SOS Support Services



Survivors of suicide are the family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and others impacted by the self inflicted death of a loved one. Mental Health America of Greenville County (MHAGC) is a resource Center for suicide prevention, intervention and aftercare.

Surviving a Loss to Suicide 

Support Groups

The variety of Survivor support services include:

Open Peer Support Groups for Survivors of Suicide (S.O.S.)
The SOS open group offers an opportunity for people who have lost a loved one by suicide to connect with other survivors in a safe and healing environment. This service is offered to survivors at no charge. The group meets the first and third Tuesday of each month from 7:00 to 8:30.

Closed 8 Week SOS Group 
The closed 8 week group provides survivors the supportive environment and education needed to begin the healing journey. After the 2nd night the group is closed to promote a deeper level of support and understanding. Each evening has an educational component that builds upon the last while providing compassionate support on this painful journey. Contact CRISISline or sign up for the newsletter for the next closed group. Groups are also available for the teens and children of the adult members.

SOS Support Team
The team is made up of trained survivors who are at least two years beyond their loss. Upon request, team members will visit with newly bereaved individuals and families in their home. Team members are not therapists, but available to share their own experiences, offer support and give information about resources and ways to cope with this devastating loss. Team members are trained to work with children and teens. Individuals can also request to talk to a survivor of suicide by calling the 24/7 CRISISline at 864-271-8888. Every effort is made to have a volunteer survivor with a similar loss return your call within 24 to 48 hours.

Postvention
Following a suicide, mental health professionals and survivors will speak to schools, businesses, churches, synagogues, and any group in the community needing support and guidance after a suicide. Speakers discuss the grief process, special aspects of grief pertaining to a suicide, share personal stories of loss, and attempt to facilitate the healing process.

Resource Library
Resources include packets of information, our newsletter for survivors of suicide (Journey to Healing), a library of helpful books and other literature on the subjects of grief and life after a loss.

For more information, contact the CRISISline at 864-271-8888 and for children and teens call TEENline at 864-467-(TEEN) 8336. Teens may also reach us through our crisis chat available at www.TEENlineSC.org. Also available nationally toll free is the National Suicide Prevention LifeLine at 1-800-273-TALK(8255).

How Support Groups Can Be Beneficial

Always remember that your own support system may be extremely helpful during a time of grief and mourning. Family, friends, neighbors, church and community groups who already know you may want very much to help in any way they can. This is a time to take care of yourself, to ask for what you need and sometimes insist upon what you need. We wish you love, hope and peace during this most difficult journey.

MHAGC Support Groups
Mental Health America of Greenville County offers support groups for anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide. Survivors of Suicide Support Groups provide a safe place where survivors can share experiences and support each other on the journey toward healing. Although support groups are not for everyone, many people have found them to be a vital part of their healing process. The first visit may be difficult. We recommend attending at least three meetings to determine if it is beneficial for you. Additionally, not all SOS groups are the same. Most groups are led by volunteer survivors and diversity of group members vary. If one group does not fit your needs, try a different group. The bottom line is, keep reaching out until you find something that is helpful for you.

If you live within the Greenville area, contact CRISISline 24/7 at 864-271-8888 for SOS group information. If you are located outside the Greenville area, call the American Association of Suicidology at 202-237-2280 or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 888-333-2377 for a support group near you.

Support Groups Help By:

  • Verbalizing thoughts and emotions helps to connect with their feelings (no matter how "crazy" those feelings seem).
  • A forum is provided for airing grief and seeking direction and support.
  • Grieving persons learn that all of us have resources within for helping ourselves and others.
  • Members have the opportunity to become friends with people who have suffered similar losses. This reverses the tendency toward isolation and provides a sense of belonging and community.
  • It is a relief to learn that we are not going crazy, we are just grieving. These feelings, no matter what they are, are normal. It may be the only place where survivors feel understood. There, true feelings of anger and/or guilt can be expressed without judgment.
  • It helps to realize that no one is alone in grief.
  • The longer bereaved survivors can be models of hope.
  • There is a sense of doing something positive about grief. Grief can't be ignored.
  • This is a place to meet people who truly care about you. Everyone needs hugs and a support group is a good place to get them.

