(this is the letter included in many of our holiday cards sent out in December 2015. If you wish to donate right away and save lives CLICK HERE TO DONATE.)
Hello! We hope this finds you happy, healthy & surrounded by loved ones! We had a fun 2015. Megan (10) was busy playing soccer and her new saxophone, and growing plants indoors and out. Her highlight was growing a 200 pound pumpkin in our back yard. Chris (12) stayed active in many things including football, basketball, scouts and band. His highlight was canoeing through the boundary waters in August with Boy Scouts. Colleen (15) is a freshman in high school and was busy with school, dance and a new found passion for painting. Her highlight was making the high school dance team. Beth is now in year four of her Ph.D. program in genetics. She is getting close to that degree and still loves her research and working in the lab.
Dave…is going to take over the rest of this holiday letter. There will be one hint at fundraising, but the intent of the rest of this letter is to raise awareness to a cause that is very personal and important to me, so that we can all save lives. It has been almost four years since I lost my sister, Katherine, to suicide on March 26, 2012. She lived with Crohn’s Disease and faced battles with depression and anxiety for years. On the outside, Katherine seemed to have it all, two precious little girls, a loving & supportive husband & family, a great job, and lots of close friends. None of us really understood or could have imagined her daily internal struggles that she hid from so many people.
Since that devastating day, I have a deep appreciation for struggles that many people face on a daily basis, and I have increasingly found ways to spread awareness. I was excited and humbled to find out recently that I am one of twelve runners selected to represent the Samaritans’ organization in the April 2016 Boston Marathon. Samaritans’ (http://samaritanshope.org/) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide educational and support services to prevent suicide and to fight the stigma of suicide and mental illness. They continue to support our family following Katherine’s death. They impact and save lives via their hotline, grief support services, and education programs in schools and elsewhere. Their services are provided free to those in need.
If you learn just one thing while reading this letter then I have succeeded. Neuroscience continues to advance, and many great books show that small daily changes can rewire your brain (e.g., The Upward Spiral, by Alex Korb, PhD and Uncovering Happiness, by Elisha Goldstein). The simplest thing you can do is listen. Listening shows that you care, and can give someone a greater sense of connection and control (especially to someone who doesn’t see other options). Small steps to create positive upward spirals include: mindfulness (practicing “nonjudgmental awareness”; making any decision reduces anxiety); exercise; sleep; long hugs (give someone a lingering hug right now!); breathing (breathe in through your nose while counting to six, and let it out just as slowly); support networks (downward spirals are more likely when you’re alone; even movies together are a step for someone who doesn’t seem ready to talk); and gratitude (e.g., think of one thing you’re looking forward to each day when you wake up – even if that is just breakfast!).
What else have I learned? Strong support networks from family and friends are critical to get through tough times. Stigma around suicide and mental illness exists everywhere, causing people not to get help, and to feel isolated, judged, and alone. Suicide happens to “normal” families. People who commit suicide don’t want to die, but they don’t see any other way out of their current feeling of hopelessness. Mental illness is a disease like many other diseases. Depression creates physical changes in the brain, but people can get better. We’ll never get the answers we want, and we can’t fix the past, so we must move forward and honor our loved ones by living for today and helping others along the way. If you or someone you know is talking about suicide or exhibiting suicidal tendencies, get appropriate help right away. The Samaritans’ website is a great source for information.
At www.dreamydream.com you can follow my marathon blog, see pictures, learn my thoughts on suicide and mental health, find other resources, and make a donation. I committed to raising at least $10,000 for this incredible organization, and I would love any support that you can offer (donations are welcome, but equally important is sharing my message via email, Facebook, etc., or sending me warm thoughts and prayers throughout this powerful journey).
As I and others run the Boston Marathon on April 18, 2016, twenty-two people will die by suicide in the United States, and another 550 people will attempt to take their own lives. Please pause for a minute to think about those staggering numbers and how many people this impacts every day. I committed to run all 500+ training miles outdoors in the Minnesota winter to give me continued awareness to the daily struggles that so many people face. Thank you SO MUCH for your support! Peace and happiness to you every day in the year ahead!
Love, Dave, Beth, Colleen, Chris, Megan, & Orca
* Please Note: Checks can be mailed to: Samaritans, Inc., 41 West Street, 4th Floor, Boston, MA 02111. Please write ‘Dave Thompson’ in the memo line.