Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sharing An Article by My Daugther

Keicha & Julie

Don't suffer as a suicide survivor alone

Fri, 11/04/2011 - 11:33am
In May, 2010, I lost my 34-year-old sister to suicide, instantaneously and involuntarily becoming part of a group that until then, I hadn't known existed. Inclusion in the group is undesired, yet the number of people who join each year is in the hundreds of thousands. On that awful day a year and half ago, I became a suicide survivor. No clear definition exists for who might be considered a suicide survivor. In a 2011 study by Alan L. Berman, Ph.D., survivors of suicide were defined as "those believed to be intimately and directly affected by a suicide."
Each day in the United States, approximately 94 people take their own lives, leaving behind family, friends and loved ones to struggle with loss, grief, confusion and many questions. Conservative estimates state that six to 10 people are intimately affected by each suicide. The devastation felt by those left behind after a suicide is huge and, for most, life-altering. According to the American Psychiatric Association, "the level of stress resulting from the suicide of a loved one is ranked as catastrophic-equivalent to that of a concentration camp experience."
For months after my sister died, I felt alone and confused. Many people seemed to be uncomfortable with my grieving. Perhaps they were confused over how to respond to my grief, or didn't know what to say about the nature of my sister's death. Instead of sympathy, some responded with silence. From my perspective, I struggled with how to describe the trauma I felt. In her book "Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide," psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison says, "Suicide carries in its aftermath a level of confusion and devastation that is, for the most part, beyond description."
Survivors already struggling with complex reactions including, guilt, anger, or abandonment face the added challenge of dealing with the unfortunate stigma that still surrounds suicide. For many, this leaves them feeling that their loved one's death is somehow shameful.
According to the most recent statistics available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Utah ranks 17th in the nation for the number of suicides annually. Research shows that more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have an underlying, although not always diagnosed, psychiatric illness at the time of their death, most often depression.
As a suicide survivor, I've chosen not to suffer alone, in silence, feeling ashamed about something I had no control over. Instead, I will speak out, advocating for comprehensive, statewide suicide prevention education and initiatives. Additionally, I will reach out to let other survivors know they're not alone. Although every one of our stories is unique, we all share a common bond. Each one of us has lost someone we cared about deeply, and our lives have been forever altered because of it.
The holiday season can be particularly difficult for survivors. To help, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's International Survivors of Suicide Day will be held on Nov. 19 in more than 250 cities around the world, including Salt Lake City. The program is also available online. If you're a survivor, I hope you'll join me in taking part in this day of healing and sharing. For more information, visit
Christiansen is a volunteer field advocate for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

* Used by permission of my daughter, Keicha Christiansen.

The photos below are just a few of the family photos that are mostly of my daughters.  They were all very close, and they tried to get together as often as they could even though Keicha lived in Utah, and Julie and Amy lived in Colorado.
Running Strong
Keicha & Julie

Amy & Julie
Summer 2009
Good times & laughter at Mom's
Julie, Amy, Keicha

Out on the town
Amy, Julie, Keicha

Thanksgiving 2008
Sisters function as safety nets in a chaotic world simply by being there for each other. 
~ Carol Saline**

When the bond formed and shared by sisters is broken through death, there is a hole in the hearts that are left behind that is never filled.  When the loss of a sister comes from suicide, it is truly one of life's greatest tragedies.  

My family and I continue to try and heal since the death of our beloved Julie.  As part of our healing, we hope to put an end to the  silence that surrounds loss by suicide.  

We hope to see others who have lost a loved one to suicide get the support that they need.

We hope to see more suicide prevention education programs.

We hope to see more funding for those with mental illness, and more support for their families as they struggle with knowing how to support their loved one who has a mental illness.

Not long after the photo below was taken, I noticed that Julie is the one in the photo who is strong and steady.  We are all leaning into her for support.  Even then, it seemed ironic that she provided all the stability for the pose we decided to strike.  In life, she also displayed great strength and fortitude.  She struggled valiantly for many years with depression and the demons that so often accompany this devastating illness.  

Kicking Up Our Heels
Mom (Sally), Amy, Keicha, Julie

As Julie's mother, I join her sister Keicha in sharing our story of survival. Much must yet be done to change the perceptions of shame and silence that surround suicide.  We add our voices to those of others who also joined, through no choice of their own, this group that has such great stigma attached to it.  

I do this to honor my beautiful daughter, Julie Ann Christiansen, who was more, so much more, than her final act.  I hope her legacy will be one of love, hope, and healing.  

*Article written by Keicha Christiansen and published in the Standard Examiner
**Quote taken from the blog:


Jeanie said...

