As many of you may have noticed after my writing 1000 million posts (you’re quite observant), for the past three years I’ve organized a team to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. This year I had some big ideas for fundraising, but thanks to a global pandemic (thanks, Covid!!!) I struggled with creativity.
However, my friends Anna and Jonathan did not!! (They never do. Show offs.)
Please enjoy their fundraising video for AFSP and the Out of the Darkness Walk below. It’s clever and it also features some of my very favorite people and nephews!
It’s not too late to donate. For $3 you get one of these lovely mask lanyards in 100’s (9) colors! Information for making a donation can be found in the description on the YouTube video site. Just scroll down!
The death of Jay by suicide is the most devastating event I have yet to experience. To lose someone so suddenly, so definitively, and so needlessly ripped out a big piece of my heart. I spend a lot of time talking about the aftermath of surviving Jay’s death, about my struggles, about the struggles of other survivors in regard to blame, to shame and the stigma of suicide. I talk about the importance of putting a spotlight on mental health issues, which are critical – about supporting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. What I don’t spend time telling you enough about is the love and support I received (and continue to receive).
The day Jay died, I broke – I broke in ways that I will never get back – I broke in predictable ways – ways that a lot of survivors break. I have anxiety attacks. When those attacks aren’t managed, I can have panic attacks. These can be brought on by a stressful event, or a simple office meeting, or just watching a TV show about something as adorable/stress-free as kittens. I can be calm in one moment, and in the next, my body has just dumped a lot of chemicals and hormones into my system signaling me that we’re now in fight or flight mode. To cope, I’m now a reigning queens of breathing techniques and now have a keen ability to describe objects in painstaking detail. I do this until my brain relents and says, “Yeah ok, we’re cool – false alarm. So, how about those kittens. Huh? They’re pretty cute.”
I was angry at Jay in the immediate aftermath of his death, and like many survivors, I struggled with suicidal ideation. Why didn’t he take me, too? I felt a keen sense abandonment and that hurt me even more. We were supposed to be together. Now, to be perfectly clear, this was the manifestation of my own mental health issues that were a result of his death. I’m glad to be here. I’ll vainly put out there that I know the world is a better place with me in it. Lucky you guys!
So, let’s talk about the many things that helped me survive, and that’s all of the people who immediately surrounded me – my phalanx of friends and family who refused to leave me behind or let me fall. They began showing up at my house within a half hour of the news, and they stayed – they stayed through tears, long silences, through moments where I couldn’t focus well enough to tell them what I needed – from food to how to hold a memorial service. They sat quietly while I screamed irrationally in my kitchen, and again while I sobbed on my front porch, They forgave me when I was a little too impatient – a little too short – a little too blunt or brutal with my responses. They forgave me when I greeted their “How was your vacation?” with a low growl and the harsh toned announcement of, “I wasn’t on vacation – Jay is dead.” They forgave me when I was cruel, and there were moments where I was absolutely cruel.
One of the things I know I’ve lost is that patience – that softer edge. It’s something I work on – something I sometimes have to feign, because I want to be kind. I want to be caring again.
With my loss, I found new and amazing friends (or rather they found me) – people I knew of, but did not know. These people took me under their wing – included me in their events – introduced me to new people who were equally amazing – these incredibly good, kind, witty people with huge hearts and clubs I got to be inducted into.
My one regret, if I have one, is that I didn’t know them before and that there’s this chunk of years where I wasn’t talking to them, hanging out with them, and enjoying even more shared adventures and stories. Their generosity of spirit is awe inspiring and I cannot properly express how much I appreciate them for including me.
The bond with many of my current friends became even stronger.
The simple truth is, I would not be where I am today without the incredible support I received from my family, from my friends, and from my co-workers. I am surrounded by a great deal of love – a ton of patience and a lot of caring – people who want me to thrive – people who go out of their way to make sure that happens every single day. They’re the ones who reach out and ask, “Hey, are you ok?” when I seem a bit off or drop a silly card in the mail or agree to drive across state lines just to hang out in the mountains (and generously offer up a soft (free) landing spot in those same mountains.