The self-esteem of a grieving person can be very low. Studies show that based on a scale of 100, an average person's self-esteem is in the 70's, whereas a grieving person's self-esteem ranks in the teens. Self-esteem is enhanced by being able to help others which happens in support groups. By providing support and suggestions for coping, you receive a sense that you are of value to others. Other people in the group provide assurances that they too have faced similar grief experiences and yet survived.

Being able to speak to others about problems without encountering rejection reinforces feelings of self-worth. Support groups provide the opportunity to volunteer. Grieving persons feel worthwhile when they realize that even though they are grieving they can help. The process of learning to be of help to another person can develop self-esteem and self-confidence.

Resources

The Phases of Grief

Many people refer to the "stages" or "phases" of grief. It may be helpful to be aware of these identified phases or common aspects of grief. It is also important to know there is no right or wrong way to grieve. You may go back and forth between phases, experience more than one at a time, or even skip one all together. All feelings are normal, even if they seem abnormal

  • Shock is the first stage of numbness, disbelief and unreality.
  • Denial is thoughts or words such as, "I don't believe it" or "It can't be!"
  • Bargaining involves making promises such as, "I'll be so good if only I can awaken to find this hasn't happened" or "I'll do all the right things if only . . . "
  • Guilt is a hard stage and difficult to deal with alone. This is a normal feeling characterized by statements such as, "If only I had . . . If only I had not . . . done or said or thought something." Guilt may ultimately be resolved by understanding that all of us are human beings who give the best and worst of ourselves to others. What they do with what we give is their responsibility.
  • Anger is another very difficult phase, but it may seem necessary in order to face reality and get beyond the loss. We all must heal in our own way and anger is a normal stage along the way. However, you may feel guilty because you are angry at the person who died or because you life is continuing while his or hers is not. If you don't feel anger, don't manufacture it!
  • Depression may come and go and be different each time in length and/or intensity. Give yourself time to heal.
  • Resignation means you finally believe the reality of the death.
  • Acceptance and Hope come when you finally understand that you will never be the same, but you can go on to have meaning and purpose in your life.

Four "Tasks" of Grief After Suicide

Here are four steps toward surviving:

  • Tell the story: Talk about what has happened until it becomes real. Talk to caring family and friends, attend a support group, begin individual work with a mental health professional, but find a way to speak about the person who died and how the death has impacted your life and family. Tell the story until you don't need to tell it anymore. Chances are, you will be close to acceptance at that point.
  • Express the Emotions: Grief is filled with conflicting tidal waves of emotion. Just when you think you've accepted the death, disbelief may sweep over you again. You may feel intense anger along with equally intense feelings of love and loss. Or, in the midst of crying about the person's death, a sense of unreality may surface again. No matter what the range of emotions, all are to be expected during grief. It is crucial to get the emotions outside of yourself. "Stuffed" feelings can build and build and become overwhelming. Scream, cry, write, draw, punch a punching bag, tell someone, take a walk, do SOMETHING to express what you feel.
  • Make Meaning from the Loss: Nothing can make what has happened "okay." Life is turned upside down and changed forever. However, you can determine that something good and reasonable will come out of the unreasonable tragedy that you are experiencing. At some point, you may be able to accept the reality that your loved one's entire life was not defined by his or her last decision to die. Nothing can take away the good things the person accomplished. When you are ready, you may reach out to others with similar experiences . . . , or set up a scholarship or other appropriate memorial in the person's name . . . or work in some capacity to better the lives of others. There are many, many ways to make meaning from tragedy.
  • Transition from the Physical Presence of the Person to the New Relationship: While missing the physical presence of a loved one in our lives may continue well into the future, it is possible to transition into acceptance of the person's non-physical presence. What can that relationship be? For some, it is memories and love carried in our hearts. No one can take away our memories and, as long as we treasure love for the person who has died, they are not forgotten. The new relationship may be spiritual or in some other way in keeping with religious beliefs.

SUICIDE IS A PERMANENT SOLUTION TO A TEMPORARY PROBLEM!

