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Finding Hope: One Mother’s Journey of Resilience

Jaletta Albright Desmond — septiembre 11, 2020 — 4 min de lectura
Guest blogger Jaletta Albright Desmond lost her 17-year-old daughter to suicide eight years ago. Now she is a Hope After Suicide Loss Peer Facilitator and President of Davidson LifeLine, working to help others work through their loss and find resilience. Here’s her story:

Just hearing your voice gives me hope, she said over the phone. The shock and sorrow in her voice were painfully familiar. If she could hear through the roaring thunder of her anguish any small distant sound of hope, I was grateful.

In the days, weeks and months following the suicide death of a loved one—a child, a partner/spouse, sibling, parent, or friend—you feel as though life as you have known it, and imagined it, has stopped. Honestly, life will never be exactly the same. We are “forever altered,” as loss survivor and advocate Ronnie Walker said it. We are not, however, forever ruined. In suicide loss support groups throughout our region, we can hear how others have managed this painful loss, hear them share their lived experience and the lessons they’ve learned. We can hear hope. We can also learn from mental health professionals the tools we need for the grief journey and for self-care.

I once asked a mother whose adult son had died years earlier how it changed the way she lived her life. She said she chose to live her life more fully. She quit her job, went back to school to begin a new career, and traveled more. Her words gave me hope.

Our family was devastated when we lost our firstborn child and big sister. With support from friends, family, and trained therapists we were able to struggle through rebuilding our lives. We have painted a new family portrait where the pain of our loss is no longer the centerpiece, casting shadows on our faces. We are portrayed in vibrant and vivid colors, while still honoring the memory of our beloved daughter and sister. We are portrayed in the resilience with which we live our lives more fully.

It’s been stated that the stress suicide loss survivors experience is similar to the stress experienced by Holocaust survivors. I look to them and others who suffered trauma and grief as role models of how to persevere, how to embrace post-traumatic growth. When my family was settled on the path to healing and hope, I wanted to help others find their way and learned about peer-facilitating a support group. It’s there that someone can find a safe place, free of judgment or stigma, to talk about their loved one and their experience with this sometimes complicated and traumatic grief. It’s there that they might hear hope in the voice of someone else further down the path.

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We aren’t supposed to give advice in our support group—it’s one of the guidelines we read before every meeting. And, yet, I can’t resist sharing the words of wisdom given to me by a family member who is a mental health professional: No emotion is a bad emotion—sadness, anger, bitterness, even guilt. You should be free to feel as you feel and work through the difficult emotions. The only precaution is how those emotions are expressed—you don’t want to cause yourself or anyone else harm. The second piece of wisdom was that individual family members will rarely be on the same page as we grieve the same person. We grieve differently—some of us talk, some think, others cry and while still others laugh. Give everyone space to express their grief as they choose—while remembering the same mantra, do no harm to yourself or anyone else.

Four months after my 17-year-old daughter died, I wrote a column that ended with these words: “Now we carry the weight of our grief, the loss of our beloved daughter and sister, in front of us, our arms and hearts straining under the pressure. Eventually, I hope we shift the heaviness to our backs, where we can better withstand the burden—still there but not out front, threatening to bring us down, break us. Eventually, the weight on our backs may make us stronger and propel us forward, so that we carry into our future—and share with our world—the lessons we’ve learned, the grace we’ve experienced, and the love for life that we choose every day.”

Today, we are stronger as individuals and as a family. We are propelled forward, reaching for the future with compassion for others, thankfulness for the good things we experience, and unconditional love for each other. And we are always, resiliently, reaching for and embracing hope.
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