When I’ve talked about suicide and how I struggled, and how other suicide survivors struggle, I did not tell you about this other side. I didn’t tell you how fortunate I felt (and still feel) – how loved I felt (and feel). But recognize that it too is part of my healing process – I could experience and recognize that love, but I couldn’t express it, yet.
So this is a thank you to all the people who are in my life – who support me. I see you. I appreciate you, and I love you.
This is also a reminder that not everyone receives the same support that I was fortunate enough to receive. And a lot of it has to do with the very real stigma associated with suicide and with people struggling with mental health issues. You can change that. You can do something to help reshape that narrative.
Today Congress passed a bill establishing 9-8-8 as the Suicide Prevention line; it’s now awaiting the President’s signature. This is a HUGE step in the right direction, and still more needs to be done. We must act now.
You can do that by helping support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention again. AFSP provides those who have lost someone to suicide the opportunity to talk with their volunteers – volunteers who are themselves survivors of suicide loss. AFSP helps survivors find support groups. It’s one of the many important services this non-profit provides, and it’s so crucial to the well-being – to the mental health – of other survivors.
And I get it, I know, you’re getting tired of these posts – tired of these conversations, but it’s important. We have to keep fighting for better access to mental healthcare. We have to keep fighting to reduce the number of suicides by 20% by 2025 (a goal AFSP has set and believes is achievable).
We’re going to have a very frank talk about suicide.
Let’s start with me first.
Over the past week, since I began raising money again for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), I’ve had several people (not one, not two – several) approach me to tell me they’re concerned that someone close to them is contemplating suicide. The conversation usually begins with, “I don’t want to trouble you…” or “I don’t want to trigger you…” So, let’s clear that air.
You will not trouble me, nor will you trigger me when it comes to this conversation.
I am not fragile. I have broad shoulders. What happened to Jay is absolutely tragic, absolutely preventable, and while it breaks my heart, it does not define me – it is a piece of me. Jay would not want his death to define me; he would insist I move forward. So when I post honestly and openly about his death and its effect on me, many of you grow concerned – very concerned. Many of you worry that the wounds I choose to share are indicative of an emotional outburst of sorts. They are not. I am not broken.
I am a fundraiser.
What does that mean? It means that in order to raise funds for this extremely important cause, I must pull back the carpet a bit so you can see the impact that a single suicide has on an individual. I must display my myriad scars because if I don’t, you cannot begin to understand how devastating the loss of one person can be – one who struggled with depression – one whose pain overcame their ability to cope – to hope. If I do not open up, you cannot understand why I’m so passionate about this cause, and why it’s so very important for you to support it – this cause that strives to raise awareness, to help fund education, fund research, provide much-needed services to survivors, and to lift the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health issues. Do not mistake my ability to share these stories with you as a sign that I am sad (sometimes I am – he was my person) or that an imminent meltdown in forthcoming. It is not.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…
You can ALWAYS come to me on this issue. I will not always have the answers, but I will gladly point you to resources and to people who can.
Right now we are all working through the complications associated with this pandemic – lost wages, lost housing, a decrease in the ability to be around/get support from our community (family, friends, co-workers), etc. We’re more isolated, and we’re sitting in a perfect mental health storm. So, it’s ok to be scared, and it’s ok to reach out.
Due to the number of people who have approached me on this issue, I feel it’s important to post some information – especially for those of you who may have not wanted to come forward and talk to me (and that’s ok, too – that’s why I’m making the information easy to access).
What to Do if You are Concerned That Someone is Contemplating Suicide
Remember: Talk Saves Lives
Assume you’re the only person who is going to reach out and don’t be afraid to have the conversation. You will NOT put the idea to self-harm in their heads.
When someone says he or she is thinking about suicide, or says things that sound as if the person is considering suicide, it can be very upsetting. You may not be sure what to do to help, whether you should take talk of suicide seriously, or if your intervention might make the situation worse. Taking action is always the best choice. Here’s what to do.
