"Say what you have to say, and not what you ought."
~ Henry David Thoreau

Monday, September 9, 2013

A Shining Light

Tomorrow, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day. At 8 p.m. I’ll join others around the world in lighting a candle and placing it in a window to remember my sister Julie, to show support for suicide prevention, and for the survivors of suicide.

The act will be a solitary one for me. I prefer to be alone when I light my candle—alone with my memories, my sadness and my reflections about the journey over the last three years. At the same time, I know I really won’t be alone because hundreds of thousands of others will be joining me as they light their own candles. Knowing that brings me both comfort and sadness, because I know it means so many others lighting candles have experienced the same kind of loss and grief as me. The comfort comes from knowing that each one of our individual losses makes us survivors and we have each other for support. 

Lighting a candle is symbolic in many ways. A single candle can bring light to the darkest of places. Everyone knows the phrase “There’s light at the end of the tunnel.” I remember hearing this when I was in the midst of deep, dark despair and grief and thinking there would never again be light and happiness in my soul. My sister was gone, the source of light and joy in so many lives snuffed out in an instant. Her smile that lit up a room—gone forever. Her laughter and silliness that could brighten any situation never to be enjoyed again. My candle will be lit to remember these and so many other things about Julie and to honor her life. 

In the weeks and months after Julie died, my loss overwhelmed me. I often sought refuge alone in my dark bedroom. For months I spent many nights awake in the darkness, unable to sleep because of my unsettled thoughts. Being out in the bright, bustling world overwhelmed me. I felt fragile, broken--alone and bereft even when I was surrounded by others. I was enveloped in a dark cloud of depression and I wondered if it would ever go away.

Gradually, imperceptibly at first, the darkness inside me began to fade. There were times when I again felt light and carefree. I could laugh and not have my laughter turn to tears because of my emotions being so close to the surface. I began connecting with other survivors and realized there was a light at the end of tunnel. They understood how I felt, they knew all about the questions that can never be completely answered, the anger and the guilt that come after losing a loved one to suicide. My candle will be lit for the millions of other suicide survivors in the world. It will burn as a symbol of hope, support and solidarity with them. 

My candle will be lit in support of suicide prevention efforts taking place all over the world. I often wish that I could return to the time when I knew very little about suicide. Ignorance was bliss. Now I know that suicide is one of the major causes of death in the world. Worldwide, nearly one million people die by suicide annually. That’s one suicide death every 40 seconds. I also know the impact mental illness has on suicide, and the importance of access to mental health services. I know too that the stigma surrounding suicide is still very prevalent. Many seem to think if they don’t talk about it that it will somehow go away. Too many people are still unaware of the many contributing causes to suicide, how to recognize suicidal behavior and how to intervene and help someone who is suicidal. This has to change. Suicide needs to be brought out of the darkness. A very bright light needs to shine on the importance of suicide prevention education and that lives can be saved. 

Tomorrow night my candle will shine brightly for all of these things, but most of all it will shine for Julie and the unique brightness and light her life brought to the world.