It was the night before homecoming at my high school when my mother committed suicide. I talked to her on the phone that night from the psychiatric ward where she was receiving intensive therapy for manic-depression and previous suicide attempts. I remember our conversation well. She had asked me about how my basketball team was doing and about my grades. After our brief conversation, she told me that she loved me and we said goodbye. If I had known that was the last time I would ever hear her voice, I would have kept her on the phone forever.
I remember having a difficult time trying to sleep that night, so when the telephone rang I heard it clearly. I remember feeling scared. I was immediately worried that something may have happened to my mother. When I heard my father’s footsteps walking up the stairs towards my room, I knew. He confirmed my feeling when he sat down on the edge of my bed and looked at me with tear filled eyes. "Your mother is gone", he said, as he tried not to break down in front of me.
I was fifteen when my mother committed suicide. My two sisters, Tracy and Dawn were twenty-two and eighteen. My brother Scott, nineteen. Somehow, I think I always knew my mother wouldn't be here to watch me grow into an adult. I had watched my mother struggle with depression all my life. Even when she smiled her mouth would say, "I'm happy" while her eyes said,"I hurt." I understand now the suffering that my mother endured. But then there were times I felt confused and sometimes angry. I couldn't understand her mood swings, violent tendencies, bouts of depression and self-destructive acts.
Finishing high school was difficult after my mother’s suicide. While my older siblings were dealing with her suicide in places outside our home, I was left to deal with it at home alone with my father. Instead of my Dad and I growing closer, somehow we grew further apart. I would receive tardies for arriving to school late. My grades dropped and I didn't care. I ran away from home for a week and although I did care that it was tearing my father apart, I didn't care about what it was doing to me. Finally, and most vividly, I remember many times when I would run into the woods behind our house crying. I would cry like mad for two reasons. First, I was frightened to be alone in a place where someone could come out of nowhere and hurt me. The second reason was that I almost wished that someone would.
Being a survivor of suicide is extremely painful and difficult at any age, but as a teen it was cruel. As a young person, I wanted to "fit in," be considered "normal." After my mother’s suicide that was nearly impossible. I was immediately labeled as the girl whose mom killed herself. I was completely alone walking the halls of my high school, desperately searching for ways to live in a new world—the world of a survivor.
I remember feeling scared. I was immediately worried that something may have happened to my mother. When I heard my father’s footsteps walking up the stairs towards my room, I knew."
When I was growing up, I always knew that I wanted to do something extra special with my life—something different from what any of my peers would do. It wasn't until after I graduated from high school that I realized that special something was going to be the result of my mother's death. I would make it my mission to give as much as I could of myself to suicide prevention and intervention, and to helping survivors like myself.
I have been fortunate to be able to share this desire and need in a unique way by competing in the Miss America Scholarship Organization. Currently, I have the honor of holding the title of Miss Southwest Michigan 1998. I have not only won over $5,500 to be used towards my education, but I have won the opportunity and recognition to speak passionately with people about this important issue.
Besides speaking about suicide to the public, I also lead a Survivors of Suicide Support Group twice a month, and volunteer on the crisis hotline at Gryphon Plaza, a crisis intervention center serving the Greater Kalamazoo Area. I'm also involved with the Gatekeeper Program, which prepares individuals like myself to enter schools to speak about suicide prevention—more needs to be done to educate young people on this subject.
I have asked myself on many occasions where I would be now and what I would be like as a person had my mother not committed suicide. I can't seem to find an answer to this question. All I know now is my life as a survivor. Surprisingly, it's not as terrible as it might seem. Today, I am proud to be able to look someone in the eyes and tell them all I have been able to accomplish as a survivor.
I have learned a great deal since my mother's death. I understand how precious life is and how one should do their best to live each day as if it were one's last. I have learned how important it is to share all the love in your heart with the people around you. I have also come to realize through time how vital it is to always hold onto the hope that things can and will get better. I would like to say to survivors like myself that it is possible to find fulfillment in life again. You can use this tragedy to grow and gain strength that you never had before. Always remember that an unused life is an early death. You still have a lot of "living to love."