Start by asking questions
The first step is to find out whether the person is in danger of acting on suicidal feelings. Be sensitive, but ask direct questions, such as:
How are you coping with what’s been happening in your life?
Do you ever feel like just giving up?
Are you thinking about dying?
Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
Are you thinking about suicide?
Have you ever thought about suicide before, or tried to harm yourself before?
Have you thought about how or when you’d do it?
Do you have access to weapons or things that can be used as weapons to harm yourself?
Asking about suicidal thoughts or feelings won’t push someone into doing something self-destructive. In fact, offering an opportunity to talk about feelings may reduce the risk of acting on suicidal feelings.
Look for warning signs
You can’t always tell when a loved one or friend is considering suicide. But here are some common signs:
Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”
Getting the means to take your own life, such as buying a gun or stockpiling pills
Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
Being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for doing this
Saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated, particularly when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above
For immediate help
If someone has attempted suicide:
Don’t leave the person alone.
Call 911 or your local emergency number right away. Or, if you think you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room yourself.
Try to find out if he or she is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or may have taken an overdose.
Tell a family member or friend right away what’s going on.
If a friend or loved one talks or behaves in a way that makes you believe he or she might attempt suicide, don’t try to handle the situation alone:
Get help from a trained professional as quickly as possible. The person may need to be hospitalized until the suicidal crisis has passed.
Encourage the person to call a suicide hotline number. In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
Please also consider contributing to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They are expecting a significant shortfall in fundraising this year, and this year, when so many are in pain, it’s critical that they continue to move forward with their mission Any amount helps. If you choose to give, you can give to AFSP directly by going to their website, or you can support them through my team’s fundraising efforts: The Jay Walkers
If you need to talk about this important issue do not worry that you’re going to “trouble” or “trigger” me. You won’t. I’m always here for you.
I belong to a fairly exclusive “invitation-only” group on Facebook – one you must be vetted first in order to join. It’s a group no one seeks membership to, but once accepted everyone is so thankful to be a member. This “elite” group is for those who have lost a spouse or partner to suicide and every single day new survivors join our group. I read their introductions: “Please welcome… who lost her husband/his wife/their partner on…” Every single day – sometimes multiple times per day. I read their sadness, their pleas for help, their confusion, their “what if’s” and their “if only’s”. Honestly, some days I just “can’t,” it’s too much, it’s too hard, and then there are days where I’m the one who is lost and seeking their hard-won wisdom, their compassion, their understanding – clarity from the scarred. No one wants to be a member of this group, but we’re grateful it exists. It’s a place where we can safely show our wounds – our sadness – without being repeatedly shut-down with, “you should go see a counselor.” It’s a place we can say freely, “I desperately miss my person,” and be ok with remembering times when our loved one wasn’t reduced to just one single, horrific event.
This week is National Suicide Prevention Week and we need to talk frankly about suicide and how you can help.
The fact is, I wasn’t planning on starting a walk group this year. Right now, there are so many very worthy causes – so many people in pain – so many people in need of assistance. Then I read a post from one of my fellow survivors – a woman who was told by her partner’s family to stop mentioning how he died because it brought the family shame.
I was absolutely appalled, but not particularly surprised by the family’s reaction.
The stigma associated with suicide is very common, and it compounds the complicated grief felt by we survivors. The truth is, we do not get the same support from our community (friends/family) as we would have had our loved one died any other way. Our loved one’s death was an embarrassment – a reason for great shame. Their deaths should be hidden, tucked away, never to be spoken of again – as if the mere acknowledgment of how they died would encourage the visit of the ugly specter of suicide to visit their own house.
And we need to stop that.
We stop that by openly talking about suicide and by talking about mental health issues. We stop telling those suffering and in need of mental health services that they are “weak” when they express the need for counseling, or psychiatric intervention. It is not, nor has it ever been, a weakness or flaw in constitution to need mental health services, much like it isn’t a weakness or flaw if I have the flu. If I break my arm, I need a doctor. No one questions that. By that same token, if I have a chemical imbalance that affects my brain such as suffering from clinical depression, I need to see a mental health specialist. That’s where we fail in our understanding (and compassion) as a society.
