. Ever so slowly it has allowed me to begin to see and slowly embrace a creative purpose, an identity… artist, designer, entrepreneur. These are titles, names that are not a part of the horrific loss I’ve endured. And there is so much symbolism in this endeavor. The beads are the pieces, stringing them together one by one, is like picking up the pieces of my life. They come together to create something new, something beautiful, quite different than before. My journey is deeply reflected in such work. Fragments and pieces coming together in this new self that is unfolding. 

Today marks 20 months. I will never ever be at peace with losing my father to suicide. Every day I strive to learn how to live with it. And I strive for a balance between giving his death purpose, and imbuing my life with the same. I deserve that. Don’t I? Guilt tells me no. But I cannot let guilt define where I go from here. I don’t let many people in these days. I’m guarded, feeling vulnerable and fragile in many ways. But this is my truth. It’s still hard, every single day. But I journey on determined to find happiness, fulfillment and joy. My dad would want that.

20 months… I miss him. I can’t undo his final act. But I’ve discovered that I can’t get lost in it either. The journey is long and hard. I’m tired. But I know there is a resilience within. He lost sight of his. I must continually tap into mine, even when I lose faith in it’s existence. He lost hope. I cleave to it, the notion that it won’t always hurt like this, that it will get better in time. His death has forever altered me. But I cannot let it define me. I still want to bring meaning to such a senseless loss, but I want more than that. I need to find that balance.

So onward I walk, I step, I falter, I stumble, but I get up and keep going. So perhaps I’ve already discovered that this altered self, is strong, courageous and braver than I’ve ever given her credit for. And healing is a continual process… even 20 months later.

And still, I miss him. That will never change.

baby-deb-and-dad

Dear Dad,

Tomorrow would have been your 74th birthday.  I still felt the impulse to buy you a card, then I passed the display and instead, began to weep. I thought this second birthday without you would be easier, I was wrong.

I remember when we reconciled, I learned to cherish & never take for granted the simple act of picking up the phone on a holiday or a birthday, to share in good wishes and special sentiments of love & joy. After all, we had endured six years of special days coming and going, marked only by our absence from one another and the silence that filled the void. Yes, it truly felt like we were embarking on a brand new chapter in our relationship, full of promise, forgiveness, rebuilding and a love that felt deeper, stronger and even more authentic because of what we had endured. But that chapter came to a violent and abrupt end 18 months ago. Now our story can only be told in the looking back. And the thought of all that could have been, the pages left unwritten, break my heart.

Eighteen months; I know it’s been a year & a half, but for some reason I can’t bring myself to count it in that way. I’m not ready to put the word year in that space. Isn’t that silly? It is, I know. I wake up almost every day at 3:00 in the morning Dad. We never did get a time of death for you, another missing piece to the puzzle of your suicide. My mind is still trying to make sense of it all. But how do you make sense out of something so very senseless. And yet, my eyes open at 3:00 in the morning and I wonder, is that when you died? Are you trying to give me something to cleave to? Are you trying to answer one of the myriad of questions that occupies my mind at some point each & every day? I’m beginning to believe it.

Oh Dad, I thought getting through all of the firsts would make these seconds without you easier to bear. But I’m told that the second year can be even harder than the first. That darn grief does not follow a linear path, that much I have learned. It’s a constant dance of forward, back and side to side. Right now I feel like I’m just spinning, dizzy, unable to find my center. Tomorrow is just another day I feel like I have to get through. Then some balance might return.

I wish I could have helped you more. I wish that I knew then what I know now. I wish that all that I have learned and all that I have done in the aftermath of your suicide, could help you. I wish it could bring you back. I wish, I wish, for so much I wish.

Why did you go Dad? What happened? What was that final straw that took you from us? Why didn’t you tell us that you were feeling suicidal? Why? I hate that word. Because I will never have the answer. I know the truest answer lies in the illness that consumed your mind. But why didn’t you feel like you could keep fighting on? What made that morning different from all of the others that you had pushed through?

Listen to me; it’s the eve before your birthday and I’m rambling on about me & what I feel. But what about you? Are you at peace? I hope so. Do you know, do you see how much you are missed? I hope so. Do you know how much you were loved. I pray you did.

Tomorrow is your birthday. I wish I could say that I’ll celebrate you, but I just want to get past it. Your suicide has made it deeply complicated to remember you in life, to touch upon the good memories and reminisce.  Maybe one day that will come. I’m told it will. It would be nice to savor a shared moment of joy without having trauma barging in on every darn memory I try to access.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t help you more Dad. I tried my best. I believe that you know that. But you didn’t tell me your whole truth. You kept a mask on and allowed me only to see a portion of your pain. Were you trying to protect me? You didn’t. You know that now Dad, right?

