I Am a SURVIVOR of Losing a Loved One to Suicide

healing after suicide
This picture speaks a thousand words. That is me (Jennifer Cagle-Huffman) telling my story of my mama, and my son Collin, holding a picture of his beloved Grandma. I never in my life thought I would be standing before 200+ people talking about why suicide prevention is so important. This was probably one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

We at Brighthill are proud to sponsor Jennifer Cagle-Huffman as our guest blogger. She lives in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.

On May 16, 1998 my mother, LaVonn Cagle, died by suicide. I want to share with you my journey and offer words of encouragement to other survivors.  Even though there is never closure, you do learn to live with the loss of suicide. When my mom died, it was the hardest thing I have ever had to live through in my entire life. Here is a little bit about my journey.

My mother was my best friend, my confidant, my life. My dad worked away from home a lot when I was growing up so I, mom, and my brother Jay were the three amigos; she would tell people I was her very best friend and my brother was her rock. We took care of each other and we always knew we would have each other…forever. This was my foundation in life.

My mom was a florist and could put a stick in the ground and make it grow.  I remember several weeks after her passing, after I had been watering her plastic plants, trying so hard to keep them beautiful for her, and I realized this was not my calling and that she was probably in heaven laughing at me.Mom was a nurturer, a fixer. She was funny and had a contagious laughter and a smile like no other; everyone who met her fell in love with her. She radiated with kindness, and not until after her passing did I realize the full impact she had made on so many other people’s lives with her kindness and generosity. I think my mom’s purpose on this Earth was to help others. At work all she had to do was hear of a team member in need, and she was immediately calling everyone together and planning a fund raiser or drive to help them with their needs. She was very compassionate. I remember one day she told me of an elderly gentleman whose wife was in a nursing home and not doing well. Mom, ever the nurturer, went and found the most beautiful long-stem, red roses and made the most beautiful arrangement and personally delivered them to her. Mom said the couple just smiled and smiled. Truth be known, and being the manager of her department, she probably spent twice the amount she charged him to make the arrangement so special.

My mom had often suffered from what we learned as children to call “the blues.” As an adult, I think back and can remember days she wouldn’t even get out of bed—she was just “so tired.” She was always either extremely happy or extremely sad. I know now through my research that she was probably suffering from bipolar disorder, manic depression, and who knows what other undiagnosed forms of mental illness. But as a child, I chalked it up to mom just having another one of her bad days. She would snap out of it like she always did.I remember the week my mom died like it was yesterday. I will not go into the details of what happened that week, but I will say that mom had an event that had upset her very deeply—what is known as a trigger event. She was not acting like herself, and I was very concerned for her. I asked her one day that week if I needed to call someone and get her help, to which she assured me she would be fine. The last time I spoke to my mom was 4 hours before she died; she was in a great mood, high spirits, and it was so good to hear her being herself again. We planned a barbecue for the next day, and she even went out and bought the groceries for it. She asked me several times if I was coming to visit her that night, and I told her I was, but I would not pinpoint a time. (Later, I would learn that this is normal for someone who is in crisis mode; she had already made up her mind, the planning stages were done, and she was ready to follow through with her suicide.)

When I got to my mom’s house that night, the police and ambulance had already arrived there, and I will never ever forget the police officer asking why I had not noticed the warning signs. The warning signs? What warning signs? I had no idea. Then the guilt, the God-awful guilt. Did I not do what I should have done for her? I carried this guilt for years, it was unbearable. The WHYs and the WHAT IFs were almost my undoing; WHY was I not able to save her, WHY would she leave us, we were supposed to be together forever. WHY would she make this choice for us, WHAT if I had been there!?! WHY did I NOT see the warning signs?

The first  couple of months after my mom’s passing, I stayed very busy, taking care of  business things, and the other people that had been affected by my mom’s suicide. Then it hit me, and it knocked my foundation right out from underneath me; I didn’t want to eat, I couldn’t sleep, I had recurring nightmares about her death. I couldn’t get out of bed; I prayed the bed would swallow me. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I did. I prayed I would fall asleep and the bed would just swallow me up and I would never have to wake up again to this nightmare I was living through, that my entire family was living through. I felt so alone, that no one anywhere could EVER understand the pain I was going through. I didn’t want to tell people how mom had died; it was spoken about in whispers. The grief was so consuming some days that I had to remind myself to breathe. Then one day a friend of mine gave me a little poem:

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow

You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than,
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up,
When he might have captured the victor’s cup,
And he learned too late when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far,
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit

It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.

Author unknown

This was a major turning point for me; I posted this poem by my mirror. It was the first thing I saw every morning and the last thing I saw every night. I had a child who needed me, like I needed my mom. I would not leave him; I would not QUIT! I sought out medical help. I was diagnosed with depression, I saw a therapist, and I started talking about mom’s suicide to my family and my friends. I found a support system, I pulled myself up, I put one foot in front of the other, I took one step at a time, and I took one day at a time. Some days were good, and some were not. I got mad; let me tell you, I got MAD at my mom! I was told this is a normal part of the grieving process. Then I forgave her; she is my mama, she was ill, and we did not have the proper education or knowledge on what to do or where to get help for her.

I know every person is different, and every person deals with grief differently. This worked for me. I can stand before you today, 14 years after my mom died by suicide, and tell you it does get better. There is never closure, but you do learn to live with the loss of suicide, one day at a time, one breath at a time. I am living proof. I have gone to college and earned a degree. I have remarried my Earth Angel, and I now have 6 beautiful children, and I have a wonderful job with amazing co-workers. My brother and I have both named one of our daughters after my mom; the highest honor we felt we could give to her. While I was in college I started researching suicide and what I could do to make a difference so no other family would have to live through what I and my family have lived through. I found The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the Out of the Darkness Walks. I am honored to be able to be a part of something so very important to our community. I am continuing to educate myself daily on what I can do to help others and to make a difference.

Here are just a few of the statistics I have found that have given me my voice and determination about suicide prevention:

  • One person dies by suicide about every 15 minutes in the U.S.
  • An attempt is estimated to be made once every 40 seconds.
  • Suicide is the 5th leading cause of death in Missouri alone.
  • There is an average of 1.9 suicides daily in Missouri.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in Missouri.
  • On average, 705 Missouri residents die by suicide every year.
  • An average of 16.3 suicide attempts are made daily in Missouri.
  • The total of residents hospitalized for suicide attempts each year in Missouri is 5,943.

These numbers are staggering. We need to get the proper education, tools, and awareness to every single person in the state of Missouri and beyond.

That is where AFSP comes in, but to continue to get the proper tools to our area, they need our help with funding. Last year at the first annual Out Of The Darkness Cape Girardeau, Missouri Walk raised $16,000.00. This year in 2012 I say we double that amount! Together as SURVIVORS, we will make a difference.

My name is Jennifer Cagle Huffman, and I am a SURVIVOR of a loved one to suicide.

Please join me in making a difference!

Jennifer Cagle-Huffman

See my Facebook page, SOLOS:  Survivors of Loved Ones to Suicide.

This is the story that I read to 200+ participants at the first annual Out Of The Darkness Walk of Cape Girardeau, MO on October 8, 2011. Thank you for letting me share it with you.

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