Children/Teens

Ways to Talk to Children About Suicide
Linda Goldman-Bart Speaks Out on Suicide: An Interactive Storybook for Young Children on Suicide
  • Define suicide as when someone chooses to make his or her body stop working.
  • Give age appropriate facts and explanations. Dispel myths about suicide.
  •  Retell good memories
  • Model feelings and thoughts for children.
  • Emphasize that suicide is always a mistake because "There is always another way out."
Words to Use with Suicide
Linda Goldman-Bart Speaks Out on Suicide: An Interactive Storybook for Young Children on Suicide 
  • Death: Death is when a person's body stops working. 
  • Depression: Extreme feelings of sadness and hopelessness that last a long time.
  • Guilt: A feeling that makes us think we are the cause of something and that we may have done something wrong.
  • Grief: The feelings we feel after someone close to us has died. We can feel sad, angry, frightened, or guilty.
  • Suicide: The act of killing yourself so that your body won't work anymore. People may do this when they feel there is no other way to solve their problems, there is no other way to escape their pain, or they may feel that at the moment life is not worth living. People can get help. There is always another way.

Survivor Stories

On Losing My Mother

I am writing today to think about how the suicide of my mother seven years ago has affected me. One certainty is this: whether you thought you were or not, you grow up the day your mother takes her own life. There is no possibility of being a baby again. I remember when my father gave me the news over the phone, he told me "You know you were the apple of your mother's eye." It felt nice to hear, but it also was quite painful. Why was I not a good enough apple? Obviously I was a bit of a rotten apple!
And there I go again, making everything into a joke. I remember the night she died, and dozens of people rummaging around and disturbing her kitchen. They were near strangers to her, friends of my father's. I remember telling my friends I was going to sneak up on the kitchen and in my best poltergeist voice whisper "Get out! Get out!". I had everyone rolling, but they also probably thought I was in need of a valium. I've learned there is no wrong way to grieve. You have to let people in grief express themselves. I had to laugh because that's what I know how to do, and it stabilized me. I'm a cut up, and it was comfortable for me to be in my natural state, even in a time like that. But I digress. My point was being forced to adulthood.

A bond with a mother is about the most comforting bond a person has. Your father yells at you when you don't change the oil in your car. Your mother tells you how many times she's run out of gas. Your father disciplines you when you stay out too late. Your mother reminisces about old boyfriends with you. Your father teaches you to balance your checkbook. Your mother covers your cold checks. When I lost my mother, I lost the one source of unconditional love and acceptance that I had in life. And perhaps, the only one I'll ever have. After seven years of missing my mother, though, I can honestly say I accept that. Hence, I take another step further into adulthood. I am told a girl who loses her mother will miss her the most at her wedding and childbirth. Could that dread of renewed grief be the reason I'm a proponent of elopement and adoption? I sometimes feel I will gladly give up the white dress and the family eyes, if it makes it easier to deal with her absence in those moments. Those are the specifics to the loss of a mother. It shatters your heart, and brings your childhood to a screeching halt. Because of it, though, I do know I am a better person and a stronger one. My time with Iris Bolton and my Survivors of Suicide support group gave me that, and to them I am immensely thankful. The only thing you have to do to be a good SOS member is listen. It's not a tough job. And through it you often hear yourself. Perhaps even find a kindred spirit who can help you feel like a child again.

© 1999 Ginny Sparrow

THE LOVE OF MY LIFE (On the death of a spouse)

It was a beautiful spring morning, the kind of Saturday in May when you can’t wait to get outside and water all of God’s greenery.  How can such a spectacular day full of sunshine and birds bathing in the sprinklers turn into the most horrendous day of my life?  How many times in the past three years I have asked myself that question!   

I lost the love of my life on May 29, 2004, at 10:15 am. My husband, Gary, left our home that morning telling me he was going to get the car washed and a haircut. Instead, he went straight to his family practice office and committed suicide with a gun he had recently purchased. We didn’t own a gun nor did we believe in them.    

