Speech given by Judy Broward at the Survivors of Suicide Memory Garden Dedication, November 14th, 2013 at Cofrin Nature Park, Gainesville, Florida
You may ask, why are we called suicide survivors? After all, we did not attempt suicide and live. Death touches all of us sooner or later. My grandparents, both my parents, cousins, a friend, aunts and uncles have died of disease, accidents or old age.
Suicide is different. In none of those other deaths did I feel it was my fault. Of course, I mourned and for some of those losses, thought of lost opportunities to say I love you one more time. But with my son Brett, it seemed like he chose death and that makes all the difference. There were so many times after he died, especially in the first weeks, even months and years and sometimes still today, when I questioned why? Why didn’t I see the signs? Why didn’t I know about the signs of suicide?
And then I wondered if I tried to protect him too much from the knowledge that life is difficult. Did I try to make life out to be a Disney adventure? Perhaps if I had tried to toughen him up, maybe he would have been better equipped to face life challenges.
Perhaps when he told me “I want to be a cop”, I should have begged him not to go that route. Maybe, we shouldn’t have moved from a small rural town in Wisconsin to Gainesville. He started Middle School that year. Maybe we should have bought a cheaper house and sent him to private school. Maybe, if, perhaps, would, could, should have. How could I not ask these questions? It is what suicide survivors do. Although it is painful to go through this litany of questions and blame, I do it today to help those people in the audience who are not survivors understand why coping with a suicide death is so complicated and difficult.
In addition to these feeling of guilt, there is the stigma concerning suicide that is entrenched in our society. Although suicide is a common theme in movies, music and other media, the word is whispered when it happens in our community. Most people are shocked to find out that in Alachua County, statewide and nationwide, year in and year out, there are twice as many suicides as homicides. Perhaps rightfully so, a suicide death is not on the front page of the paper, radio or TV. However, this silence helps to keep the stigma alive. People don’t know what to make of a suicide when it occurs. Thus, it leaves the survivor feeling alone, judged and excluded from the normal compassion and sympathy that other mourners are given.
If moving mountains would bring Brett back to me for one hour, I would have my spade and wheel barrel out. But that cannot be. So, one of the goals in my life is to reduce stigma of suicide. My hope is that this garden will help to make survivors realize they are not alone and to give them a place to heal and connect with others.
Further, it will raise awareness that there are people among us in our schools, workplace and churches who are struggling and need to hear the words “Is there something wrong?” “You seem different.” “Are you depressed?” “Can I help?” These words can save lives as CPR saves lives when someone is experiencing a heart attack. As Monsignor Dillon of the Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Atlanta and Fulton County Police Chaplin so eloquently stated in Brett’s eulogy, “I want you to know something of Brett’s pain and anguish that would lead him to this point. I want you to realize your own compassion for him. I want you to cry today not because he is dead, but because of his anguish of mind.”Let us also dedicate this day to stop being afraid of the word suicide. Ask your schools, your work places, your churches, to teach the basic warning signs of suicide and what the ordinary person can do to help. Post the Alachua County Crisis Center number 352-264-6789, the National Lifeline Hotline number 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-SUICIDE in prominent locations. Then we will recognize when someone is filled with anguish, ask the person some direct questions and refer that person to professional help.