I lost my father to suicide when I was nine years old. At the time, I had no knowledge of mental health conditions or why someone would take their own life. Our family was completely shaken; none of us saw it coming. My dad was always so full of life and love for everyone around him. I would give anything to have done something to save him.
At first I never cried about him; I didn’t think it was real and it never really set in that I would never hear his laugh again, or be able to hug him and tell him how much I loved him. Lord knows, I’ve made up for not crying as I’ve grown into an adult. As a way of coping, I’ve thrown myself into volunteering for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
Suicide is 100% preventable and yet it is one of the top five leading causes of death in Georgia, and the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Together, we can raise our voices about mental health conditions and fight to prevent suicide.
My case is the perfect example of why we need to erase the stigma against mental health. I believe that children should be taught about mental health early on, and that seeking help is part of healing. Just like you would visit a doctor to heal your broken leg, you should visit a doctor to check up on your mental well-being.
Thanks to AFSP, we are getting closer and closer to decreasing the suicide rate and increasing mental health awareness and education.
I first discovered AFSP when I found the Out of the Darkness Walk in Atlanta in 2014. I signed up for the walk for the first time and raised over $1,000. To see all of my friends and family donate to support my team and help in the fight against suicide was so inspiring. After participating in the walk and seeing the thousands of people who understood what I was going through, I knew that I wanted to be a part of AFSP and take on something that was bigger than me.
Currently, I am a volunteer for AFSP, and I serve on the Georgia chapter’s first Junior Board. We are a group of young professionals who all share an amazing passion for suicide prevention.
I am participating in another Out of the Darkness Walk and would appreciate if you could contribute to the cause by donating to my page.
We raised about $13,000 at our Party for Prevention spring fundraiser in May of this year. We hosted the event at Orpheus Brewing, complete with live music, delicious barbecue, and a great live band. We raised the money through ticket sales, sponsorships and a silent auction.
I also had the honor of attending AFSP’s 2016 Advocacy Forum in Washington D.C. It was the trip of a lifetime, and I am so happy that I was a part of it. We marched up to Capitol Hill with a passion in our hearts so strong and our voices ready to be heard.
One of our ‘asks’ was to support the Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act, which was then signed into law by President Obama on June 30th. Our voices were heard.
Another one of our ‘asks’ was to discuss the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act. This act was approved by a 422-2 vote by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year. Our voices were heard.
The passing of these two acts is proof that we can lift the stigma against mental health. There are so many ways to get involved to support the goal of raising awareness for mental health, and fighting to prevent suicide. Please consider donating to our cause. If you have a passion, your voice will be heard and together, we can #BetheVoice to #StopSuicide.
When I agreed to share Drew’s story, I knew it would be hard—so many buried emotions and feelings rising to the surface again. It has been said that if you can tell your story without crying then you know you are healed. It has been almost five years since Drew’s death and I am not healed.
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of Drew—he was a part of me. Many times I will stop outside his bedroom door (now converted to an office) close my eyes and remember the way it used to be. I can see him lying across his bed and smell the mixture of cologne and dirty socks. There is a constant ache and void.
We used to have so much fun celebrating his birthday. Everything we ate all day long was green! His birthday dinner always consisted of steak, baked potato, salad and his favorite Mountain Dew cake. Drew loved traditions and always wanted the same things year after year.
There are many fond memories of Drew. Anyone who knew him always commented on his contagious, mischievous smile along with the most unique laugh ever heard. He loved his family, sports and his loyal dog, Cocoa. He couldn’t sing or dance but that never stopped him from doing either. He loved hot sauce and habanero peppers. He took care of his G-ma, was a hard worker and always knew he could count on odd jobs from Uncle Smitty to make some extra spending money. He was a beloved son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin and friend.
On October 9, 2011, Drew came into our living room, laid on the sofa and put his head in my lap—it was something he had done even as a small boy, an unspoken request for me to rub his back. “I love you mama,”he said, little did I know that I would never hear those precious words from him again.
October 10, 2011, was my fortieth birthday and the worse day of my life! I was running late that morning and needed to get my daughter to school and myself to work. I remember hesitating outside his closed bedroom door, I almost stuck my head in to say good bye but decided instead to let him rest.
I had a feeling all day in the pit of my stomach that something wasn’t right and I knew it involved Drew. The feeling was so strong that I even discussed it with my friend and co-worker, Sherry. I tried to dismiss it as paranoia. I don’t remember the conversation that Hannah and I were having in the car that evening on our way home, but I’ll never forget the silence that fell over us both as we pulled into our driveway. Our yard was full of emergency vehicles and people. As I got out of the car, I saw my husband, Darrell walking towards me and I knew by the look on his face before he even said the words, “He’s gone—Drew is gone.” No parent should ever have to hear those words.
I wish it could be completely stripped from our vocabulary and never enter the mind of anyone as an option. Professionals say that those who consider suicide don’t really want to die, they just want the pain to end. Suicide does not end pain, it merely ends the chance of better days and a better life and causes unbearable pain for the loved ones left behind.
I was naïve about suicide, depression and mental illness before Drew’s death. It wasn’t long before I found the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website and I’ll never forget sobbing as I read suicide warning signs:
1. Talking about wanting to die or killing oneself. (Although, he didn’t talk to us, we found conversations on his phone where he had discussed it.)
2. Having a plan in mind to kill oneself. (Again, conversations on his phone.)
3. The end of a significant relationship. (His relationship with his girlfriend of three years was ending.)
4. Increased alcohol and drug use. (Drew was doing both.)
5. Behaving recklessly. (Two serious car accidents and one arrest for driving recklessly.)
6. Withdrawing and Isolating. (Drew was doing both.)
Although I lived with guilt for a long while after Drew’s death, I’ve learned to be more gentle and forgiving with myself. If I had known then what I know now, I would have done many things differently—that’s the beauty of hindsight, you see everything clearly. I would have realized that what was going on with Drew was more than teenage rebellion and recognized his silent cries for help.
Many have asked me why Drew ended his life on my birthday—was it his final act of selfishness and cruelty? People who ask that question don’t understand suicide and didn’t know my son, Drew. October 10, 2011, just happened to be the day that Drew, overwhelmed by his feelings of hopelessness, despair and pain chose to end his life—nothing else was on his mind. I have to admit for many years I thought it was a cruel twist of fate that he died on my birthday, and I vowed that I would never celebrate it again.
Slowly, as years have passed, I’ve begun to look at it differently–Every October 10th for me is the anniversary of the beginning of a life and a life ending. My precious son chose death, but I choose life and embrace it for the wonderful gift that it is. I exist because my loving Lord and Creator gives me breath every day–
Losing a child to suicide is perhaps one of the most painful experiences imaginable; however, because I’ve experienced that pain, I can look into the eyes of another parent who has lost a child and tell them that I know how they feel and they are not alone—there is something about not being alone in our pain. I can also look into the eyes of a precious young person and tell them how much their life matters, that no matter how bad their circumstances seem there is help and hope—life can get better!
On Sunday, April 24, 2016, my family and I along with many dear friends will participate in the Out of Darkness Walk sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at the University of Georgia. Participating in this walk not only remembers and honors Drew, but will help raise money for an organization that promotes mental health awareness and education. AFSP educates the public on the signs of depression and high suicide risk, promotes programs in schools that teach administrators and teachers how to recognize children dealing with mental health issues and tirelessly lobbies for better and easier access to mental health care.
Will you consider walking with us or making a donation by clicking on the link below?
Thank you for taking the time to read my story and may God bless!
If you would like to donate to Tammy’s fundraiser, please click here: