It wasn’t until thirteen years after my mom’s suicide that I even met another person who had experienced a suicide as well. The shame and stigma kept me quiet all those years. Too afraid of what people would say or think, I kept that dirty little secret to myself.
On the inside, I allowed some negative messages to penetrate my heart. “Your mom never loved you” and “You have no value if your mom would kill herself and leave you behind.” At only ten years old, I hated myself and accepted these lies as truth.
As life went on those messages became louder and I could not even remember ever believing otherwise. Then, one day, twenty-four years after my mom’s death, I had a chance encounter with a stranger who told me her husband had died from suicide and her adult son was really struggling with a familiar lie I knew too well. “He thinks he has no value if his dad could leave him permanently. He thinks his dad never really loved him.”
My heart stood still. There, in that moment, I felt less alone than I ever have- even though I did not even meet this young man. He was articulating what I had felt my entire life. Could this be how all survivors feel? Surely the two of us could not be the only ones. My world was turned upside down from that one conversation!
The next day I started thegiftofsecond.com, a website for those who have lost a loved on to suicide. I wanted it be a safe place for fellow survivors to read and write about other experiences with suicide. I wanted it to be a place we could share our journey while offering hope, encouragement, and connection. I wanted it to be what I never had after my mom’s suicide. I never wanted another person to have to wait thirteen years before meeting another survivor or twenty-five years before hearing someone say the thoughts they too are consumed with.
The website has had people from all over the world share their anger, grief, shame, PTSD, forgiveness, hope, and more. Writers include pictures of them with their loved one and we get to speak about suicide openly and honestly. We reduce the stigma every time a person shares their journey. We have a lot of suicide prevention resources in this world but we lack resources after a suicide. The Gift of Second wants to offer support each time an individual begins this devastating road.
After the incredible popularity of the website, I decided to write a book with one goal in mind: Create the best possible resource for another survivor. I think I did that. As a two-time suicide loss survivor as well as a licensed marriage and family therapist, I was able to add personal stories to my clinical knowledge. The book, The Gift of Second: Healing from the Impact of Suicide includes wisdom and advice from hundreds of fellow survivors. It also discusses how to survive the first year, how to communicate about suicide with others, what to expect with grief, how trauma impacts our daily lives, and closely looking at the guilt and shame so many survivors struggle with.
I can’t change what happened but I can change how those left behind grieve and heal. And if I can change the loneliness for just one person, I would consider this a success.