Vanessa - 'Losing Rebecca'

by Vanessa Shaw-Finelli

Vanessa - 'Losing Rebecca'


On June 15, 1998, at five thirty in the afternoon, I was driving home from an appointment with a new client, Lynne. I am a 'faux finish' artist. On my way, I had also met with a painter and friend, Tom, and his wife, about work to be done at my mother-in-law's house—a normal busy working day. I was happy and loving the life I lived. As I reached home and approached our house, I could see my husband pacing outside. A tremor of concern ran through me, but as we were due to go out that evening, I thought maybe he was just checking the garden. However, as I parked, he came to me and held my arms. His face was pale, and his lips were quivering. Yes, something was definitely wrong. "Jack has just phoned. We have to go to Sarasota. Rebecca has shot herself." With those words my life, our lives, changed forever. –Excerpt from Losing Rebecca 

It's been over four years now...and when I look back to those first shocking and horrifying days after learning that my dear younger sister had taken her life, I see that I am a lot stronger now. Thankfully, I can hardly remember the awful raw pain that hit at every waking moment for months. I will never again say that time heals. Now I know that you just get more used to the pain of premature loss over time, that life does go on, that we survivors are not alone, but that the sorrow is always there.


The proper function of man is to live, not exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time. –Jack London


I feel that I have been guided, and given the strength, to write my story, Losing Rebecca (1stBooks Library, 2002), which was published this past summer. When she first died, this would have seemed preposterous. In the very few books I did read for some form of comfort, people suggested doing something positive, tangible, to uphold the memory of my sister. How crazy this seemed then. It was bad enough facing each day with this dreadful weight of grief and tending to the business of probate and property, making decisions and coping with the sorrow of my family as well as mine.

I have learned to cope with my grief and each day, slowly, slowly energy filters back, and now four years on, the terrible loss of my sister is becoming a part of my life, instead of my whole life. It wasn't my fault that she died this way and I know that she would want this healing to take place. The most poignant thing I did read was that you can't make someone die by suicide. And when this sinks in, it's such a relief. Of course you would do anything to prevent it. We must constantly remember that carrying guilt is misplaced and a big waste of our own life.

There is no doubt that writing my book helped me, although it was the most difficult and emotional thing I have ever had to do. I know it helped my family too. We now have a permanent tribute to Rebecca and that feels good. It took a lot of time, effort and patience to write, but that was also good, it felt as if I was doing it for her. However, as this book developed and I learned so much more about bipolar disorder and suicide, it took on a more urgent and much bigger cause than just my story. Learning of the shocking numbers of completed suicides—and the many more attempted—made me see that if I could help save just one person from dying and save their family from this grief, and could comfort fellow grievers, it would be worth it. Just by meeting those with the same tragic pain of loss, giving them a minute of comfort, of hope, of understanding helps me too.

I miss Rebecca sorely, every day. I still cry desperate tears as my friends and husband will attest. But I have learned more of the pain she carried for many years as a manic-depressive, which helps me to understand a little more of the reasoning behind her final act. Despite our seemingly unendurable pain, there are so many things for which I am thankful. Such as, that Rebecca lived for 36 years, for all the happy times and memories we shared and the knowledge that she loved us very much. I could never have come through this as well without my wonderful husband Neal and my family's love and support. I am very thankful for my other sister, Niki, and that we can comfort each other in our unique loss. I am thankful for my parents' strength, and that my mother has been so positive despite the worst grief -- that of a child dying prematurely. I have many wonderful, kind friends and continue to meet more, some unexpectedly discovering that they too are surviving a loss from suicide. How we hug. If you know anyone feeling very depressed, maybe this book will touch them in a way that helps. To you, my fellow reader in some way touched by suicide, maybe it will help ease your pain also.

Wishing you and yours continued strength...

Vanessa Shaw-Finelli

Losing Rebecca: A Story of Loss, Hope and How to Help Prevent Suicide can be ordered from