I lost my sister, Katherine, at the age of 37, to suicide on March 26, 2012. I didn’t think about her every day before she died. I think about her every day now. Yep, nearly four years later – every single day. Who should you be thinking about every day? Take a few deep breaths…think about those people now. Repeat each day!
It’s amazing the lessons and reminders we get all around us when we find a moment to pause and reflect. My sister, Katherine, could brighten any room with her smile and laughter. She smiled until the end – keeping a brave face and hiding her struggles. So many of us were not aware of the signs of mental illness, depression, and anxiety, and how very real the possibility of a suicide could be.
Bear with me. We grew a giant pumpkin in our yard last year.
In December it snowed, and I had visions of sprinkling the pumpkin with birdseed all winter long to watch birds and squirrels have fun with it.
But then it warmed up a bit, and the pumpkin started to sag. As weird as this may sound, it was about this time that I had this random thought that my sister kept right on smiling and putting on a show that everything was ok, even though she was feeling bad. The pumpkin kept right on smiling. Every time I saw the smile on the pumpkin I thought of Katherine.
I have many random thoughts, some I shoo away, some come back to me often, and this thought kept coming back to me. No matter how bad that pumpkin must have been feeling, that darn smile wouldn’t go away. And I thought of the struggles that are hidden every day by so many people.
I kept thinking of this connection to my sister and complications associated with depression and the stigma of mental illness…still smiling.
Of course. Still smiling. “I’m fine” said the pumpkin.
I thought about the pumpkin while buried under snow and frequent sub-zero temperatures for over two months. The pumpkin could be seen again in March…still smiling. “You ok?”, “I’m ok, don’t worry about me. Check out my smile.” The smile is there, but the pumpkin is not ok.
We had so much fun growing this pumpkin, showing it off to people, wondering how big it would get, etc, etc, etc, but I never ever would have thought the more the pumpkin rotted away, the more I would feel this connection.
So many people face struggles every day. They try to hide it from the world. They try to hide it from themselves, and they don’t share everything with their loved ones. They don’t know or see any way to get better. The rest of us don’t know what to look for, or think this will pass, or don’t pause long enough to look past the smile.
We cared for our pumpkin and watched it every day when it was growing and healthy.
Maybe it felt heaviness from us.
Being pushed or pulled in too many directions.
Feelings of pressure.
Or of emptiness.
That it wasn’t good enough.
Or was scared.
But that darn pumpkin kept smiling through it all. Check in on those around you – listen to them. REALLY listen to them. Notice their changes in behavior and understand how very real suicide can be. If in doubt, get professional help. Mental illness, depression, anxiety, etc – they are so tough to talk about and share. You feel judged. You feel like you won’t get better. You feel helpless. With suicide you are fighting to live and die at the same time. It’s not that people in this situation don’t want to face the world and get better, they just don’t know how and don’t see a way out. Smiling puts people at ease and provides some escape from facing your reality and having to share the uncertainty that you have. Smiling on the outside, while caving in from all directions.
That’s what I learned from our giant pumpkin last year. It’s important for all of us to smile, but please be open and share how you’re doing with others. If you’re struggling then please let someone know. If you’re concerned about someone, don’t keep that to yourself. Reach out to them. Last year I wouldn’t have done this, but recently I noticed someone’s post on Facebook and sent them a private message, “…checking in to make sure you have people to talk to and have a good support network.” Sometimes that’s enough to get people talking. And to get a conversation started. But we have to pause long enough to make it happen. Peace in the week ahead.
As always, I can’t thank you all enough for reading these messages, being there for those around you, and helping fight the stigma of suicide and mental illness. WE are saving lives. Thank you.