"Although we remain deeply wounded people, let us find comfort and healing in what we believe, and in our ability to care for each other."... Father Arnaldo Pangrazzi
I start every Survivors of Suicide (SOS) support group meeting with a reading called, "Journey Together". The above quote, is how that reading ends. The reading sets the tone for the meeting, talking about "being with people who understand our struggle and our hurt" through "for all of us life remains a mystery and we can only choose to trust and to love, we cannot choose to know, we cannot choose for others."
This afternoon, I was in my office at SPS, sitting on the floor in front of the file drawers, pulling files and reviewing items I wanted to print for the class I teach which is for Master Level Social Work students at Aurora University. A co-worker stepped into my office and said that "some lady is here to see you." Since I knew I hadn't scheduled any clients for that time, I simply said, "Show her in" and waited to see who this guest would be. A very pretty, slight woman asked if I remembered her.
Well, I placed the face, not the name, as is very common for me. She said, "I'm Connie, Peter's sister." (Both are not their real names.) If you read my blog on Monday, you read my feelings about Peter, a member of the Survivors of Suicide Attempt Group I co-founded. Peter took his life on June 9.
My eyes filled with tears as I slowly got up to hug her. She, too, had tears in her eyes. She came to comfort me and to tell me how much my blog meant to her and to her family. She said she only catches the Patch from time-to-time and, yet, she saw my Monday piece. Coincidence? I really don't believe that.
I can't tell you how long we sat and talked. We cried and shared how very special Peter was. She was the sister he spoke of when he came to our meetings; this was the sister who was his "Irish Twin" - the one who was "always there for me." He spoke so lovingly about her son, his nephew. I heard some amazing stories of the help she gave him and of the love he returned to her. She was able to piece together the last year of his life, since he had not been to the group. Any survivor knows (and I AM A SURVIVOR once again) how important these puzzle pieces are. Connie, as a survivor, needs to tell her story...over and over again. That's what will help her survive.
She spoke about how she actually came to the SOSA group firstin 2009 to talk about her brother and to see if this group could help him. She connected with another woman at the group who also had a brother she was worried about. Then she brough Peter and after attending one meeting with him, told him that this was "his" group. He needed the freedom to be a part of the group without her so that he could say whatever he needed to say.
At some point, Connie said she was going to come to the group and i realized she wasn't talking about the SOSA group because she was now, officially, a member of the SOS group. That realization really hit me hard.
I, too, am surviving Peter's death. It helped me to hear more about him and of his past year. While, at times, he did so well with the help of his family, the support group, an AA sponsor, a therapist, meds, and a job, eventually, his demons took over. Our mental health system failed Peter and his entire family. For a man to say upon hospital discharge, "I'd rather be in jail where I'd feel safe" than discharged from the hospital...well...doesn't this speak volumes? This woman begged for help for her brother. She begged the hospital to keep him, she wrote to NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. They responded by telling her to pray for an epiphany...Our mental health system is broken, and, yet again, another person dies and another family suffers. Is this where I am to project my rage?
A wonderful, intelligent, sweet, handsome, charming man is dead. He struggled for 4 long years. He volunteered, he got a job, he went to meetings, he received help, emotionally, from his sister and his mom and his nephew (the main components but not all of them) and he tried, every single day, to get better. I have to hold onto the belief that we had him four years longer than we would have.
As I told Connie, Peter's story has not ended; it will continue through her. It will continue through the love he gave his nephew and the rest of his family; it will continue through me. At the end, he was deemed to be a "suicide" by the Kane County Coroner's office. He was identified by his tatoos. Even that news was delivered in a cold, harsh manner to Connie.
May the story of Peter spark each and every person who reads this to love more, smile more, hug more, remember more. If you want to advocate for better mental health care...well, it might save someone else. For Peter, it won't. Let us continue his story...Let us continue all of their stories...Let not the "epiphany" be another death of a loved one but rather more help...