I have cried an ocean of tears and nothing could have prepared me for the devastating grief and pain I have felt in the past three years. This journey of sadness robbed me physically and mentally. My emotions were all over the place, from extreme anger one minute to willing him to walk back in the door the next. He was a physician who spent his entire life helping people – how could he possibly not help himself? Yet, another question I have asked myself many times!

Three weeks after his death I walked into my first Survivors of Suicide meeting. I can’t tell you anything about that evening except to say I was so raw with shock and pain that I could only sit and stare in space, often shaking my head; my daughter and I holding on to each other for dear life. I went back to the group meetings several times during the next few months, still in so much shock that I stopped attending altogether. During this time of absence from SOS, I began intense private counseling and continued with therapy for the next year and a half.

During the spring of 2005, I was invited to attend an eight week closed session of Survivors of Suicide. SOS and my private counseling formed the first steps of my recovery. Being able to express my feelings openly in the group setting was vital to my climb out of this pit of darkness and devastation. I actually found myself looking forward to Thursday evenings. I found through SOS a non-judgmental acceptance. The very gifted counselors and others who shared my pain reassured me I was not alone in my journey. The friendships I have made are truly treasures in my life and will forever be cherished. Day by day I am rebuilding my self-esteem, and ever so slowly, time is healing my broken heart.

Each Christmas morning since Gary’s death, my children, grandchildren and I release balloons with a Christmas card attached. My precious 5 year old grandson, Alex, wanted to send a card to his “Mamps” in heaven. (When Alex was 2, he couldn’t say “Gramps” --  hence the name “Mamps”). I know Gary is still with me. In my belief of eternal life he is here as surely as the wind blows through my hair, as the drops of rain fall on my face and as Alex dances when he watches the balloons go to his “Mamps” in heaven.

© 2102 Debbie Cottingim
In loving memory of Gary Cottingim, MD
(1951-2004) 

Almost Heaven: A Father’s Perspective

I will never forget the first time ever I saw her face. Who can describe the ultimate joy, elation, thrill, and bliss as a father gazes into the eyes of his firstborn daughter? Only another father, as he first beholds his beautiful bundle of joy sent from God.
 
As time passes, each “first” -  steps, words, and accomplishments fill you with such awe and even more profound joy. You strive to become the best father possible. As she grows in beauty, intelligence, and talent, you grow as protector, provider, and guide and you learn what unconditional love is all about. You realize more and more each day just how blessed you are and you give thanks and praise to the Lord. In your child’s eyes, you become a hero, a superman, and you can fix everything; while she becomes even more beautiful, caring, and evolves into “Daddy’s little girl”.         
 
No experience could be better, as this is Almost Heaven. But then, something happens; a mistake; followed by a wrong choice; followed by more bad choices and decisions and errors in judgment. What? This beautiful child in rebellion? Against whom? Against the one who loves her more than life itself? Oh God, No! You beg and plead; you pray and bargain; you fuss and cuss; all to no avail. You panic when she is missing and the telephone does not ring. You are blown away when the telephone does ring and you must deal with the crisis de jour. You try everything and everything fails. Then you learn about “tough love”. Yeah, that’s the ticket! That will work! When it doesn’t, you die a little, but you keep on trying.
 
You seek the counsel of those you believe are wiser or more spiritually connected. You hear, time and again, “Let go – Let God”. Well, OK! Why not? She was His in the beginning, is now, and will be eternally and you have lost your ability to fix anything. Your continual prayers are; “lead, guide, and direct her; protect her from harm, heal her and make her whole, and restore and return the prodigal – please, God!”
 
Then the telephone rings again, almost one year ago. This time, it’s the coroner – SHE’S DEAD! Just like that –DEAD – DECEASED – a probable suicide and your entire world turns upside down. Bur HOW? WHY? God – where were you? Where are you now? The utter devastation, brokenness, helplessness, and hopelessness are overwhelming. The finality of death, how cruel! No longer is there time to say what you wished you could say. No longer is there time to repair the damage that resulted from what you did say. All that remains are “if only”, “why”, and a tremendous anger. I will never forget the last time ever I saw her face! I love her still and I always will.
 
