Yesterday, I encountered an announcement for the Seattle premiere of a documentary, Four Sisters. The four sisters featured in the film are all survivors of the suicide of their brothers. The sisters are pictured above in photographs by filmmaker Caley Cook, from left, Lauren Greenberg, Maria Rivera, Laurie Cook-Heffron, and Laura Habedank. (Each sister introduces herself in a clip from the film, available on the Four Sisters home page.)
I highly recommend the film, for it is a beautiful example of how one survivor's loss (Caley Cook's brother died of suicide) reverberates outward and helps other survivors grapple with the broken pieces of meaning we are all trying to fit together. But this blog post is not about the film: It is about going where you're led -- and paying attention.
In the announcement for the film premiere, Forefront Cares is listed as the host of the event. Forefront Cares is the bereavement support program of Forefront, a statewide initiative at the University of Washington whose "goal is to lead other states in innovative approaches to suicide prevention." Forefront is, in part, the brainchild of a colleague and friend of mine, Sue Eastgard.
One thing leads to another.
It is intriguing to me -- as I began to write a blog post that originally was about the film -- how I got "off track." The mention of Forefront reminded me of an email I had sent to Sue four months ago, telling her I'd like to learn more about her newly launched organization. That email to Sue, in turn, originated from correspondence I had been having with another friend and colleague from Washington, Peggy West, who works for the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. The news Peggy was sharing with me was about the work of Forefront Cares, which prompted my email to Sue. Sue and I agreed that we'd try to get together and talk about it when we were both at the American Association of Suicidology conference in Los Angeles in April. But when we were there last month, we had only a chance to say hello.
The other information Peggy had shared with me was about Sue's partner in launching Forefront, Jennifer Stuber, a professor in the UW School of Social Work, whose husband died by suicide in 2011. One of the points of this post is that I finally "met" Jennifer yesterday by happening upon the announcement of the film premiere (because it led me to a video of her speech during Forefront's launch event last September).
As I listened to the video, I noticed several similarities between Jennifer's and my stories of loss. For instance, her husband died by suicide at 41, and my father died by suicide at 49; and both of them had lifelong struggles with low-level depression and suffered a major depressive episode within six months of their deaths.
In her speech, Jennifer says something about her husband's death that I might have said about my father's:
It is very painful for me to admit what I now know to be true today, that suicide is preventable for most people and likely was for Matt as well ... So after Matt's death, I began a personal journey to better understand suicide so that maybe I could better understand Matt's suicide. Through this journey, I was touched by the universal experience of grief and loss. I was inspired by other suicide loss survivors, and I've learned from suicide prevention experts and people who have lived through suicide attempts.Although Jennifer's "personal journey to better understand suicide" is similar to mine, they are also very different. For instance, her journey began soon after her husband's death, while mine was entirely helter-skelter and, from all outward appearances, quite "off track" for the first 20 years after my father's suicide. But that's another story.
And this story is about how one thing leads to another.
As I was thinking about Jennifer's speech (and about my being "off track"), I recalled how I had become more than just colleagues with Sue and with Peggy in the first place. It was by happenstance.
In Sue's case, we were both traveling back from the East Coast where we had attended an AAS conference together a number of years ago (I forget which year it was, for I've attended every AAS conference since 2001) -- and we happened to be on the same flight, seated one row apart. Her seatmate traded with me so Sue and I could sit together -- and we spent a handful of hours discovering that our ideas about suicide prevention share a tremendous amount of common ground.
In Peggy's case, we were also both at an AAS conference (a different one, just a few years ago), attending the poster session. The poster session is a cocktail and hors d'oeuvres party in a large room where about a hundred poster presentations are on display. Peggy, as it turns out, shares in common with me the preferred strategy at such events of trying to get into sustained conversations with one or two people (instead of "mingling"). We were each other's conversation partner at the event, and we spent the evening -- sadly, because of the loss of her husband -- having a rather intimate talk about grief.All of this illustrates how my world works. I recently wrote that my journey ...
... turned out to be a holistic experience that I couldn't have caused using a linear strategy. Even at this moment, the path is unfolding as I travel it.In the fields of suicide prevention and suicide grief support, there are hundreds of colleagues that I consider friends because I have bonded with them to one degree or another over a shared experience, a shared conversation, a shared project. And I know there are hundreds of people -- like Jennifer (and Caley and the four sisters) -- whom I haven't personally met yet but who are a part of the interconnected web of relationships that is moving the cause forward.
So I'm trying to pay attention to that.