But I love you. I’ll always love you. And most days I forgive you. Other days I feel like you abandoned me. I can’t lie. You were not always easy, and goodness knows you could be a deeply complicated man. Ours was not a relationship without perils and pitfalls & for a long while we walked on separate paths. But we stood at a fork in the road and found one another again. I am eternally grateful for that. And even in your last months and weeks on this earth, stripped down to your most vulnerable self, you allowed me to know you on a deeper level. I felt like I understood you better, and I came to see that just like me, you were shaped by your own upbringing and all of the dysfunction that you endured. In short, I knew that you did as a father, the very best that you could with what you knew. Not every child gets to see that in their parent no matter how old they get. I thank you for that. I thank you for allowing me a glimpse into your own very human journey. I only wish I could have seen more.

Tomorrow is your birthday. So I’m going to try to end this note with a birthday wish for you…

I wish for you that the peace that eluded you in life, is now yours. May your soul be at rest. And may you always carry with you the knowledge that you were loved, even in your most broken state. Even when darkness blinded you to it, You were loved. And even when you felt most alone, you were loved. I wish you were still here. I wish that I could pick up the phone and call you. I wish I could give you a hug.

And it is my fervent wish that the love we shared can transcend

time & space

pain & sorrow

life and death

So that all that I’ve written can find its way to you with God’s grace.

D

deb-and-dad-childhood

 

 

podium9

Dear Anderson Cooper,

You don’t know me and I don’t know you, but we do share something in common. We are both survivors of suicide loss. In 1988 you lost your brother Carter to suicide and 17 months ago, on April 20, 2015, I lost my father.

In just a few days you will join Martha Raddatz at Washington University in St. Louis, to moderate the 2nd Presidential Debate of 2016. This is a chance to speak to some of the biggest challenges that our country is facing, and open up a dialogue with each candidate as to how they might solve those issues, or at the very least, tackle them in such a way as to make a meaningful difference. And so, as a fellow survivor of suicide loss, I am asking you to raise the issue of suicide.

Every day it is estimated that we lose 117 people to suicide; people like your brother and my father. And every 12.3 minutes in this nation another family is left to navigate the painful aftermath that your family and mine has had to face. You understand better than most in the media, that every person who dies by suicide is more than a statistic; they are parents, children, siblings, spouses, friends and neighbors.

The most recent federal data analysis tell us that suicide rates in the United States have surged to a 30 year high. The same research showed an alarming increase in suicide among girls 10 to 14, whose suicide rate, while still very low, had tripled. The suicide rate for middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, rose by 63 percent over the course of the study, while it increased by 43 percent for men in that age range, the sharpest increase for males of any age. And men over the age of 75 have the highest suicide rate of any age group.

Add to that the fact that we lose 20 veterans a day to suicide and that the suicide rate among female veterans is six times higher than the rate of non-veteran women.

Anderson, these are statistics, numbers, and they are staggering to say the least. But they are so much more than that. These are the casualties of a war that is being fought in the dark. These are deaths so often cloaked in shame, stigma and silence, that those of us left to grieve a suicide loss, often find ourselves feeling alone and isolated in the experience. But you can help to change that.

Don’t you think it is time that we shine a national spotlight on the realities of suicide loss, Anderson? Don’t you think it is time that any conversation about our nation’s healthcare include issues of mental health and suicide prevention? Isn’t it time that we normalize those conversations as part of our national dialogue? And I might add, isn’t it time to change the discourse in the media and on the campaign trail when it comes to the language we use, being mindful not to belittle and further stigmatize those living with mental illness?

It’s been 17 months since I lost my father to suicide. And not a day has gone by, where I have not tried to make some meaning come from his death. I have shared my story openly in the hopes that doing so can help spare another family the pain that mine has endured, a pain you are intimately acquainted with.

You told People magazine, in a March 31, 2016 interview that your brother’s suicide had a definite impact on your career.

“I started going overseas and going to places where life and death was very real and where people were suffering tremendous losses. Hearing their stories and hearing people talk about it sort of helped me to get to a place where I could talk about it, I think.”

This Sunday night, with millions of people watching, you have the chance to further the conversation about suicide in this country. The suffering of those who die by suicide is very real and families like yours and mine are living with tremendous loss. You’ve learned to talk about it, and so have I. So let’s use what we have endured to make a difference. Let’s talk about it. Let’s ask our nation’s potential leadership to talk about it. The spotlight is yours to shine, as a fellow survivor, I hope you will use it.

