Turning Poison into Medicine

I’d like to introduce myself: I am Penny Myers, a survivor of suicide loss, author and an advocate for those left behind after a loved one dies by suicide. Like any other, this journey of uncertainty and unexplainable grief wasn’t the one that I chose voluntarily but was shunned and shoved into.

I was a stay-at-home mother until my youngest son, Nicholas, was in grade 7. Post which, I returned to the world of work, categorising myself as a ‘normal’ working mother of 3 children, Marsha age 25, Melanie age 24, and Nicholas age 20. Nicholas was struggling with what he wanted to do with his life. What career intrigued him, where his interests lay, and so on? He was into snow removal, and grass cutting and was partly done with his landscape program when the teacher’s strike began. I clearly reckon that it was May 19th, 2007 when I received an early wake-up call from the Police, notifying me that Nicholas, lost his life to suicide. I stood there, shook and lost. To say I was in grief and pain would be the least. 16 years later, I still feel mouth-locked to express how I felt at that moment. It took me close to a month to even look up the word “suicide”.

What the hell was it all about? How did it affect someone? How many were affected by suicide? What did it truly mean? I had a ton of such questions that bothered me every second of every minute as even the term “suicide loss” was something I was unfamiliar with. As much as I searched the web, I came to learn that nothing could fill up the void I felt within me. I yearned for something more even though I didn’t know what exactly I was looking for. What frustrated me was that the topic in itself was so wide, and yet not even a handful of information was clearly stated. More so, even less information about the survivors of suicide loss.

I and my family lived in a community of small rural towns in which we had a small library, post office, grocery store and hardware store. Everyone knew everyone. So when Nicholas died, the whole community and adjoining communities were all very affected. I decided to contact the local Community Health Centre for information on a support group. No surprises here, but, that didn’t exist! Yes, there was a suicide survivor support group an hour away but you had to be 6 months into your grief journey before they allowed you in. I couldn’t believe that it was even humanly possible to have rules and regulations around suicide-related grief. It angered me to know that one had to
qualify within a set year of being in their grief journey to be able to receive support. To my eyes, it felt like I didn’t fit in. I felt like a purple stand-alone loner amidst others who appeared green.

I was told by the local Community Health Centre to go ahead and start my own support group. Ah! But How? When? Where would I even begin? It all seemed like a tall unsurmountable mountain at the time. But, I believe a built-in survival mechanism took over. I advertised in the local newspaper and hung flyers all over my local community and across adjoining communities. I contacted a restaurant owner to have a free place to meet after hours. They say when there’s a will, there’s a way. And here it was. The 20-30 grief-stricken survivors of those who lost their loved ones to suicide came together as a support group. I did it!

From when I lost Nicholas, 5 or more cases of suicide came into notice near our vicinity. I felt like our attendance had a purpose. With everyone so perplexed around the topic of ‘suicide’, the ‘why’ behind the matter, what’s to be done and how to deal with the chronic grief later, I felt a constant urge to dig deeper into the area. People around me began o look up to me. They reached out to me for help and support. Sometimes, it all felt so overwhelming as I too was grieving the loss of my son. I too was stuck with my why’s and my how. But, I didn’t want to stop mid-way. To me, the topic of ‘suicide’ called for more attention to be paid to it.

My daughter, Melanie, worked as a Youth & Child Worker and with her assistance, I gathered flyers, put together a few teenagers and created bracelets, car magnets and stickers to advocate awareness around the same. We set out to put up our ‘Survivors of Suicide Loss’ tables at every possible workshop, retreat or conference on Suicide Prevention. As my daughter left town for work, I marched on this journey by myself. But I persevered. And oh what a transformation it was! From a scared, uninformed, and fragile mother/survivor of suicide loss to a strong person who was seen as an exemplar and an advocate of survivors of suicide loss. Each day I saw myself shedding a part of
myself and learning a new way of being, and yet, this journey was so unconscious, that I only realised how far I had come when I was contacted by certified Mental Health professionals in Ontario. What felt unreal was when these professionals with resounding pre-fixes of ‘Dr’, ‘PhD’, or ‘MD’ reached out to me, someone who received her ‘tacit degree’ from the University of Life.

I met with countless survivors who faced the brunt of losing a loved one to suicide. Even though I couldn’t count them on my fingers, I never forgot even one of them, Each one was so unique in its own way. My heart went out to each one of them. I truly appreciate their authenticity, vulnerability, and courage to share their raw emotions. What I also discovered was that people in need found me magnetically and without the need to hold back, opened their hearts and poured their souls out in my presence. I feel gratitude to have that effect of compassion and being able to create a safe space for people. Unfortunately, research and my personal experience taught me that people refrain from talking about pain. It’s hard for them to sit beside someone in deep grief and to just listen without the need to fix it. I understand that this isn’t for everyone to master. But, I feel honoured for my ability to be vulnerable and to sit with vulnerability and just embrace the shared pain and grief. Doing so gives me as much strength as it gives to the one on the receiving end.

And so I knew my career, going forward, was to work in creating and being in the eye of the storm “survivors of suicide loss” resources and education along with advocation for those left behind after a suicide loss and assure them that they are not alone. Assimilating my experiences of sitting with these grieving and my own journey of grappling with loss, I have a fair understanding of the resources and tools one might need to help their family or friends deal with such a loss. This motivated me to create a resource manual to educate and sensitise others.

Here I am, 16 years later, boldly reiterating my journey! I have accomplished more than any university program could have taught me to provide. I have a Canada, Ontario-made Survivors of Suicide Loss DVD, A How to Start up a Survivors Of Suicide Loss Support Group booklet, and also 4 short stories- self-published books on Amazon. To me, that’s a hell of an accomplishment for someone who was a next-door ‘normal’ working mother 16 years ago. In fact, I believe that there can be no program, school, workshop, or certification that could possibly provide me with the
knowledge base or the empathetic aptitude to deal with this situation as much as my lived experiences did. Today, I feel humbly proud of everything I’ve conquered and accomplished.

Yes, I do feel scared at times, but I don’t waver. I am available for those at risk. I am there to support you in your journey. I say “Don’t give up, until you have tried at least five support resources” and then you try one more time! Just keep going!

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