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I was at the CDRIN training program in Calgary, Alberta when I first met Barbara Swanston. We were sitting at our tables, politely introducing ourselves. When it was Barbara’s turn she stood up and, without being afraid of what we might think, simply said, “I’m here because my son, Terry, died by suicide.”
Putting the pieces back in a shattered life
I listened as Barbara explained why she tries to help those left behind by someone’s suicide. Barbara wasn’t apologetic about Terry’s suicide. Terry suffered with severe depression and then one day, in the grip of the terrible darkness, he used a gun to end his life.
Barbara doesn’t blame Terry. In fact, she understands why he took his own life and realizes how difficult it was for Terry to fight both stigma and depression. Instead of blame, Barbara talks openly and honestly about how she copes with suicide bereavement, how the stigma of mental illness and suicide stops people from reaching out for help, and what we can do to make a difference.
“When Terry died I was shattered and thought I would never be able to put the pieces back together again. But slowly, oh so slowly, my new self began to emerge and take shape. Some pieces of my old self are probably lost forever; some got misplaced but eventually have found a place they fit; and some new pieces have been added. Terry’s pieces are interwoven and are an undercurrent in my heart, not always obvious to the world. Sometimes, not even so obvious to me, but he gently flows throughout my life, ever-present, always missed. I will always be Terry’s bereaved mum, but today I also feel happy and at peace.” ~ Barbara Swanston
Suicide awareness advocate
I love Barbara. She calls herself a suicide awareness advocate. And Barbara has indeed been busy advocating for the elimination of suicide stigma. She’s not afraid to talk about suicide or to use the word in public. She was a guest speaker at the International Conference for Suicide Prevention in Belfast, N Ireland on Nov.22, 2012. Barbara wants people to ask her about Terry and talk about his life and his suicide.
After Terry died by suicide, Barbara was met by awkward questions and silence from friends who were afraid they’d hurt her feelings by talking about Terry or asking how she felt. Barbara needed to talk about Terry. Her memories of a beautiful child, a loving son, and the life Terry lived coping with depression are worth talking about and don’t need to be silenced as if Terry had never existed.
I believe Barbara says it best about suicide and depression: “We need to open people’s minds so they can open their hearts! To make the Unspeakable speak-able!”
I’m sharing with you Barbara’s incredible speech she gave at the Belfast Conference. Please pass along this post and spread the word it’s okay to talk about suicide.
To read more about Barbara’s journey, visit Remembering Terry