• Ben Labra

Suicide Awareness Month

Suicide Awareness Month is recognized annually in September. To date, an estimated 264 million globally are affected by depression. Unfortunately, this specific statistic is perpetually increasing. To bring more awareness about Suicide Awareness Month, I share a story to inspire a worldwide movement. It was July of 1995 and a few short months from turning 11 years old. It was a long, hot summer day when I heard what happened. My father’s sister, Faye, my aunt, died by suicide at her home.

I remember pondering and attempting to process what suicide meant. I feel it’s a word that is difficult to comprehend at any age fully. However, I didn’t learn until several years later, about my Aunt’s daily struggles and emotional setbacks.

At that time, I desperately wanted to hit the invisible reset button to undo the events of that week and mend my Aunt’s heart and thoughts. I remember experiencing an immense sense of loss and feeling an emptiness like nothing else I’ve ever felt in this vast world. Coupled with these emotions, I also felt helpless and lost. I wanted to confide in others. I thought it would help talk about my aunt’s life and death. However, when I finally had the opportunity to share the tragic news with a small handful of people I knew, I felt like a burden.

This wasn’t an isolated loss of a close family member; it was a universal one, where family and friends were deeply affected. I knew my aunt’s five children were going through a rollercoaster of emotions and grieved with them.

I recognized my father and mother were hurting. My sisters were also finding their ways to cope.

At that time, it appears we were each going through similar motions: grieving, holding on to hope, and keeping memories of my Aunt nearby.

My Aunt was beautiful. She loved sharing family stories to help my sisters and I better understand relationships and people. She wrote handwritten letters in her exquisite calligraphic writing; it was enviable. Her smile and laughter were healthfully contagious. When my Aunt’s heart felt full, she smiled with significance, and she let tears trickle down her cheeks, a face with tears of joy. She was thoughtful and giving. When I was in 4th grade, she sent me a gold rectangular box full of earrings that had written in her familiar handwriting on the upper right-hand corner “ for good grades and hard work.” Her selflessness never went unnoticed. Without expecting anything in return, my Aunt was known for taking strangers who needed food and shelter into her care. She expressed her love and care to all those she knew and crossed paths with her. She loved others without limits. Although my aunt was hurting deeply, she still sprinkled the world with kindness.

Although my Aunt Faye passed away 25 years ago, I am confident she has taught me the unteachable. She has also helped shape me to be the person I am today. In hindsight, she taught me that “everyone in life is fighting a battle we may know nothing about. Be kind always.” I am more empathetic and understanding. She taught me the importance of communication with family and friends and others’ consideration.

I learned from her to love louder. I’ve learned to experience tears of joy, laughter, and sorrow and keep going, as no feeling or emotion is ever final. I’ve learned from my Aunt that if I ever have a problem, to talk about it. Vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.

I will always remember my aunt for how she loved others; her stories, thoughtfulness, unique handwriting, and altruistic ways. My Aunt’s mere presence and my memories are irreplaceable and will never be forgotten.

Another important lesson from my Aunt’s story is that some of the kindest hearts have felt the most pain.

Suicide and Mental Health Awareness are essential, and we are more conscious and knowledgable about both today compared to twenty-five years ago. We are continuing to learn more every day. The number of people affected by depression globally is nearing 300 million and isn’t on the decline. I’m inspiring a movement in hopes of positive change to connect and uplift others in times of need and to make the world a better place.

As I reflected on and imparted this story, I pondered potential ways to be more present ourselves, family, friends, the nameless cashier at the grocery store, someone sitting a few seats away from you at dinner, and the person sitting alone at lunch.

Here are some recommendations on how to present more with loved ones in your life.

Actively Stay In Touch

People matter; relationships matter, and yes, communication matters. Whatsapp, Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts are beautiful ways to stay connected to your family and friends’ circles. Perhaps pencil in a date on an agreed-upon date and time on the calendar to talk. There is priceless value in keeping in touch.

Show Genuine Interest In Their Life: Be interested in what’s going on with a loved one’s life. There is more to talk about than the weather and sports. Peel the layers of the onion back further. Ask how work is going, what they are doing in their free time, and learn what inspires them lately. What puts the “e” in enthusiasm for them? What brings them pure joy? Find out if there is any way you could help. To go a step further, perhaps ask, “What’s the highlight of your day?” Then, following their response to the previous question, ask, “ What was your day’s low-point? Learn about their work, hobbies, and passions. Find out what they are enthusiastic about, talk to them about it, and see how you can help. It’s one of the best ways to make them feel you value and honestly care about them.

Have Empathy For Them: Perhaps try and see the world from a loved one’s perspective. It provides new insight into what another person is going through and shows them you understand them.

Be There When They Need You: I often think of the television show Friends’ theme song, “ I’ll Be There For You” by The Rembrandts. Being present during a challenging time for loved ones can make a vast difference in their lives and give them the courage to get through difficult life moments.

Provide A Listening Ear: Be Sounding Board to let a loved one know you care. Sometimes others need to know they are sharing within a safe place and being heard, without judgment.

Bring Them Up, When They Are Feeling Down: Cheer loved ones up when they are feeling low. Help them shift their focus from negative to seeing positives in their life. Help them count their blessings in life.

Spend Time With Them When They Feel Lonely: Be physically present when a loved one is going through a rough time. Reminisce, talk about favorite memories, and plan an activity if the timing is right. If physically being present isn’t the best option now, remind them that you care, and find other ways to show up in their life, such as sending them an unexpected Gesture. Kindness and thoughtfulness go a long way. Showing up in positive, meaningful, and memorable ways can make the most significant difference in another’s life.

Send Snail Mail: Sending a card in the mail adds a sincere personal touch and added effort. For example, Ever since I was a kid, receiving a bright, colorful envelope with my name on the front was sweet and unique. A person has a strong chance to feel recognized and appreciated by an old school card and note.

Remember Important Dates: Remembering birthdays for your loved one is essential. Helping create memorable moments for loved ones typically has a lasting positive effect on others. There are also wedding anniversaries, job promotions, 1st-time mother-aversairies, and celebrating a loved one’s retirement. Also, acknowledging the death of a friend’s loved one or the date of a tough breakup will show them how much you care about their well-being and challenging time.

Self-care is the best kind of care: Self-love is the belief you hold that you are a valuable and worthy person. An example of self-love is when you have a positive view of yourself and are confident in yourself and your place in the world. Remember, you are beyond enough.

You are not a burden; you’re loved ones aren’t burdens. There is no shame in it if you or a loved one asks for help.

Inspired by the article How To Be More Present In Your Friendships, 18 Ways To Show Your Loved One’s You Care For Them, and life itself.

With this said, you never know, you may change someone’s day or even save a life.

For more information:

National Suicide Prevention Information

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline



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