Sincerely Yours,

Deborah Greene

girls-team-tikvah-2016

Dear Dad,

Yesterday, the girls and I participated in our second Out of the Darkness Walk in Denver. It was a little bit easier than last year’s walk. We had a beautiful day, the air was crisp and the sun was shining. It was certainly better than the gray, cold and dismal weather that we encountered on our first walk. It seems only fair that a walk to prevent suicide, a walk to shed light on a topic so often cloaked in darkness, should be met with warm sunshine and the gentle touch of Mother Nature.

Team Tikvah (Hebrew for Hope) raised over $6,000.00 this year. And since we lost you, including last year’s walk, we have raised over $11,000.00 for The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Yes dad, we’ve taken our sorrow as well as our story, and tried to build for you a legacy of hope and of life.

I must admit that it is always the Memory Tree area that tears away at every scab I’ve managed to build up in these last 17 months. Trees are such an enduring symbol of life. They encapsulate the very things that root us, that strengthen us, that allow us to branch out & grow. They endure the harshest of winters, only to once again blossom in the springtime.

But this tree is different. The branches are filled with pictures of all of the precious lives lost to despair & hopelessness. The leaves hold beautiful smiling faces, comprised of all age groups, races and cultures. And on the back of each leaf there is a name, a story, a message of love, a remembrance. It feels both sad and sacred to stand there, to bear witness to the human cost of suicide. And each time that I place your smiling face on that tree, the sorrow that I have learned to live with, rises up like a tsunami and breaks my heart all over again.

But the beauty of the walk is that I cannot stand and remain in that place for too long. None of us can. Slowly, I step away with tear filled eyes and I join in this family of strangers, survivors of suicide loss or suicide attempts, and I am reminded that I am not alone on this journey. The tears that are shed, the stories that are told, resonate for all of us. And because ours is a loss that is often pushed to the periphery lest it make others uncomfortable, we garner strength in the chance to stand front and center with our pain & our purpose. I look around me at the Out of the Darkness Walk and I know that my own efforts to stop suicide are part of something much bigger and more powerful. And that gives me the strength and resolve to keep on fighting.

Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”  Standing on the podium yesterday and gazing out, I was reminded of that truth.

Yes, our stories and loved ones fill that memory tree and it is easy to simply get lost in the despair. But instead, we dig down to our very roots, and like the trunk of a tree we straighten our backs and strengthen our stance. And with every step we take on that walk, each lap around the stadium, we reach out our hands like branches, we take hold of one another, of our losses, and we carry them beyond ourselves. We carry them into our communities, our houses of worship, our government and our schools. And we imbue our memories and our mourning with a deeper mission. We, the survivors, are like the tree that has faced winter’s cruelest storm, but we will not simply wither away.

Dad, I hate to put your picture on that memory tree. That picture, my favorite one of you, draws such a stark contrast between your greatest moments of joy and the darkness that ultimately consumed you. The memory tree is full of those contrasts, beautiful smiling faces whose lives ended in pain & despair. And I suppose that same contrast is present for those of us there to walk in loving memory of each smiling face. We remember and we smile. We remember and we cry. We learn to live with unimaginable pain and we find a way to engage with life again. Tears stream down our face until a smile emerges once again. We feel alone in our loss, but we look around and we are reminded of the community that carries us forward. Our steps are sometimes heavy with the weight of what suicide has taken from us and they are strengthened with the determination to make it matter. That memory tree area symbolizes loss, love and life. And for me, so does the walk itself. I face your loss, I remember & reflect upon the love and with each step that I take, I try to build for you and for me, a legacy that blossoms with life and hope.

dad-memory-tree-2016He who plants a tree, plants hope. (Lucy Larcom, Plant a Tree)

It has taken me a while to sit down and write this letter. Yesterday, when I first read this piece by Dr. Jill Harkavy-Friedman on The Mighty, I was deeply upset and outraged. It was difficult to find the right words to articulate my thoughts in a manner that could be heard and, I hope, be part of a greater dialogue of understanding.

On September 8, 2016 The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention showed up in force outside of the Good Morning America studio in recognition of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. In a sea of blue t-shirts that read, “Be the Voice #StopSuicide” they stood ready to bring the message of suicide prevention to the millions of viewers who tune in to your show every day. They came on a mission of hope, ready to offer thoughtful resources, insights and support to those who might need it. They came to shed a bright light on an issue that is most often shrouded in darkness & fear.

And then, in a deeply disheartening and disturbing  turn of events, they were asked to move out of the camera’s view and told, “It’s the top of our morning show. We don’t want suicide on the brain.”

In my mind, that decision by your show was not only woefully misguided and callous, it was a missed opportunity to help save lives.

