I spent last week in Washington, D.C. at an Advocacy Forum put on by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention… and was lucky enough to have been issued a scholarship to attend that event. Those 4 days in Washington were so meaningful to me as I was given the chance to not only hear world-renowned speakers discuss advancements in research and prevention throughout the week but also the opportunity to meet with Congressional Representatives in person. I was able to share my story and experience with the mental health system as it relates to my own history of Major Depressive Disorder, years of self-injury and suicidal ideation as well as your struggle with depression and ultimately your choice to end your own life. I was honored to have been given the chance to tell them about losing you and about what they as lawmakers can do to help prevent this from happening to other families.
I was part of a group of three as we made the rounds to eight different Congressional Representative’s offices on Thursday and I think we were paired up pretty well! As someone who lost a sibling I was joined by a woman who had lost a son to suicide and another woman who was a suicide attempt survivor. The three of us each brought our own unique perspective to the effort and I was humbled and moved by the responses we received from each office whether we met with a staffer or with the Congressman themselves. Each person seemed truly touched by our willingness to come visit and share our experiences with them and all but one of our eight offices had some connection to suicide as well– either a suicide attempt, a suicide death of someone close to them or someone they care about had lost someone to suicide. It was a very emotional and rewarding experience.
I’m finding it a little hard to be back in the swing of “real” life again after last week’s events as I felt more at home among those 250 other advocates from across the U.S. than I have in a long time. Each and every one of us had traveled across the country to participate in this advocacy movement because we all have suffered a suicide loss or a mental illness of our own and, in many cases, both. It was so wonderful to be amongst such a large group of caring individuals and to feel truly understood and respected. I’m so grateful for all the friendships that have emerged from the experience. In fact there were a few moments alone in my hotel room where I found myself crying; not just because I was missing you but because your death is what brought me there to D.C. I was looking back at the long list of people who have come into my life as a direct result of your suicide– by way of support groups, community walks and also the amazing people I’ve come into contact with simply because of this blog where I share my letters to you. I’ve formed some amazing friendships with people I’d never have known had it not been for our unique connection of shared grief. While I still deeply mourn your loss, I do find comfort in the company of those like me who are mourning their own losses. There is something immensely special about this group of people!
I look forward to next year’s Advocacy Forum as I plan on making this an annual trip. I carried you with me in my heart throughout the entire week (as I do every single day) and I know you’d be very proud of the work being done by so many, Brian.