As one life ends in suicide, so many more lives are impacted, much like the ripples a stone produces when “thrown away” into a pond. Relationships, family, love, work and even life itself are irrevocably altered. With death, hopes and dreams evaporate and joy disappears. Yes, the future does appear bleak, but we who believe are not destroyed. We believe – No, we KNOW! We will see our lovely daughter again. Only the next time, she will be healed, whole, and perfected! Not almost Heaven, but in Heaven.

© 2012 John Reid

Journey Through My Heart: A Meandering Creek

My older brother Bobby and I had a very special bond between us. As a small child, he was my greatest source of entertainment.  Our bedrooms were diagonally across the hall from each other and I remember lying in my bed watching him bounce up and down on the foot of his bed. His dark shiny hair, his big soulful brown eyes and a smile that lit up the night!  We played our own imaginary games and spent endless hours together having fun and making wonderful memories.  As life whirled about us and swiftly moved us forward, so many memories were being etched in my heart – as if we were blinking an eye, my life as a sibling came to an earth shattering end.   

As adults, Bobby lived in a much different world than I imagined.  Where my world was filled with two remarkable sons, loving family, wonderful friends and so much more, Bobby’s life was filled with hidden sadness and his own demons that clattered around him.  The day Bobby took his life by suicide, my life and the lives of everyone around me, drastically changed.  It seemed that the cool water of my creek dried up that hot July night. I remember that night so vividly.  The night air was hot and humid and as I sat on the cool green grass of my parent’s yard, I couldn’t believe what had happened.  How could Bobby have been so lost and alone? Why didn’t he tell me how horrible he felt? So many times in my adult life, when the waters of my creek were flowing swift and rough, he held my hand and spoke softly saying … “Mis, it will be okay.”  Why didn’t I have the chance to hold his hand and tell him it would be okay?  My heart, my world was a dry creek with ugly jagged rocks. Even though we were in the heat of the summer, the next few weeks after Bobby’s death were dark and cold for me.  I felt so lost and alone.

Some eight months before Bobby completed suicide, we lost our younger brother Mike in an automobile accident.  My life as the middle child … a younger sister and an older sister … had come to a screeching halt.  My life as a sibling had ended.  I was so angry with Bobby for leaving me here alone and for making me an only child.  I was afraid to even think how I would handle life going forward.  I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders.  I no longer had a brother, my mom no longer had sons, and my sons no longer had uncles.  It ended with me and I am all that’s left of three.

As time has passed, the creek of my life has slowly filled back up with much needed water.  Its banks are covered with life and the water is beautiful, cool and peaceful.  The rocks are still there but have been smoothed by the flowing of the water.  These rocks are the foundation of my life and without them I would not be who I am today.  I am a daughter, a mother, an aunt, a friend, and yes, I am still a sister.

© 2012 Missy Craven

I am a Survivor

I am a Survivor: Please bear with me

I am a Survivor. I am the Mother of a Suicide. My child killed himself, and that fact is always just under the surface of everything else that exists.

Please be patient with me. Though it has been nearly a year, I am not the same person I was, I doubt what I ever was, and what I am now is still evolving. While I can look and sound quite regular, I am not.

If I had a broken leg, you would allow me some time to heal but yet accept me when I tried to return to normal life. You would hold the door open for me, walk a little more slowly to be with me, and still give me credit for sense even as the regular things I used to accomplish had now become strained and awkward.

I have a broken heart. I never anticipated this, never prepared for this. My "cast," my support and protection while I mend, is your friendship and understanding. Daily I find new ways to live and survive, but everything is different, strained, evolving. I need you to recognize this. I need your help in lots of little ways.

The brain is a mysterious thing as it tries to heal the heart. I focus on forgetting, and it works too well. I forget where I set my keys, my shoes, my purse. I forget your name, what we discussed last, what day it is, where I left your phone number or address, whatever appointments I made. I forget to cook, to eat, to tuck the tag into the back of my shirt or check the mirror before I leave. I am embarrassed. I try to focus on remembering, and I remember too well. My mind wanders while I am trying to listen to you.

