I often tell people that I was given an incredible gift when my Dad remarried. Up until that point, I was an only child. My stepmom, Pam, had two sons by a previous marriage. I became a sister overnight and I took my role very seriously. In my family, the word “step” was never a part of the equation. We were introduced as a family of five, “…Our sons, Jeremy and Allen and our daughter, Caroline.”
Although you’d never know it, Allen suffered for years with severe depression. On February 8th of this year, Allen took his own life. Allen was an amazing brother! He was caring, compassionate, honest, and never gave anything less than 110% to anything he did.
At my high school graduation party, he stole the spotlight when he put on his roller blades and skated around the swimming pool to any random song. Allen was driven! He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Georgia. It was his dream to receive his doctorate from there as well. Allen was the camp director for the Fortson 4-H Center in Hampton, Georgia. He was constantly creating projects and presentation to both inspire and educate children who visited his beloved 4-H camp.
However, when the depression began to take a strong hold on him several months before his passing, Allen began to pull away from the people and activities he loved so much. He stopped eating. He began to lose his drive and focus. He started to question every move he made which was unlike my carefree, lighthearted little brother. Allen was always the one who was up before the rooster crowed. Towards the end of his life, there were countless days that he remained in bed. It was like he was stuck in neutral. Depression literally sucked the life out of Allen. Depression stole my brother.
We were always close growing up and often confided life’s little secrets in one another. Toward the end of his life, Allen and I spoke several times a day through calls, emails and texts. In fact, I spoke with him just minutes before he took his life. I constantly replay the last conversations we had in my mind and often debate with myself if I could have said or done anything differently. There was no doubt that he knew I loved him and vice versa. I know in my heart that I did everything I could to help him.
I’ve experienced loss before. I lost my Mom two years ago very tragically to a pulmonary embolism. I am forever changed because of her loss, however, my Mom did not commit suicide. Allen’s death has spurred a sense of helplessness, as if I were drowning. Yes, I see a professional counselor weekly. Yes, I take medication that helps with my depression and anxiety. This is different! Not only am I grieving my brother’s death, I am also battling with the fact that he committed suicide!
Several weeks ago, I stumbled upon the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s (AFSP) website. I’ve learned that we are not alone in this new struggle. There are countless families that suffer through this every day! The AFSP hosts community and campus walks throughout the country to raise awareness, educate and offer support to individuals and families who are struggling with a mental health disorder. They also provide support for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. I’ve chosen to participate in their upcoming walk in Athens, Georgia in Allen’s memory. Athens holds a special place in my heart as it hosts the college that Allen longed to attend since he was in elementary school.
I want to help, encourage and support those people like me. I want to do what I can to prevent this horrible tragedy from happening to someone else. I want to help in changing the current perception of Mental Health. Those who suffer with anxiety and depression are not crazy! I am not crazy!
There is no doubt in my mind that Allen is with me every day! His death has forever changed me. Even though he was my little brother, I want to be more like him. I want to be more encouraging, more compassionate and be more aware of those around me. I carry a piece of his heart with me every day. I promise to continue his legacy of helping and inspiring those around me. I also promise to raise my daughter in that same light.
For more information about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP,) please visit www.afsp.org If you’d like to learn more about the upcoming walk in Athens on Sunday, April 24th, please visit afsp.donordrive.com .This link will send you directly to my team’s page, “For Allen.” Here you can learn more about myself and my amazing teammates. Our team is made up of Allen’s friends and family and extended friends who wanted to be a part of this extraordinary cause. And if you feel lead to donate, you can click “Donate” on the page as well. Together we can make a difference.