Here’s what grief as the result of suicide loss can look like. The profound moments of joy are appreciated more, and savored longer. The feeling of love lies closer to the surface and most of us that have suffered this loss are more willing to reach out without worrying how it will be perceived. It’s real and it’s authentic.
Things matter less. Relationships matter more.
Thanks to Shirley Ramsey, I had the opportunity to connect with others who grieve the loss of a loved one by suicide and are passionate about the cause of suicide prevention at the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP) annual leadership conference. The picture above is right before the conference started.
As a newbie, I was honored to be part of the conference and awed when Virginia won a chapter of the year award, just 2 short years after it was chartered in our state. Shirley Ramsey, Virginia chapter chair, got a hug from her hero and AFSP founder Mariette Hartley who wrote a book she read called Breaking the Silence back in 1990 when precious few were writing or talking about suicide. It had served as a turning point after multiple suicide losses in Shirley’s family.
Never in my life have I been to an event with people more motivated and passionate for a cause, more open on the topic of mental illness and suicide prevention.
I can’t speak as a suicide attempt survivor but I felt their passion for wanting to help others. I saw over and over how tearfully grateful they were for being accepted and not shamed for their mental illness. How thankful they were for being alive, for finding a purpose and an organization that wholeheartedly supports encourages them to reach out to others to share their story and prevent suicide.
I can speak as a suicide loss survivor and say it’s a loss like no other.
It carries profound emotional scars and a complexity that is a point of struggle for me. It often takes a confusing and circuitous route through my brain, bouncing off the sides and landing in my heart all tangled up. I know I will feel that my whole life on some level but by educating myself, and advocating I have come to understand it and how we can prevent other people and families from suffering this kind of loss.
I take the ache of my grief and turn that into purpose which is what fuels my passion.
Although I still hurt, I understand that the gift Charles left me was the ability to see into the souls of others and reach them. The conference offered me the tools to help others find hope and healing as well as avoid the tragedy I am living through.
You cannot change the outcome of your trauma. You can’t go back and fix mistakes you made or have a redo.
In time, you can accept tragedy with grace instead of bitterness. You can forgive yourself. You can grow from it if you make the decision to do so. And you can gather your resolve and turn it into passion that inspires change.
That’s what I saw played out time and time again at this AFSP conference in multiple ways– from the top down.
So AFSP team, let’s go change the world!