That must change.
..and those changes happen when we’re willing to talk openly about suicide and mental health issues.
It changes when we recognize that mental health services are as important as physical health services. It changes when we stop stigmatizing suicide – when we stop stigmatizing mental health issues. It changes when it doesn’t occur to us to ask a person whose spouse/partner/child/parent/friend died by suicide to “please not mention it.”
So, here I am again asking you to walk with me on October 24th to raise awareness. This is a virtual walk between 9AM – 1PM – you choose the location. To join the Jay Walkers click here. If you raise $100 on behalf of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP), I will send you one of our fine Jay Walkers 2020 team t-shirts.
If you can’t walk (and even if you can), please consider making a donation to AFSP at our Jay Walker’s team site here.
Whatever you do, I need you to commit to talking about mental health issues, to supporting those who have been affected by suicide, and to never attempt to silence someone from talking about their loss of a loved one to suicide. (… and a very personal note, I need you to commit to never saying or suggesting the person who died by suicide was “selfish” – no, my friend, they had a mental health crisis and could not see any other escape from their tremendous pain.)
Let’s endeavor to be more compassionate and to make a difference.
I’m leaving you with some of the latest facts/figures from the CDC:
There is no single cause to suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.
In 2017 (latest available data), there were 47,173 reported suicide deaths in the U.S.
Currently, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.
A person dies by suicide about every 12.8 minutes in the United States.
Every day, approximately 129 Americans take their own life.
Ninety percent of all people who die by suicide have a diagnosable psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.
There are 3.54 male suicides for every female suicide, but three times as many females as males attempt suicide.
494,169 people visited a hospital for injuries due to self-harm behavior, suggesting that approximately 12 people harm themselves (not necessarily intending to take their lives) for every reported death by suicide.
25 million Americans suffer from depression each year.
Over 50 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. If one includes alcoholics who are depressed, this figure rises to over 75 percent.
Depression affects nearly 5-8 percent of Americans ages 18 and over in a given year.
More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS.
Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of people with depression respond positively to treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms. But first, depression has to be recognized.
The best way to prevent suicide is through early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of depression and other mental health conditions.
I returned to work a week after Jay died. I braced myself as I headed towards my desk; I needed to be prepared to cope with the cards and flowers that people likely left there. I needed to steel myself for the outpouring of sympathy, knowing it would be hard, but well-intentioned. It’s what we did as a group – we came together to support our teammates during their times of loss or need. Plus, for the most part, people generally like me (except that one woman who clearly has no taste). Why wouldn’t I expect a big show of support?
I wasn’t prepared for what I found as I rounded that corner. I found nothing.
Absolutely nothing. No cards. No flowers. No little notes. In fact, people kept
swinging by to ask me about my vacation, and I stared back at them dully,
unable to speak. Others avoided me (for months). In fact, I asked one months
later if they knew Jay had died. They did. They explained they didn’t know what
to say, so they decided to say nothing. That friendship is dead to this day.
Let me clarify something real quick: I had an incredible core group of coworkers
who rallied around me and supported me completely. They attended Jay’s memorial.
They sent cards, texts, and called me on the phone. But when it came to telling
the rest of the team, they found themselves in an extremely awkward situation.
They worried about how to share my news and they had serious concerns about violating
my privacy. Their silence on the subject was well-meaning. How do you tell
everyone, “Beth’s husband died by suicide?” They decided it was better to err on
the side of caution to avoid causing me additional pain. No one wanted to see me
Unfortunately, the side effect was that I did not have the usual support that
one would receive after losing a spouse. So, in the absence of a conga line of teary-eyed
condolence hugs and cheer-up candy from my coworkers, I began to behave in
ghastly ways. I was blunt. I was harsh. I was rude. I was unforgiving and
unapologetic. When asked about my vacation, people staggered out of my office
backwards while stammering out their apologies. When asked in meetings, “Is
everything ok, Beth?” people suddenly wanted to end the meeting early while quickly
excusing themselves. I was unpleasant on a good day, and intolerable on a bad
day, and there were plenty of bad days.
