Healing My Family's Painful Legacy of Suicide

My story: two beautiful summer days with clear-blue skies darkened by the tragic losses of two uncles by suicide.

On July 7, 1981 like a typical teenager, I was sun bathing at the local public pool, Highland Park in Endwell, New York when I heard my younger sister, Chris screaming, "Uncle Tony is dead!" I was fourteen at the time. I was startled and confused and tried to reassure her everything would be okay. I thought, "How can that be he is only thirty-three?"

Fast forward 25 years to June 29, 2006. Chris and my brother-in-law John drove from Connecticut to Boston in order to tell me in person that tragedy had struck our family again. I sobbed on her shoulders. We lost Uncle Mike on his 48th birthday. It was like déjà vu, but we were not children this time, so it would not be as easy to block out the painful memories. I still had to see my devastated parents and the young children left behind.

In 2006 while I faced my own personal distress of being unemployed and fear of homelessness I knew I had to reach out to family, friends and even strangers for support. It was important to me to speak to people who knew me when I was a child and knew about "the family suicide secret." After all these years of keeping silent I had a strong need to speak.

I refused to stay silent at Uncle Mike's funeral. As I listened to the reverend read the words of Mike's kids because they were too upset to read and saw the sea of blue police uniforms, I knew I had to speak about Uncle Mike's impact, and that he was a survivor of his brother's suicide nearly 25 years earlier.

I found the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and International Survivors of Suicide Day at a support group. I am single, and my family does not live close by, so it was important to me to go to Survivor Day to create my own tradition of honoring my uncles. I felt responsible for ending the family legacy of suicide.

I think others should participate in Survivor Day in order to feel and express the grief that comes from a sudden loss and to talk about the shame, sadness and hurt. Our society tells us not to talk about our experiences with suicide, but Survivor Day provides a safe place to share our stories with others who truly understand and break the silence. Being involved in Survivor Day has been transformative for me, and I look at the growth within myself and the new connections I have made with other survivors and clinicians. It's also an opportunity to witness the compassion people give each other.

Every year, survivors of suicide loss gather together in locations around the world to feel a sense of community, to promote healing and to grieve for their loved ones with those who have had similar experiences. To learn more and to watch programs from this and previous years, visit American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's website: afsp.org/survivorday.