I sit here lost in a time where the beginning of September never meant anything more to me than our little ones getting ready for school and fall weather hiding right around the corner. Most of my life I didn’t recognize days or weeks set aside for certain causes except for the national holidays I grew up with or breast and ovarian cancer month which affected my own family in some way.
As I backtrack in my mind to September of 2018, I distinctly remember being consumed with a season of peace and contentment. My husband and I had just purchased a beautiful condo and that summer began with what would be a “weekend retreat” for us, our family and our closest friends. I was totally captivated by our perfect view of Lake Erie as we sat on our porch relaxing and looking at the magnificent water that stretched as far as the eye could see. We met a whole new set of friends who were at the same stage in life as us and we both fell in love with our little piece of heaven on the water.
That first fall following our purchase would bring us more peaceful evenings of watching the sunset with friends as we shared stories and dreams of what the future would bring us. We knew the season would gain momentum as we anticipated the exciting travel and busyness of the upcoming family birthdays and holidays with our 6 kids, their spouses and our 5.5 grandkids! Snapshots were taken of laughter and carefree moments, candles and ice cream cake. We knew we would treasure these moments forever. However, little did we know that December 26, 2018 would be the last family photo we would ever take with our entire family.
What followed early that next year is nothing short of a parents worst nightmare. As with most tragedies, it was something we were totally unprepared for and it began for us an unasked for journey that we would never wish on anyone else in the world.
On February 11, 2019, our 33-year-old daughter, Danielle, lost her battle with depression. In short, her struggled started in her early teens with simple signs such as arguing and anger. It morphed into many sleepless nights and hospital stays mixed with medication and prayers. Let’s fast forward 10 years. There you would notice a beautiful young woman whose thoughts and mental health challenges had stabilized and shining bright right in front of you was an overcomer who found so many reasons to not give up on herself, her life or the lives of those she loved. Danielle worked very hard on herself during those years with counseling, medication, self care, positive self talk and whatever else was necessary to rise above or co-exist with her depression, ptsd (post traumatic stress disorder), poor body image, anxiety, self worth issues and suicidal thoughts. She became the incredibly strong, dedicated, successful and absolutely stunning woman that my husband and told her she was created to be.
One of Dani’s gifts was making those in her circle feel loved and accepted. Her attributes included the ability to literally impact the lives of everyone she met. It comes as no surprise to anyone that watching your children flourish and grow becomes one of the greatest joys of a parents life. Danielle was no exception. Knowing she had learned to be overcome the pain and adversity from her early years, as well as accept the fact that her brain chemistry was just not working as it should, was a true miracle to see. And how Danielle ultimately gave back to her family, friends, community and world is a tribute to her hard work.
By the time she was 33, Dani had become a successful business woman, with two furry rescues, a dream car, a thousand pair of designer sunglasses and shoes and a beautiful furnished townhome on Capital Hill in DC. She came to everyone’s rescue, worked hard and loved hard. She was in the process of creating a platform in which to share her story of overcoming obstacles and how the pitfalls do not define you. Looking back, perhaps her giving so much of herself to everyone else caused her to neglect her own mental health at the end. This “gift” ultimately became a detriment as her resilience bucket undoubtedly was on empty the night her darkness took over. She felt like a burden and she could not dig deep enough to find the tools she needed to get her through the moment.
Three plus years since the entire direction of my life changed I find I now have dibs on the month of September since it is marked as National Suicide Prevention Month. It is my turn to recognize this cause needs to be expanded with urgency and somehow my passion needs to be created in others. The first day of September always gave me a warm feeling in the past. Now, as the calendar turns from August to September, it has become a painful reminder that I now observe my very own exclusive (4th) Suicide Prevention Month. As each day in September crawls by, I am caught up in the hope and possibilities of what this month can do to change the mindset of the general population so we can prevent and end the stigma associated with suicide and mental health challenges. With that in mind, I also internally battle the reality of the shattered dreams those of us face knowing WHY we need to set aside a day, week and month for suicide prevention and for whom it really is about. It tears me up on the inside, this helpless feeling, of trying to save someone who lives this battle each and every day. Each obituary that resembles a loss like ours ignites the memory of my daughters last moments on this earth as she played a mental game of ping pong wondering if she had any more will left in her to stay. In the end her disease lied to her and now we are left with a huge hole in our life, fighting for her and those like her who have no fight left.
What do I do? I advocate, listen, pray, shout, share resources and tell my story. But will this make a difference to the woman who fights suicidal thoughts each and every day?
Will our pleas and stories save the life of the young mother who relives the constant pain of how abused she was as a child and is just wishing she could sleep forever so the memory and pain will go away?
Will our fundraising and suicide prevention walks help the older man who now feels useless and a burden, living in a world moving forward while he feels alone, lost and without a purpose?
Will our meetings and social media posts give food and housing to the young man whose life was turned upside down in his early 20’s when he developed schizophrenia? When he had to quit his job, lose his insurance and forget all his hopes and dreams because a mental illness he had no control of took over his life and he finds himself homeless and alone?
Will all the donated Christmas dinners and stockings save the life of an addict who doesn’t have the strength or reason to say no anymore because he has no support and is judged by society as worthless?
Will our mental health education in schools be enough for the 45 year old inmate who found himself out of options and unable to find legal and medical help because his untreated mental illness caused a breakdown and he is forever treated as a criminal instead of a mental health patient?
And lastly, will our efforts and limited funds for research be enough to help our veteran who returns home from service with post traumatic stress disorder and has no place to turn for help and understanding? He longs to be treated with kindness and respect as he works this mental health maze in hopes of finding relief when in reality all he wants to do is die?
There is so much more to Suicide Prevention Month than just talking about it. Yes, we need to be aware. It is incredible that we are making progress with our voices and actions. One thing to remember is it is not a numbers game, like some believe, where because todays loss is less than yesterday it equates to a pat in on the back that we must be doing something right. And, it is not just a purple ribbon on your social media page or a “like” on a post. Suicide is the loss of a beautiful and valuable life. It is someones child, parent, friend and neighbor. It is a roof over one’s head with food in their stomach. It is a diagnosis and treatment plan like insulin is to the diabetic. It is training for a job to give someone value and a purpose. It is so much more than what we are already doing.
Please remember this is not happening to someone else. It happens to us all. In some way. The ripple effect is real. The need goes deep. The problems unending. The finances never enough. And the lives lost too many to endure. Simply put, this affects us all. Do we quit fighting because of these issues? Do we shrug our shoulders and say “it’s too much” or “the problem can’t be solved?” Would you with your loved one? The answer is obvious. We keep fighting! New, groundbreaking research is beginning to find answers to questions we previously never ever knew to ask. More is coming. Lives ARE being saved and more will be saved the more we know and the more we do. So we will keep this momentum and we must not quit!
Every 40 seconds we lose a life to Suicide. That is mind boggling and heartbreaking. Let’s use this September in 2022 as the Suicide Prevention Month that is the start of hope for each and every person. Despite all I have written above, I refuse to lose hope even in the face of statistics. Yes, I lost my best friend and daughter and I will mourn all the September days gone by. Yet I will keep fighting to keep the dream alive that tells you tomorrow is worth staying for. Let’s make dreams a reality for the families torn apart by mental illness and suicidal thoughts by offering continued support, services, action and help so we can save one life at a time, together.