I know a little something about missed opportunities. On April 20, 2015 at the age of 72, my father died by suicide. I often wonder about the missed opportunities that my family and I might have had to save him. I don’t share this from a place of guilt anymore, rather from a deep regret that I did not know enough to recognize the signs that my father might be suicidal. If I had known then, what I know now, there is a chance I might have been able to respond differently. There is a chance that my father might still be here today. The missed opportunities are now part of my story, and every day I strive to share what I have learned in the aftermath of my father’s death.

Yes, I may have missed the opportunity to save my father’s life, but in his memory perhaps I can help to save the life of another precious soul and spare another family from the pain that mine has endured. So I tell my truth. My painful journey began in a Whole Foods market where I received the call that my father had died by suicide. Mine, by the way, is a story that went viral after I wrote an open letter to the strangers in that store who comforted and cared for me in the immediate aftermath of that devastating call. If they had responded the way that your show did, by deciding that it was simply too early on a Monday morning to deal with “suicide on the brain” the darkest moment in my life, might have also been the one in which I felt the most alone. Thankfully, that was not the case.

And when my story went viral, I heard from hundreds of survivors of suicide loss. Once again, strangers reached out to me, reassuring me that one day healing would come, one day I would be happy again and they reminded me that I am far from alone on this journey. As I became stronger, I sought to do the same for others who were newer to their loss and whose wounds were fresh & raw. From the deep roots of our shared sorrow, we gave one another faith and hope. “Suicide on the brain” in our community of survivors means that we understand intimately what the other is feeling and we want to be a beacon of light and a source of support for one another. That shared sense of knowing binds us together, though we are strangers in every other way.

For many of us, it also means that we want to learn from what we have endured. We have lost those we love in the most senseless of ways. It feels like such a waste. We want to give their death some meaning.

I have educated myself about the prevalence of suicide in our nation & what can be done to turn the tide on what is now the tenth leading cause of death. Much of what I have learned and the support that I have received began with the very organization that you asked to step out of the camera’s view, lest their shirts and their message upset those who had tuned in to your show. I have raised money for this organization, participating in their Out of the Darkness Walks, supporting their efforts to reduce suicide 20% by 2025. And I have lobbied on Capitol Hill with them to bring the message of suicide prevention to our country’s leaders. This is an organization that embodies hope. “Suicide on the brain” for this group of people means devoting every day to contemplating how we can do better and help those who are deep in the depths of despair. It is about motivation to open minds and hearts so that lives can be saved. Ignorance may be bliss for some, but knowledge is power and power can be used to break down the very walls of shame, stigma and silence that your show chose to feed into last Thursday morning.

Missed opportunities are hard to live with, especially when we know we won’t ever get another chance to make things right.  I may have missed the opportunity to save my father, but I sure won’t waste the opportunity to imbue his death with purpose and allow his legacy to be one of life and of hope.

The representatives of your show said they didn’t “want suicide on the brain” at the top of your morning show. If the estimates are that someone in this country dies by suicide every 12.3 minutes, then in the span of your two-hour show approximately ten people will have been lost to suicide. And every day that you air a new episode approximately 117 people will die by suicide and their loved ones will represent one of the largest mental health casualties of this largely preventable form of death.

On September 8th, just two days before World Suicide Prevention Day, your show missed an opportunity to talk about suicide with the very people devoted to stopping it. But you get another chance, another opportunity to make it right. It isn’t enough to visit this issue only in the aftermath of another celebrity death. It’s time to talk openly and honestly every day and to stop relegating those of us who have lived experience, or who have lost someone we care about, to the periphery, far outside of the camera’s view. We deserve better than that. And we will keep raising our voices for as long as it takes.

You owe this community of survivors, advocates and messengers of hope a sincere apology. And to truly make this right, you owe us a place in front of the camera and a platform from which to speak. Let us say the word suicide, let us put it on the brains of those who tune in to watch your show. Let us empower, educate and share a message of hope. The shirts we wear say, “Be The Voice #StopSuicide” so let our voices be heard. Because the truth is, it might just save the life of some of those very same viewers that you sought to hide us from.

Sincerely,

Deborah Greene

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I went out in my Be The Voice #StopSuicide shirt today It’s  a message of hope!

 

Yes, it is widely known where I was when I learned of my father’s suicide. And my letter to the strangers in Whole Foods that cared for me has traveled far and wide. But what I haven’t written about or even talked very openly about, is what it was like for me to try and return to that very same Whole Foods weeks after that tragic morning.

But I’m finally writing about that part of my struggle and the deep imprint of trauma that accompanied me on that first visit back to the store.

Approaching the entrance, my legs felt impossibly heavy, as my body begged me to retreat. I was determined to beat grief at it’s own game. When I stepped inside, though, so too did the traumatic imprint of my father’s suicide….

To read the rest of this piece, click on this link to visit Modern Loss