I finally had to ask a team member to spread the word that Jay had died,
because crushing people’s “welcome back from vacation” cheer was wearing me
What happened to me was not atypical.
There’s a stigma around suicide and around mental health issues. We, as a
society, shy away from talking about it. If it happens in your family, you keep
it in the family. I mean, what will the neighbors think? (Well, in my case, my
neighbor threw Holy water over the fence into my yard.) What will your friends
think? What will your co-workers think? What does it say about you, your
lifestyle, your family…? And talking about it, except in hushed whispers, makes
We need to talk about it. Hiding it isn’t working. Silence isn’t working.
People who are struggling need help, and we’re telling them to be silent. We’re
telling them there’s shame in having a mental health issue – there’s shame in
suffering. However, if they had a chronic condition like arthritis or asthma or
even cystic fibrosis, we’d encourage them to seek treatment. If they had cancer,
we’d make referrals to well-respected oncologists. We’d offer advice. Hell, we’d
become WebMD authorities and merrily hop down every homeopathic trail in hopes
of getting them relief.
What we wouldn’t do:
We would never ask a person with a chronic condition to suffer silently. We would
never tell them they needed to smile more. We would never insinuate they were
making a choice to be ill.
And if a co-worker lost a spouse to cancer, the team would rally around them
because we understand cancer. There is no
shame in having a spouse die due to cancer.
Like many people who die by suicide, Jay suffered from depression. He’d
suffered since he was a teen. Convincing him to see a medical professional was a
battle. It took years of talking about medical intervention, and pointing out people
he knew who, like him, suffered from depression but were having success with
medication. I had to work on removing the stigma of seeking help just to get
him to make an appointment. And once his medications started having an effect,
he said something that broke my heart, “this is the first time I’ve ever felt
happy.” Imagine going your whole life without knowing or remembering what “happy”
We must keep talking about suicide. We must keep talking about mental
health. We must make mental health a priority.
When I first opened-up about Jay and the impact his death has had on me, I
received feedback from a couple of people. They shared their personal struggles
and said they didn’t fully realize how devastating suicide was to the people
left behind; that my stories had made them think. Then last week another friend,
also deeply was affected by Jay’s death, shared a similar story.
That’s why we keep talking about it. That’s why we cannot and should not be
silenced or marginalized. Talk makes a difference. Talk saves lives.
Last year a co-worker attempted to admonish me by saying, “I don’t think you
realize how much you talk about Jay.”
I will never stop.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) will also never stop. Their mission to fund important research into the best ways to prevent suicide, to advocate, educate, and provide support to those who have lost a loved one gives me hope that they will reach their goal to reduce suicide by 20% in 2025.
I believe in their mission.
That’s why on November 2nd I am walking in the Out of the Darkness Walk here in Austin, Texas. I’ve set a goal for our team of $5,000, and a personal goal of $3,000.
I believe it’s a challenging goal, but achievable with your support.
Well guys, we’ve reached the point in our relationship where I feel comfortable asking you for a huge favor. I know, I know, you think we aren’t quite there yet in our relationship. You feel that this is a bit soon. I mean we barely know each other, and here I am springing this on you. You haven’t had a chance to brush your hair, tuck in your shirt, or freshen up. Your parents haven’t had a chance to meet me, yet! Trust me, it will be ok. You’ll be fine! We’ll be fine together and your parents will come around and support you.
On Tuesday, September 10th the Central Texas Chapter of the AFSP are partnering with Phil’s Ice House and Amy’s Ice Cream. These businesses will be hosting an Out of the Darkness Party Time Event. Basically, they’ve agreed to give part of their proceeds from that day to AFSP. In order for AFSP to receive that donation, they need 50 people to go to one of those businesses and let them know they’re there to support AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk. Super easy!
Note: This only applies to the stores located at: 2901 S. Lamar Blvd. in Austin, Texas.
This is extremely important to me, and I’m calling in that favor. I need you to not only go, but I also need you to help my team. Here’s what you need to do:
Walk, Run, Scooter, Bus, Uber, or Drive to the Amy’s Ice Cream or Phil’s Ice House located at: 2901 S. Lamar Blvd.