In sharing her grief Keicha is also sharing that she is a very wise and caring woman. I can't begin to fully understand what you and she and all your family have been through and are still going through. It seems that you are all doing so much that is right to bear and evolve through your grief and to remember Julie with all the love you had for her.

Rita said...

My heart goes out to all of you! I believe speaking out helps. There are so many people dealing with depression and suicide is still taboo for discussion for all too many people. There's too much shame involved in mental illness and suicide. Speaking out helps. Thanks to both of you. She was a precious soul. She is loved and missed.

Teacher's Pet said...

Keicha, what a caring tribute you pay to your sister....writing about the struggle and grief you have gone through and will continue to go you reach out to help those who are survivors like yourself.
Sally, I wish I could hug let you know that a chord in my heart has been touched by this blog. You honor your beautiful daughter Julie very well, Sally. You do. I join with you in hoping that "her legacy will always be one of love, hope, and healing."
Love to you....

LC said...

Thank you, Sally and Keicha, for sharing and for your family' determination and perseverance in speaking out and educating.

Lynilu said...

You both speak elegantly of Julie, her life and her death. I'm wishing strength that you can each continue to tell your story, hoping that in the hearing/reading, others will be spared.

Hugs to you both.

Linda Myers said...

I'm here from your mom's blog. What great photographs of you and your sisters.

I'm glad you're speaking out. It makes a difference.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Excellent post, Sally --and thanks to Keicha for her moving message... We do need to TALK about it and get the message out to others. We need support and help... Your family is doing the right thing as you are able to talk about it openly and deal with your pain and grief in different ways... God Bless You ALL.

Larri @ Seams Inspired said...

Thank you for sharing your Keicha with us, and in turn, your hearts today. I'm so, so sorry for your tremendous loss. As a sister, I can only imagine losing one of mine and the heartache you feel. Big (((HUGS))) to you sweet Sally. I love you, dear bloggy friend.

John Paul McKinney said...

Sally, thank you; Keicha, thank you. I believe that by speaking openly and sharing your grief, you help us all to better understand this tragedy, this horrible loss of many young people. I'm forwarding this to my wife, a social worker who has worked hard to reduce the stigma of mental illness, to advocate for better services for those with a mental illness, and to educate about the need to support suicide prevention efforts in any way we can. Though neither of us is an intimate survivor, we are all survivors and we will surely join you on the 19th. Our prayers are with you. By the way, those are beautiful pictures. The love you all have for one another is evident, and I believe that cannot be taken away.

Joanne said...

I know that by posting this you and your Daughter Keicha will be helping many who are emotionally tortured by losing someone to suicide. You are in my prayers.
Blessings, Joanne

Kay said...

This is such an amazing article. It's really wonderful that instead of letting it overcome her, Keicha is trying to help others to deal with loss and to gain understanding.

My daughter's "big sister" in her swim team also took her life when she was in her first year of college. Jenny was a golden child. Her brother was one of my son's good friends. We were all stunned and devastated. They were such a close and loving family. Jenny was brilliant and a champion swimmer. We still can't understand why. I guess that's the hardest part.

I especially like your last line about not remembering Jenny by her final act. I'm going to remember how kind, thoughtful and loving she was to my daughter. I'm going to remember that huge chocolate porpoise she made from a mold to congratulate Tif. I'm going to remember the flowers she gave Tif. I'm going to remember the smiles, hugs and encouragement she gave to Tif while she was her "big sister" in high school. I'm going to remember what a beautiful person she was.

I can see that Julie was loved and cherished throughout her life. It's sad that all the love and support you all gave her was not quite enough to chase away the darkness. However, for the time she was able to share with you it's nice to remember her bright light and those happy times together.

Arkansas Patti said...

Such a moving and tender post. My heart goes out to you both.
You are doing a wonderful service by shining a light on such a painful act.
We hurt no less when someone dies of disease or an accident but suicide adds the burden of questions unanswered. My cousin left us this way. I will always wonder if maybe-----??
I do hope sharing helps with your pain.

troutbirder said...

Thanks you both for sharing. We did attend a group. SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education)

Olga said...

Such poignancy leaves me without adequate words, but this is a very important piece.

DJan said...

A lovely, sensitive, and moving post. I think Keicha's article says it all, but oh how my heart hurts to think of all the pain you have endured as the mother of those beautiful girls, Sally.

I think of you and Keicha as survivors and more than that, those who can turn a tragedy into a blessing in the lives of many. I count myself among that number.

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

Sally and Keicha, you both write compellingly about the person Julie was and about your terrible loss. Your words are helping others, I'm sure, and I hope that knowledge brings you some comfort.

