Using Grief to Inspire Hope

Sixty-three-year-old Patti clutched the photo tightly – proof of a happier time.

A handsome young man of 31 smiled back.

“It was one of the last photos taken of him.”

Four years ago, Patti received a phone call that forever changed her life. Her son, Shawn, had taken his own life, leaving behind a loving family and promising future.

Patti was shocked and fell into a deep depression. She was numb, quiet, drained. Every day tasks such as getting out of bed, dressing and showering, became incredibly difficult. She stopped working and would spend the day thinking of her son, guilt-stricken with thoughts of blame, disappointment and doubt in her parenting. It was first thing on her mind when she woke each day and the last each night. There was a permanent hole in her life she couldn’t fill. She felt hopeless.

“So many people say they understand, but they can’t,” Patti said. “You can’t begin to understand the depth of such a loss unless you experience it yourself.”

While she knew she had the support of her loving family and friends, she needed more. She needed others, mothers, who had lost children to talk to, to confide in. People who understood what she was going through, how she was feeling.

“I needed someone who was just like me. I needed the help. I needed the support.”

A month after her son’s death, Patti found United Way supported Provident’s Survivors of Suicide, a free, peer-facilitated support group for those who have lost loved ones. The group is led by trained facilitators who have lost loved ones to suicide and offers coping strategies to provide long-term support.

Through peer-to-peer interaction, Patti learned she was not alone. She could speak open and freely without fear of judgment. Each week she reconnected with familiar faces and warmly invited new ones. Some days they laughed; others they cried. Together, they inspired hope, support and healing in one another. Together they instilled reassurance that things would get better, that they would get through it. Together – something Patti had been missing. For the first time since her son’s death, she felt understood. And, over time, her feelings of blame, guilt and anger diminished as she developed the ability to cope, and healing began.

Every 12.8 minutes someone dies by suicide, making it the tenth leading cause of death for Americans.

About two years ago, Patti set out to make something positive out of the worst event of her life by becoming an advocate against suicide. As a speaker during Suicide Awareness and Prevention Week and active supporter of other prevention-focused events, Patti is fulfilling her mission.

“Patti’s willingness to talk about this is what’s going to change our overall dialogue about suicide,” Provident’s Interim Director of Crisis Services and staff support person of Survivors of Suicide Jane Smith said. “Her sharing her story could easily prevent other families from having to go through the same and plays a part in reducing the stigma of suicide. She wants to save lives. She’s helping other people.”

“I know he would want me to do this,” Patti said. “He would want me to help others because that’s who he was.”

About Provident

Provident has been a United Way funded agency since 1923. Provident helps individuals and families to a brighter future through counseling, crisis intervention and community support programs. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please call Provident’s Life Crisis Hotline at 314-647-HELP (4357) or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).