Our friendship or our conversation reminds me of something he said or something funny that happened to him, or the scent of the Autumn air reminds me of the last season I spent with him. Your sons and your children and your daily joys conflict me--I was once there where you are, or maybe I would have been, if only... I feel guilty for short-shifting our friendship, after all you have done for me.

Everything has changed. I am disabled but healing. My purse and briefcase have been traded for a backpack to give me a measure of security over misplacing them.

My keys are now tied to a string around my neck (when I can find them). My freezer is full of quick frozen meals that I can whip up as effortlessly as possible, if I have the energy to shop for them. I rely on medications to shore up my thin veneer and keep me positive and almost normal-looking. Sometimes I forget them, too.

Don't be afraid to ask me about or comment on what you see; I need your perspective on anything, everything, my friend, because I am re-learning to trust my own judgment again.

Once I was confident. I learned too late that my love for my child, something I took for granted as simple and sacred and strong, was not strong enough to hold him in the world I brought him into, and this loss has shattered the very foundation of everything I've ever believed in.

I need to talk about what happened-I like it when you care enough to ask. Don't be afraid you will say the wrong thing, and especially, don't become anxious or uncomfortable if your tenderness or the memory of my child makes me teary. This is simply the rain on the roses, and it will pass. If I am ever to bloom again, this is as important as the sun, which does come through these clouds more often as the months go by. You are helping me heal.

I need to feel good. It's a struggle sometimes. When I begin to enjoy myself, it is quickly interrupted by guilt. "how dare I laugh again when my baby is dead?" "have I forgotten him so quickly that I can feel happy again so soon?" "maybe I didn't REALLY love him enough, and that's what REALLY killed him..." These tapes are deadly.

These thoughts are a downward spiral. Help me drown out those painful voices by reassuring me that life is for the living and I deserve to live again. Remind me to have fun. Let me laugh with you and forget for a moment.

You will know when I am ready to talk. A genuine, "how are you doing?" will bring one of two responses. If you get a quick, "great, fine, how are you?" then probably I really am, and let's keep going from there. Please. If you get a quiet, furtive, "fine, thank you." then I am probably NOT fine. Asking "what can I do for you?" does not help. It will probably bring "nothing-really-thanks anyway."

Here is what I really need: Encourage me. Listen to me. Do small normal things for me that I may be too absorbed to do for myself. Help me care for my family. bring dinner. Drop by and feed my cat. Drop by and bring me lunch, or tea, or chocolate (lots of chocolate) or share an evening with me just visiting. Ignore the state of my house when you arrive-it mirrors the state of my life. Water my plants.

Lend a hand where you can. Get somebody to mow my lawn or rake my leaves or offer to drive the kids to their appointments. Remind me of my appointments. Cover for me if I am not where I should be and then go looking for me. Ask me out, take me out, get me out.

Let's go do normal things, like shopping or folding laundry at your house or going to a meeting together or hot-tubbing on a Saturday night. Help me rediscover the satisfaction and even joy that everyday life brings. Believe me, I am acutely aware that every moment is precious.

Check in with my children-they are hurting, too. Encourage them to talk and heal. Pizza and an ear helps. Help me keep an eye on them when they are out of my sight. Feel free to be a friend or to "parent" them, too. They are just as disoriented as I am. They are also at risk. They are survivors who have lost both their sibling and the stability of a home they once knew.

Treat us like any other survivor of a fatal illness, always living in a tentative, strange remission between the lost past and the ever present fearful new possibility that another child, another someone we love will shock us again. We are not contagious, except for that first excruciatingly painful moment when it dawns on you that this could happen to your child or someone you love, too.

Treat us just as you would a cancer survivor over the long term, with respect, support, tolerance; expecting and riding through setbacks yet forging ahead to make every day just a little bit more pleasant.

Our Angel died only once. Survivors of suicide die a 1000 deaths.

William Shakespeare once described: "Grief fills up the room of my absent child, Lies in his bed, Walks up and down with me, Puts on his pretty looks, Repeats his words." Macbeth left brave advice: "Give sorrow words. grief has need to speak, lest whisper o'er the fraught heart and bid it break."