Barb said...

Keicha writes eloquently about how it feels to be a survivor after a family member commits suicide. The "sister" photos are just lovely, Sally. All your girls inherited your lovely smile. How sad that you must now stand without Julie. Your remembrance brings her memory to life.

#1Nana said...

What a great way to honor Julie's memory. I admire you for putting your grief to work by reaching out to others.

Terri Tiffany said...

I'm so glad you are speaking out. There are people we know in our lives who have gone through this tragedy and I know we DON'T know how to react or support. You are making a difference!

Dee Ready said...

Dear Sally--and by extension, Kreicha and Amy. Your eloquent article, Kreicha, helped me truly understand what being a survivor means. And that quote about it being catastrophic--like a concentration camp--startled me.

I've never experienced being the survivor of someone who felt life was so miserable that she/he had to leave it to find a modicum of peace.

I grieve for your loss and for the enduring memories of May 2010 and your discovery of Julie's decision and the maelstrom it left behind.

Thank you for speaking out and for sharing your grief with us.


Grandmother said...

What a generous act to share your story and your daughters' words and reactions. It gives information and inspiration to those who may be isolated in their grief. Thanks.

becca said...

thank you for sharing for in sharing your story you will no doubt be helping someone else and that is so inspring..hugs

Thisisme. said...

A heartfelt post my friend, and somehow I missed it. I am so sorry that I didn't leave a comment. I just dont know how you are all managing to get through this really. Your daughter keicha should be very proud of what she is doing , in reaching out to others, and I hope it will give you some sort of comfort as well. This whole subject should be talked about, and not hidden away. My heart goes out to you all , and I send hugs your way.

Mage said...

That's a wonderful article, and thank you so much for sharing. I am so very sorry.

RYN: Nope not neat and tidy at all. That's a fake; I live in a cacophonous world here. I'm looking forward to the day I can find things again. We are almost there.

Kathy's Blog said...

Dear Sally:

What an incredible source of strength and advocacy for the survivor's of suicide. My husband, John Paul McKinney, shared this post with me because I am working to reduce the stigma of mental illness in communities. I will be holding a suicide prevention training session for the local parish here in Laramie, WY in a few weeks and would love to share some of the content in this blog to the trainees. Would that be permissible? Also, if you know of people that may be interested, I started a website about 4 years ago that I try to update that is about the stigma of mental illness that contains information from a course I taught and several links I have found useful. Feel free to share the link to anyone you think might be interested, .
Thanks again for your family's courage.
Kathy McKinney

Thisisme. said...

I forgot to say yesterday how much I loved the special photos of all your gorgeous daughters, and the one of you all together is beautiful.

rosaria said...

What a beautiful thing to do!
What a lovely heart!

Jeanie said...

This is a simply stunning piece, Sally. Kudos to Keicha, who writes so powerfully and eloquently. She has a gift, and, I think, an angel on her shoulder.

There is a deep sadness when I look at these wonderful photos -- sadness for you and for your family, sadness for all who have experienced this. One of the hardest moments of my life was when I had to find my assistant, who had left early for the day, and tell her to call home, waiting while she did, knowing the news her sister had for her. Having witnessed her grief firsthand at experiencing such news, I can only imagine what you experienced and my heart goes out to you. Thinking of you and Keicha during this holiday season especially, with love and wishes for healing.

Sandi said...

Dear Sally, I"m writing through a veil of tears. Thank you for sharing Keisha's article. What a loving tribute, and how wonderful that she is advocating for others.

The pictures are what made me weep. It's the photos of my son that break me, at the most unexpected times. Being a survivor of suicide is so hard, and not something you ever get "over" or "through".

My son was an organ donor. While I'm grateful he was able and willing to gift life to others, I've still struggled with opening the doors into that arena. Someday I will.

I also want to thank you for your honest and encouraging words on my post this morning. I needed to hear the part about taking small steps.

My heart goes out to you and your family.

KleinsteMotte said...

We continue to hear regularly that suicides are happening but there's not much to teaching folks to cope. Your attempt to help create more awareness will be so good for you and others. There is healing in doing this. I feel your pain and it needs to be heard more. Thanks for sharing such a powerful post with us.

Keicha said...

It seems so strange to feel such love and support from people I've never met. Thanks to each of you for all of your very kind and encouraging words. I don't feel strong, or brave, mostly what I feel is that I just want my sister back. I know that will never happen, so the next best thing I can do is hopefully prevent someone from ever having to go through such a horrific loss.

Thank you again for your constant support and feedback. It really does help.