“Reaching out can change your life” is a slogan we use here at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (www.afsp.org) to encourage loss survivors to attend one of our annual International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day events (www.survivorday.org). It also happens to be one of those slogans that’s true. At least it was for me.
On Election Day six years ago, my sister-in-law took her life. Suicide, unfortunately, wasn’t a topic new to me. In 1970, when I was twelve, my father killed himself. It was a devastating experience that led me to later write a book for people who had lost someone to suicide, called Why Suicide? (www.whysuicide.com).
After we got the news about my sister-in-law—which came as a terrible shock even though she had a long history of mental illness and had made a previous attempt—I remember thinking, I can’t do it alone this time.
I’d learned about AFSP while researching my book, so I knew that Survivor Day was coming up. I decided that it was time for me to reach out to other suicide loss survivors in a role other than that of a journalist.
So that’s how I found myself at a Survivor Day event in New York City the Saturday before Thanksgiving, where I was surrounded by about a hundred other people who had experienced the trauma of a suicide loss—most were recently bereaved, others were more “seasoned” loss survivors, and some, like me, were both.
Almost six years have passed since I attended that first Survivor Day event, and after years of volunteering and serving on AFSP’s national board, I am now overseeing all two hundred and fifty events around the world. Not everyone who attends a Survivor Day event winds up working with AFSP, but everyone I’ve met who has reached out to fellow loss survivors has found their lives changed—for the better.