Place your order and say, “Hi! I’m here in support of AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Walk.” You can even add, “and I’d like fries with that.”
Take a selfie of you at Amy’s or Phil’s
Share your selfie on Social Media (FB, Instagram, Twitter, etc.)
Tag American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – Central Texas
Tag Phil’s or Amy’s
Tag The “Jay” Walkers
The team who has the most tagged selfies has a shot at having the money credited to their team’s fundraising effort.
That’s it! Super easy, right?
Now if you’d like to do a bit more and join my team to walk with us on Nov. 2nd, you can do so here. We’d love to have you! We’ll also be having a team meeting there that night at 6:30 pm where one of our team members, who recently went through AFSP’s training, will give a presentation on how “Talk Saves Lives”.
I’m serious when I ask (beg): Please do this one thing for me; it’s really important, and it’s a great cause. Help us prevent suicides. Help us remove the stigma surrounding seeking help for mental health issues. You can make a difference by doing something as small as eating a burger with friends, and maybe just maybe you’ll save a spouse, returning home from a trip, from living through the abject horror of discovering their partner has lost their battle with depression.
Now mark your calendar, head over there on Sept. 10th, grab a burger, some ice cream (eat it quickly; it’s super hot outside), join my team, and make a difference.
Yesterday, 19 people – friends and family – walked in memory of Jay. Yesterday, our team joined 186 other teams in promoting the mission of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to “save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide. [They] create a culture that’s smart about mental health by engaging in the following core strategies:
Funding scientific research
Educating the public about mental health and suicide prevention
Advocating for public policies in mental health and suicide prevention
Supporting survivors of suicide loss and those affected by suicide in our mission”
To learn more about them, please follow the link provided above.
I want to take this moment to thank those who of you who sent their positive energy into the world yesterday in support of us and this cause. I want to thank those who volunteered your time and energy to be out with us on a cold Texas day. (To my friends living in the Northeast, it was cold!!! You don’t know! It was practically an arctic wasteland! Freezing. I’m sure I turned blue. I also”may” have worn four layers. Though, I suppose in all fairness, I did only plan for three, which is a perfectly reasonable amount when the temperature drops below, you know, 50 – heretofore be known as “FACT!”)
I want to thank my team who worked so hard to raise donations for this cause, and who many also contributed. We got 80 donations!! WOW!
When we started, I thought $500 would be a long shot, but I was hopeful. When we went over $3000, I was incredibly blown away and touched by everyone’s generosity. You guys are helping to raise awareness, to fund research, and to help remove the stigmas that surround seeking help for mental illness. As we know, asking for help is never a weakness; it takes great strength.
That brings me to you guys – our donors. THANK YOU! We couldn’t have done this without your support. Several of you were kind enough to give multiple times, to multiple team members, and it all is going to such a worthy cause.
I am truly humbled by every one of you who participated.
I know over the past two years, several of you outside of my core group of family and friends have worried about me – about where I’m at in this journey, and you’ve wondered how I remained strong (sometimes, not “strong” so much as how I was able to continue to keep my head above water on the bad days, and there have been many), and to you I say look at the picture above. Look at those faces and know those are only a few of the people who have stood by me through all of the hard times. That’s my village – the people I love. They represent the ones who, when I was at my lowest moment – July 9, 2016 – stopped everything, turned their cars around, and walked through my door to create a protective shell. We wrapped our arms around each other that day, because I wasn’t the only one who lost someone that day – Jay was a youngest son, a baby brother, an uncle, and a friend. We’re the ones left behind, and we’re the ones who stood strong yesterday as a group to honor him, and to remember that Jay was not one event on a horrible day in July; he quick witted, funny, and absolutely beautiful.
