Yesterday was World Mental Health Day, but like millions of Americans, I don’t have the luxury of just “observing” it for a single day. It’s something I’ve lived with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week since 2003 — the year my father committed suicide.
The numbers are staggering: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention estimates that 42,000 Americans die from suicide every year and is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. Add in the number of loved ones left behind in the wake of suicide and that number goes from staggering to crippling.
It’s those left behind who shoulder such an unbearable burden. I’ve felt like grief would consume me at times over the last 13 years, and all kinds of questions have swirled around in my head…
–Did my father really think we’d be better off without him?
–Would he be proud of the woman I’ve become?
–What life advice would he give me if he were still here?
I was able to give voice to these questions in my new essay “An Open Letter To Fellow Suicide Survivors On World Mental Health Day” for The Establishment. The piece went up yesterday, and I couldn’t be more happy with it. I know I sometimes post about trivial, fun things, but this type of writing — this confessional, from-the-soul writing — is truly where my heart is at at the end of the day. It’s a healing way of looking at very heartbreaking and traumatic events in my life.
Here’s an excerpt of the essay, which is one of my recent favorites…
I grew up against the sprawling backdrop of the cornfields, in a college town 75 miles west of Chicago. Despite my physical disability, my father made sure that I had a normal childhood—the kind that feels like the perfect home movie when you look back years later as an adult. We chased lightning bugs in the summer and sledded down snow hills in the winter.
Life was simple.
The idea that a loved one died so unexpectedly and so violently shakes you to the very core of your being, and as much as you may wish to deny it, you’ll never be the same person ever again. I never really understood this until I grieved my father. Slowly, however, I realized that not only was I grieving my father’s death, but I was also grieving the loss of my “old life.”
I think, in the end, the real journey I’m on is learning to say goodbye to my old life, not just learning how to say goodbye to my father. It’s important to remember that sometimes, I—you, we—need to try saying hello to our new lives, if just to see how it feels.
You can read the full essay here and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s chat! And of course, feel free to share my essay on Facebook, Twitter or even your local refrigerator. If you share on Twitter, be sure to tag me @melissablake so we can connect! I can’t wait to hear from you! Love you all… xoxo