“ I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy. Because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless, and they don’t want anybody else to feel like that.” — Robin Williams
Todate, an estimated 264 million globally are affected by depression. Unfortunately, this statistic is perpetually increasing.
To bring more understanding and sensitivity to Suicide Awareness, I share a story from 25 years ago to inspire a worldwide movement.
It was July of 1995 and a few short months from turning 11 years old. It was a long, hot summer day when I heard what happened. My father’s sister, Faye, my Aunt, died by suicide at her home.
I remember pondering and attempting to process what suicide meant. I feel it’s a word that is difficult to comprehend at any age fully. However, I didn’t learn about my Aunt’s daily struggles and emotional setbacks until several years later. She was fighting internal battles; we hardly knew anything about them. Today, we know that many biological, psychological, and social sources of distress contribute to depression.
At that time, I desperately wanted to hit the invisible reset button to undo the events of that week and mend my Aunt’s heart and thoughts. I remember experiencing an immense sense of loss and feeling an emptiness like nothing else I’ve ever felt in this vast world. Coupled with these emotions, I also felt helpless and lost. I wanted to confide in others. I thought it would help talk about my Aunt’s life and death. However, when I finally had the opportunity to share the tragic news with a small handful of people I knew, I felt like a burden.
This wasn’t an isolated loss of a close family member; it was a universal one that deeply affected family and friends. I knew my Aunt’s five children were going through a rollercoaster of emotions and grieved with them.
I recognized my father and mother were hurting. However, my sisters were also finding ways to cope.
At that time, it appears we were each going through similar motions: grieving, holding on to hope, and keeping memories of my Aunt nearby.
My Aunt was beautiful. She loved sharing family stories to help my sisters and me better understand relationships and people. She wrote handwritten letters in her exquisite calligraphic writing; it was enviable. Her smile and laughter were healthfully contagious. When my Aunt’s heartfelt full, she smiled with significance, and she let tears trickle down her cheeks. Her tears expressed many emotions to the outside world, and most experienced the unquestioningly beautiful ones.
She was thoughtful and giving. When I was in 4th grade, she sent me a gold rectangular box full of earrings that were written in her familiar handwriting on the upper right-hand corner “for good grades and hard work.” Her selflessness never went unnoticed. Without expecting anything in return, my Aunt took care of strangers who needed food and shelter. She expressed her love and kindness to all those she knew and crossed paths with her. She loved others without limits. Although my Aunt was hurting deeply, she still sprinkled her altruistic ways with the world. She kept difficult emotions tucked away, afraid to show others the parts of her she wasn’t proud of; her insecurities, imperfections, and fears, things that made her feel less than enough.
Although my Aunt Faye passed away 25 years ago, I am confident she has taught me the unteachable. She has also helped shape me to be the person I am today. I’ve embraced compassion because of my Aunt. Also, I feel I am more empathetic and understanding. In hindsight, my Aunt has taught me the importance of communication with family and friends.
I learned from my Aunt to love louder, experience tears of joy, laughter, and sorrow, and keep going; no feeling or emotion is ever final. I’ve learned the hard way that if I ever have a problem, talk about it. It has taken countless generations to unfold and come to terms with difficult yet beautiful realization. I’ve gleaned vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.
I will never forget my Aunt for how she loved others, her stories, thoughtfulness, intricate handwriting, and generous ways. My Aunt’s mere presence and my memories are irreplaceable and will never be forgotten.
Another essential and challenging lesson from this my Aunt’s story is that some kindest hearts have felt the most pain. So, even if it’s at first uncomfortable, allowing it to marinate your thoughts, I urge you to read that sentence three times slowly. It provides a perspective that may not always be on our mind but has the power to change our orbits, daily lives, and every circle we a part of and encounter.
As I reflected on and imparted this story, I pondered potential ways to be more present ourselves, family, friends, the nameless cashier at the grocery store, someone sitting a few seats away from you at dinner, and the person sitting alone at lunch. As Plato once said, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
You never know. You may change someone’s day or even save a life.
Suicide and Mental Health Awareness are critical, and we are more conscious and knowledgeable about both today than twenty-five years ago. We are continuing to learn more every day. The number of people affected by depression globally is nearing 300 million and isn’t on the decline. I’m inspiring a movement to positively change to connect and uplift others in times of need and make the world a better place.
Here are some recommendations on how to present more with loved ones in your life.
- Actively Stay In Touch
People matter; relationships matter, and yes, communication matters. Whatsapp, Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts are beautiful ways to stay connected to your family and friends’ circles. Perhaps pencil in a date on an agreed-upon date and time on the calendar to talk. There is priceless value in keeping in touch.
2. Show Genuine Interest In Their Life: Be interested in what’s going on with a loved one’s life. There is more to talk about than the weather and sports. Peel the layers of the onion back further. Ask how work is going, what they are doing in their free time, and learn what inspires them lately. What puts the “e” in enthusiasm for them? What brings them pure joy? Find out if there is any way you could help. To go a step further, perhaps ask, “What’s the highlight of your day?” Then, following their response to the previous question, ask, “What was your day’s low-point? Learn about their work, hobbies, and passions. Find out what they are enthusiastic about, talk to them about it, and see how you can help. It’s one of the best ways to make them feel you value and honestly care about them.
3. Have Empathy For Them: Perhaps try and see the world from a loved one’s perspective. It provides new insight into what another person is going through and shows them you understand them.
4. Be There When They Need You: I often think of the television show Friends’ theme song, “I’ll Be There For You,” by The Rembrandts. Being present during a challenging time for loved ones can make a vast difference in their lives and give them the courage to get through difficult life moments.
5. Provide A Listening Ear: Be Sounding Board to let a loved one know you care. Sometimes others need to know they are sharing within a safe place and being heard without judgment.
6. Bring Them Up, When They Are Feeling Down: Cheer loved ones up when they feel low. Help them shift their focus from negative to seeing positives in their life. Help them count their blessings in life.
7. Spend Time With Them When They Feel Lonely: Be physically present when a loved one goes through a rough time. Reminisce, talk about favorite memories, and plan an activity if the timing is right. If physically being present isn’t the best option now, remind them that you care and find other ways to show up in their life. Kindness and thoughtfulness go a long way. Showing up in positive, meaningful, and memorable ways can make the most significant difference in another’s life.
8. Send Snail Mail: Sending a card in the mail adds a sincere personal touch and added effort. For example, since I was a kid, receiving a bright, colorful envelope with my name on the front was sweet and unique. A person has a solid chance to feel recognized and appreciated by an old-school card and note.
9. Remember Important Dates: Remembering birthdays for your loved one is essential. Helping create memorable moments for loved ones typically has a lasting positive effect on others. Of course, there are also wedding anniversaries, job promotions, 1st-time mother-anniversaries, and celebrating a loved one’s retirement. Also, acknowledging the death of a friend’s loved one or the date of a tough breakup will show them how much you care about their well-being and challenging times.
10. Self-care is the best kind of care: Self-love believes you hold that you are a valuable and worthy person. An example of self-love is when you have a favorable view of yourself and are confident in yourself and your place in the world. Remember, you are beyond enough.
11. You are not a burden; you’re loved ones aren’t burdens. Therefore, there is no shame in it if you or a loved one asks for help.
Inspired by the article How To Be More Present In Your Friendships, 18 Ways To Show Your Loved One’s You Care For Them, and life itself.
For more information:
National Suicide Prevention Information