On July 9, 2016, while waiting to disembark from my plane, I turned off the “airplane mode” setting on my phone, and a text came through, “I won’t be able to pick you up today.” It was from my husband. I wasn’t alarmed; sometimes the world could be too much. Sometimes he couldn’t handle the cars darting about, the crowds of people; it could make him extremely anxious. It could be paralyzing. To me that text only meant I would have to take a taxi home. It’s just what it was. Then I walked onto the concourse, and my world started turning upside down. A voice over a loudspeaker summoned me to a white courtesy phone. From there I was met by a police officer who told me another officer, from the city where we lived, was en route to talk to me. That officer arrived, and I was informed that Jay had passed away. Impossible. He had just sent me a text. I was taken home to find my house surrounded in crime tape, and people from victim’s services waiting for me on my driveway. My husband, the person I had been with for 17 years, was now gone, and my home was a crime scene.
Not only had I lost my husband, my best-friend, my co-conspirator, and my favorite person; I had lost my identity. I was no longer a wife, a best-friend, the other half of the best part of us. I had lost purpose. The house had fallen silent.
It’s still silent…
There is a stigma associated with mental illness. A belief that if a person just tried harder, manned-up, not been a baby, they’d have been fine. A belief that a person is actively choosing to be miserable.
So, let me set the record straight. Jay didn’t die because he was weak. He didn’t die because he couldn’t “fake it till he made it;” a regimen of “more smiling” wasn’t the cure for his depression. Jay died because he felt hopeless. Jay died because he felt that seeing one more doctor to adjust his medication was pointless, and that it ultimately wouldn’t change how worthless he felt inside. He felt another appointment with an ENT still wouldn’t fix his untreated sleep apnea. He felt like a disappointment. And the depression combined with extreme fatigue made him feel like he was going insane. I cannot begin to imagine how his last day ultimately unfolded, but I do imagine he felt that he’d finally get some relief. I imagine he felt like he’d no longer disappoint everyone in his life. He would no longer disappoint me.
Let me say here what I had told him on many occasions: he was never a disappointment. He was beautiful.
There is a stigma associated with suicide. After a week of being gone, I returned to work braced to read the condolence cards that were doubtlessly waiting for me on my desk. There weren’t any. My desk was exactly the same as it had been before I’d left. No cards, no flowers, no acknowledgment. In fact, some people who knew Jay had died avoided me. We thrive in our communities, and to be denied this thing that is almost a given was traumatizing. No one did it to hurt me; for the most part they love me. It was that no one was quite sure what to do given the circumstances. Those who didn’t know would innocently drop by to cheerfully ask how my vacation went, and I got the unenviable task of explaining, “Jay died.” I finally had to ask people to spread that news, because I couldn’t cope with telling one more person and watching their faces fall.
If Jay had died of anything else, there would have been a card. I would have been embraced by my community. People would know what to say. They would know what to do.
And because of that same stigma, I wouldn’t tell people either, because I knew I’d be judged. I hadn’t kept my house in order. I hadn’t stopped him. What was so broken in our lives that my husband would choose suicide? What had Beth done to drive someone to make that choice? I kept silent to avoid whispers.
That stops now.
Next Saturday, on November 10th, I will walk in the Out of Darkness walk – a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I will walk for my husband. I walk for my best friend. I walk for my favorite person. I will walk for me.
On November 10th, my team will walk for a lost brother, son, uncle, and friend. A few will walk for me – to hold my hand, to peer into my face and see if I’m ok, and they will keep me strong as they continue on this endless vigil – my protective vanguard.
Together we will walk to support the other survivors out there, the people who need strength, who need a reminder that despite the tragedy, they’re still here, and they’re still ok. We walk in the hopes that the funds we raise, the awareness this walk brings may prevent another family from joining us. We walk to help remove the stigma that surrounds depression and suicide.
So I ask you one final time: Won’t you please join us? Whether it’s by spending a couple of hours walking beside us on November 10th to walk around the state’s capitol, or through a gift to this organization? I strongly believe that what this organization is doing for survivors, and for those who struggle is important, and it is vital.
If you’re unable to give at this time, that’s ok. Share a kind word, a show of support, a story, something about your love for Jay, for me, for this amazingly strong and resilient family; it means the world to us.
I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we love and appreciate each of you.