“Desire is possibility seeking expression.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
In June 2014 my book, WHY DID SHE JUMP? My Daughter’s Battle with Bipolar Disorder was released. The first book signing was one month later at Books & Books, a well-known bookstore in Coral Gables, FL. On a rainy Wednesday evening, it was curious that they expected 75 guests. I was surprised by their optimism for an unknown author, a book signing in mid-week, inclement weather, and a depressing subject. What was even more surprising were the 135 people with standing room only, who attended, many soaked from the continuing rain.
So what did this tell me? People wanted to hear about every parent’s worst nightmare. It became very clear that the attendees were parents who suffered the similar tragedy. How does one cope and resume life after such a loss?
Forty years of professional counseling, including certification as a grief counselor, could not prepare me for my tragedy. I was no longer counseling others, but living it myself.
On July 2, 1997, my beautiful, brilliant thirty-four, year old daughter, Pam leaped to her death from a 15th story window. A clinical psychologist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker, she had suffered from Bipolar I Disorder, (an insidious mental disease) for more than ten years. Bipolar Disorder affects more than six million people in the United States and is associated with 40,000 suicides a year. Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the 2nd leading cause of death in young people ages 15-25. Bipolar I Disorder fractures the mind and too often leads to suicide. I never believed my daughter committed suicide. Her mental illness was her executioner and enticed, pulled or pushed her out the window. Pam would have never chosen death had she been rational or in her correct mind.
So, at some point in my presentation, I asked the question that I had been fearful of asking.
“How many of you have a loved one who suffers from mental illness?” No surprise, but astonishment that every hand went up. I knew in that moment what was to be my mission; to take the shame and stigma of mental illness and help others avoid the same tragedy. Although nearly 18 years have passed, I have moved on after grieving and enjoy my four children, grandchildren, maintain a private psychotherapy practice, and fully engage in life with family and friends. There is not a day that I don’t think of Pam. If I could do it, so could others.
How did I NOT become a victim of this tragedy like too many others? How was I able to move beyond just surviving? What gave me the strength, courage, and healing to rise up, not unlike a Phoenix, the mythological bird that ascends from the ashes and becomes stronger and more powerful? This became my mission; to help others who have suffered similar tragedies and empower them to do the same.
The loss comes in many ways. Life is full of conundrums. We choose, and either recover, survive or remain victims. Life is not without adversity. Adversity is like electricity. It can electrocute you or become an illumination. It’s how you channel the energy that matters.
There is no doubt that losing a loved one, particularly a child, is the most difficult loss, but grief is not comparative and death per se can cause great suffering. Loss of health, work, relationships, wealth, homes, business and identity are part of life’s cycle. It’s how we confront and manage our losses that determine the outcome. It’s a choice; our choice!
As an unintended student and long-standing counselor in grief and loss, I made another choice; to share my message and experience. A tragic loss, unfortunately, spares none.
Let me help you help yourself to anticipate, deal with, recover from, and reclaim life after loss. By sharing my plight, sorrow, and what and how I have learned since may lessen your personal tragedy.
My choice was to become a Phoenix; to rise from the ashes of loss and grief, not unlike the parents of Sandy Hook, John Walsh, Joe Biden and many others who gave meaning to the lives and deaths of their loved ones. I made the choice to do the same. It is with great pride and compassion that I chose to give hope and courage to those who need answers and healing.