S.Y.S. Series: Lisa Dove - "Grief Work"

Introducing our Suicide Prevention Week: "Share Your Story" series
Every day for Suicide Prevention Week 2020, we will share inspiring true stories from suicide survivors, grieving family members and mental health advocates. Our goal is to encourage others to share their stories, reach out for help, or be a beacon to those in the dark.
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(Trigger warning: descriptions of suicide, death, self harm or grief)
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LISA'S STORY:

I am a suicide survivor. I belong to the club no one wants to join. One description of ‘survivor’ in the dictionary is: ‘a person who survives, especially a person remaining alive after an event in which others have died.’ Well, that is an accurate description, for surely I thought I was dead; a part of me did die, on a gloomy day in May, 1998.

Our beautiful boy, fifteen years old, took his life after suffering depression from the time he was ten-years old. On that spring day, Justin went to a park near our home in the late afternoon where he shot himself in the head. He was taken to the hospital, barely alive, where trauma surgeons worked four hours to save him, to no avail. When they came in to tell us the news, I fainted.

We knew Justin was extremely depressed, but he was not suicidal in any way that was obvious; had never spoken of it. Now, looking back, I see some signs that unfortunately I didn’t pick up.

Justin is my firstborn. I had seven younger children including sixteen-month-old twins.

His tragic and sudden loss was felt heavily by his siblings. I know it wasn’t coincidence that I had baby twins, and our other boys to occupy my time. They saved me. Though the world had stopped spinning for me, life moved on. I wandered through my days, half alive. I refer to this time, the weeks and many months after the suicide, as if ‘I was the walking dead’,

Countless days, and in countless ways, I struggled to accept the unacceptable. Justin was gone.

On anniversaries of his death I tell my husband, in tears: “Justin is a part of you, and a part of me.” That thought made me happy yet somehow sadly emotional at the same time. Thinking of Justin’s beginning, was a beautiful thought and a comfort, but also a statement of a precious gift, now lost. A gift which we could in no way recover. He was our little prince and we had pinned a life of hopes and dreams upon his head.

I sincerely do not understand how parents can bury a child and continue living. But, I did continue living, now my life is full again. I am a survivor. I am a strong wife, mother and grandmother, I have overcome the worst thing that can happen to a parent. 

We need to tell our stories, hoping a life can be saved. I like the mantra: ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’ I wish I had said that to Justin every night. In that sentence there is a spark of hope. Tomorrow is a new day and we want to see our loved ones every tomorrow.

**Note: We donated Justin’s major organs, allowing five strangers to be alive today and live a life of freedom from their former anguished life of disease. 

About grief: our sorrow is uniquely ours to bear. We receive help from our family, friends, our religious leaders, and our communities, but one thing is a certainty: no one can remove the sorrow from us, we have to do the work.

I call this “grief-work.” Grief is a full time job, especially in the months and years immediately following a significant loss. You can do your best to postpone the work, or ignore it all together, but it awaits you and eventually you must face it.

I appreciate, that in my personal instance, I innately found that grief-work was necessary and

it began before Justin’s funeral. The required work came with great force upon me, as if there wasn’t a choice to ignore it. One of my church leaders gave me a book about grief and I was hooked reading about it. It was difficult to focus on reading, yes, because of the obvious, yet, while I was immersed in the pages I felt like I had a friend in my grief. 

Grief changed me forever. It has changed my heart and perception of life. I have learned from Justin’s loss, and my journey to process his death, valuable lessons that only could be learned by this tragedy. Attend a grief group, see a therapist, read the best books about grief, and tell your story. Be kind to yourself. 

Why staying and living is worth it:

Living is worth it because dying is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. It’s worth it because one hundred people love you and will be deeply affected by your loss. Tomorrow is a new day to wake up and have hope. Don’t go; stay. Please stay. You have great worth though you cannot see it now. Tell someone you love about your struggle.

The Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Foundation:

Mission Statement:

The Light for Life Foundation Int’l/Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program® is dedicated to preventing suicide and attempts by Making Suicide Prevention Accessible to Everyone and Removing Barriers to Help.

How It All Began:

The program began in 1994 in response to heartfelt pleas from teens and adults after the death of a friend and loved one, Mike Emme (17).  Words said by his family - "please don't do this, please talk to someone" were put on bright yellow paper along with phone numbers / who to call to get help. Teens pinned yellow ribbons on 500 slips of those yellow papers for his services and at the end, all were gone.  Teens began to mail them 'everywhere' to friends and loved ones.  Within three weeks came word of a girl who got help when she gave her yellow message* she had received in the mail to her teacher and received help. The Ripple Effect had begun - a bright yellow bridge that connects those in need to those who help.

**At Justin’s funeral, a friend distributed this message of hope with a yellow ribbon attached on each paper; giving them to over 300 attendees of Justin’s funeral services. The Ripple Effect began for the hundreds of school peers and adults that received that message.

11 comments

  • A front porch, time, and an attuned ear can be a huge help for someone that has hit the end of the struggle line.

    Laura Harrison
  • People don’t realize the impact that this has on family & friends until it happens to them.

    Donna Peterson
  • Thank you for sharing. Grief is something we all face during our lives. The loss of losing someone who is so special to us only intensifies those feeling. Tomorrow does give us hope.

    Darlene Wetzel
  • Living with “what ifs” of suicide can be so difficult. The Yellow Ribbon Project is something I can say, "what if " I share this

    Cindy Peterson
  • a hard but important subject to talk about

    Liz Kilcher

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