My grief has need to speak, and each time I am fortunate enough to be allowed to talk and share or speak to help spare someone else this sorrow, I gain a renewed strength that heals my heart. I am honored that somehow Grace gives me a voice to explain all this.

Daily I am reclaiming some bit of treasure from this tragedy, and my broken heart mends just a bit more. Please bear with me.

© 2004 - Holland Rainey, Mother of Nicholas Kemp
May 17, 1986-November 13, 2002, "Forever 16."

Defining Moments


“I put everybody that enters my life into the category of a tree. Some people are like leaves on the tree. The wind blows this way and they're over here. The wind blows the opposite direction and they're now over there. And when the season changes, they wither and die. And then they're gone.

"But that's alright. Most people in the world are like that. They take from the tree and offer a little shade every now and then. That's all they can do. But don't get mad at people like that. That's who they are and they're never going to change. They were put on this earth to be what they are - a leaf.

"Now some people are like the branch on a tree. Be careful of these branches because they'll fool you. They will get you to believe they're a good friend and strong...but the minute you step out on them, they'll break and leave you high and dry.

"But if you find 2 or 3 people in your life that are like the roots at the bottom of the tree, YOU ARE BLESSED because those are the type of people that are going NO WHERE. If it weren't for those roots, the tree couldn't live. A tree can have a hundred-million branches but only a few roots at the bottom to make sure it gets what it needs."  (Tyler Perry).

I knew from the beginning he would be a root. I had been on campus less than 4 hours when we met. Wearing a blue polo shirt with Lander Ambassadors stitched on the pocket and a smile that warmed the room, he introduced himself and asked if he could be of help.  Despite the couch dangling out the window, a U-Haul full of mementos, and rainy weather predictions, I smiled and said, “No Thanks. We’ve got it.”  He chuckled and walked away. Frustrated with the unmovable couch, I moved to the bedroom and continued to squeeze Texas into Idaho. I heard a big thud. The couch had arrived and the young man still wearing the warm smile admired his handiwork from the window. He simply stated, “Sometimes in life we all need a little push.”  From that day forward we were inseparable.  He pushed me to do my best in everything, and would do anything for me. He was my mentor, my friend, and undeniably one of my strongest roots.  In life we shared many laughs and weathered many storms, yet the greatest I faced alone. On a cold Wednesday morning, a freight train ripped through my soul and tore my life into shreds. To this day I only vaguely remember the conversation.  The words T.J., DEAD, SUICIDE penetrated through my head but not my heart. IT MUST BE A MISTAKE. WHY WOULD SOMEONE PLAY SUCH A HORRIBLE JOKE?  And as my heart begin to feel what my head could not understand. OH MY GOD. WHY DID THIS HAVE TO HAPPEN?  HOW COULD I HAVE NOT KNOWN?  PLEASE SOMEONE TELL ME THIS IS A HORRIBLE DREAM.  I WANT TO WAKE UP.  PLEASE   SOMEONE HELP ME.  I CAN’T BREATHE.  I’M DYING INSIDE.

It’s been a little over 10 years since that cold Wednesday morning. Many things have changed and others have remained the same. T.J. is still one of my roots. His death brought purpose and passion to my life. Together we are making meaning of such a tragic loss and giving hope to so many. I still struggle with the WHY and at times the guilt.  But I’ve learned to accept that T.J.’s life, while unbeknownst to many of us, was spiraling out of control and his desire to die outweighed his desire to live. His choice, although made in darkness and clouded with pain, was his alone to make. I’ve learned that the journey to surviving is a very complex one with many twists and turns. You struggle to find familiar ground and the minute you think you have everything figured out, everything changes and the journey starts again. But one thing is certain, it does get better. And most of all, time does not heal all wounds but it does soften them and remind us to cherish each moment. I am thankful for all of life’s blows, each have shaped me into the person I am.  I AM A SURVIVOR.  I AM THRIVING.  I AM LIVING.  I CAN BE CHANGED BY WHAT HAPPENS TO ME.  I AM NOT REDUCED BY IT!  

Wishing you hope and healing,

© 2012 Michelle Morton



 

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