On April 29th, 2005 – five years ago today – the South Salt Lake Police Department called to inform our family that my sister Shawna’s body had been found in a hotel room – due to an intentional drug overdose. As a family, we sobbed and screamed and searched for solace amidst the heartbreaking shock of her suicide. She was 34 years old…a musically-gifted mother of 5 children, and the wife of a devoted spouse. Just prior to taking her life, my sister left a voicemail message on her therapist’s cell phone. She said, in part,
“…My children are the reason I was born, but it’s time that they have some semblance of normalcy. I’ll never ever be able to revive that for them. But what I can give them is my eternal love…to be their guardian angel… and this is my last gesture of true love.”
In Shawna’s distorted reality, she was relieving her husband, children and family from the burden of HER; the burden of her illness, her suffering, her perceived inabilities to effectively parent or to function daily without torment and drama. Knowing how very much she once loved life – how she sang and danced and lit up every room she walked into – it’s painfully apparent to those who love her that it was the ILLNESS – the darkness – not Shawna, who spoke those final words. Rather than relieving us of any burdens, her choice to exit this world has compounded them.
My sister suffered from Bipolar Disorder and from an addiction to painkillers. She had been in treatment facilities for both conditions, and had literally exhausted all her family’s resources and insurance benefits. She was in a “high risk” category for suicide, in that she had a history of inpatient psychiatric care, was in severe psychological pain, and had previously verbalized a suicide plan. Even though our family knew that she was at high risk – that she was in pain – and that a plan to suicide perhaps lurked within her psyche for years, we could never conceive that Shawna would actually bring herself to do it. Even 5 years after-the-fact, I cannot believe she really went through with it. It’s still hard for me to accept that she would actually choose to leave us…
Because I lost someone I love very much to suicide, this makes me a suicide “Survivor.” There are millions of bereaved suicide survivors worldwide, who themselves may be at significant risk to entertain the idea of suicide. One out of four people who attempt suicide has a family member who also tried to commit suicide. Suicide and depression run in families. In addition to losing my sister, I also lost my 32-year-old aunt to suicide. As a family, we now join together with the other survivors of suicide as we send this united message: THE CYCLE OF SUICIDE STOPS HERE. No more will Satan and his minions claim a member of our family this way.
Research shows that the #1 reason survivors believe their loved one suicided was because they WANTED TO BE RELEASED FROM PAIN. As survivors, we will tell you to always, always take a suicide threat or comment seriously….even if in passing or in a “joking” manner. Suicide is born of untreated and/or unhealed depression; spiritual sickness. We are never responsible for another’s illness, but we can create awareness. We can create open doors of communication about depression and break down the stigma surrounding it.
My sister Shawna’s focus on being released from pain superseded all other blessings and gifts that God had given her. A couple of years ago I was asked to speak at a press conference about Suicide Awareness through the Utah Attorney General’s office Suicide Prevention Task Force. Before I spoke, I asked Shawna’s husband, David, what he felt her message would be now – now that she’d had a clearer “head”, so to speak – and a broader eternal perspective. He told me Shawna would probably tell us this:
- “My suicide hurt my family more than it helped them. It wasn’t worth it. I made the wrong decision.”
- “I woke up on the other side with a whole set of new issues.”
- “I lost everything on earth and it was excruciatingly painful to watch my family move on without me.”
- “Even an impaired life can be beautiful when compared with the alternative.”
I sense Shawna would also add this, with her five-years-in-the-Spirit-World perspective:
- “I see now that all my life, Deity was constantly throwing me healing lifelines, yet all I could ever see was my own pain. My pain created blocks with recognizing and receiving the Light. Pray with all the energy of your soul to have your MIND and HEART OPENED. The blocks will be released if you have faith. The Light will stream in.”
- “Having a body is THE vehicle to receiving glorious gifts, rights and power…not just after you die, but WHILE YOU ARE MORTAL. I wish I had my body back and could couple my physical being with the spiritual knowledge I have gathered since I entered this realm. Never take your physical temple or your Earth experience for granted!”
- “I can never take back my final decision. All I can do is watch over and serve my loved ones and continue to increase in light and knowledge until the beautiful hour of our reunion.
And last….I believe Shawna would tell us:
- “He is a merciful Savior and has welcomed me with open and healing arms. Turn to the Him with full purpose of heart. Believe Christ. Believe you can heal through His infinite power and mercy. Expect a miracle.”
Shawna’s children are now 7, 9, 11, 12 and 16. There is a lurking grief and sadness from her passing that perhaps can never be completely healed (at least in this lifetime) within their little hearts and minds, just as there is in mine…and in her husband’s and my parents and siblings and relatives and Shawna’s friends. Each of us carries a piece of her light with us and a twinge of regret and sadness as well. Today my prayer is that we all look a little closer, love a little more deeply, increase our faith and take up more spiritual courage.
And Shawna…I really miss you.