Tonight, I was invited to attend the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s first appreciation event for top fundraisers. The group was far bigger than I thought it would be — there were at least 30 people who attended, a mix of fundraisers/walkers, board members, and junior board members of the New York City chapter across all five boroughs. I spoke with a number of fundraisers and board members, and it was a great feeling to be part of a group of people who were clearly passionate about the cause we’re all supporting. One junior board member I spoke with had lost her aunt, who was also her godmother, to suicide a year ago. Another fundraiser, whose first name I recognized from the top fundraisers list last year, had lost her little brother to suicide in December 2013, just five months after Ed passed away. Talking to her hit very close to home for me. Even though Ed was really my older brother, in so many ways, he felt like my younger brother. He never had a real opportunity to grow up to be a mature adult. It wasn’t his fault, though.
She talked about the pain and shock she experienced when she learned her brother had died, and she said that she began seeing a therapist about a year after his suicide. She was diagnosed with “complicated grief,” which is a condition in which a person has lost someone close to her to death, but the survivor struggles to grapple with the death, which results in time moving on, but the survivor not. I had no idea this was even a condition one could be diagnosed with.
One thing she said really resonated with me — she was so angry afterwards when some of her own family and friends just withdrew from her. It’s as though as soon as they knew her brother died and it was because of suicide that they decided to just ignore her, some for over a year. That made me so angry. I could actually feel pain seep through me when she said this, and I could see the hurt on her face as she described the whole experience. “I get that people don’t always know how to respond when someone has died, especially when it’s something as sensitive as suicide,” she said. “I was like that for a long time before my brother died. But sometimes, it doesn’t really matter what you say or do as long as you say or do something. Just show that you are there and care.” She said that after that experience, she realized who her real friends were and who really cared, and she just separated herself from the ones who turned away from her. It’s so interesting how similar this is to my own experience and how I changed my own outlook on people after that.
Exchanging experiences with her was emotional for me, as many moments I held back tears listening to her speak about how isolated and alone she felt, and how she felt like she could never really be herself ever again. I still feel moments throughout every day since Ed has passed when I feel like no one really understands me or what I’ve gone through, not just because of Ed’s suicide, but because of all the experiences in our lives that led up to that hellish moment he jumped off that bridge. Everyone seems to think it’s all about his suicide. If he were still here and struggling, no one would pay me any attention. And even worse, no one would pay him any attention, as they did up until the point he died. We all know this is true as awful as it is to write it out. When you have someone very close to you experience mental illness and/or suicide, the way you view the world is completely different. There’s a completely different level of empathy you have for what others’ experiences are and how they perceive the rest of the universe. There’s little that can accurately describe it. Every day is a different type of hurt. But at least it’s a small comfort to know there are other people who care enough to share their own experiences and support a cause they believe in.