Last month, the death of beloved comic and actor Robin Williams shocked the world and sparked a flurry of conversations on the topics of depression and suicide. Such a loss, while always tragic, is unfortunately not uncommon. Nearly 40,000 Americans complete suicide attempts each year. These individuals leave behind countless loved ones: parents, spouses, siblings, children and friends. One study estimated that each suicide intimately affects at least six other people. It calculated that given the 805,286 suicides between the years of 1987 and 2011, there were roughly 4.8 million survivors (the term “survivor” refers to family members and friends of a loved one lost to suicide). That number is closer to 5.5 million now. This breaks down to roughly 1 out of every 58 Americans. 1 in 58 people you meet have likely lost a loved one to suicide. So why aren’t more people talking about it?
Despite its far reach, suicide is largely a silent epidemic and has remained in the shadows. Wendy Parmley, in her new book, Hope After Suicide: One Woman’s Journey from Darkness to Light, breaks the taboo, brings the topic out of the shadows, and gives voice to her experience as a suicide survivor. And she does so with great courage and authenticity.
Her book begins with her first-person account of her experience when her mother committed suicide, an event that took place when the author was a tender twelve years old. She then shares experiences detailing how that event affected her life in the years that followed. She also writes of her pathway to healing.
I really appreciated Hope After Suicide as an honest voice that was willing to share the difficult realities associated with losing a loved one to suicide. There is great potential for her story to resonate with and normalize the experiences of many other survivors of suicide who may feel alone and broken as they mourn and try to make sense of their loss. It also has the potential to resonate with those who have experienced a traumatic loss but are not yet ready to confront it or heal from it.
Throughout the book, the author references a metaphor that defined her process of coping and guided her process of healing. It is a metaphor that can be helpful to individuals who have experienced various forms of loss. She writes of “burying her heart with stones”. She first tells of a heart that felt empty, injured and broken. Her initial response to this pain was to try to bury her heart in an attempt to bury her hurt. She wrote of her efforts to numb the pain through friends, music, late nights, boys and motorcycles. She wrote of getting to a point where she yearned to feel again: “I wanted so desperately to feel her love. But instead, I buried my heart with rocks and put on a glass face.” In her efforts to protect her heart, she had covered it and in some respects lost access to it.
In her quest to heal she learned that she had to uncover her buried heart. With the guidance of a therapist she began a journey that required courage, vulnerability, hurt and time. She braved it. She also learned that in order to remove the tiniest rocks and to lift the heaviest ones, she needed spiritual help. And she found that help and healing.
She shared this message with her readers: “We all have a story—hidden secrets buried in dark and rocky earth. Our journey is to unearth the pain and discover the good, discover the healing, and discover the love—to uncover the darkness and make space for light.” This universal human message, learned in a crucible forged by loss, is one that can be instructive to each of us, regardless of the source of our heartbreaks. It is a story of hope. It is story about allowing light back into hurt and hardened hearts.
About the Author:
Wendy Parmley suffered a disabling bike accident in September 2011. Unable to return to her 20 year nursing career because of the continued effects of her injuries, Wendy began the slow and painful penning of her angel mother’s story and Wendy’s healing journey following her mom’s suicide death. Wendy’s mom took her own life when just 31 years old, leaving behind her husband of thirteen years and their five young children.
Wendy has long advocated for suicide prevention and has participated on various professional and community based groups dedicated to that end. She also recognizes the need to unashamedly support those who must continue to live in the painful aftermath of a loved one’s suicide and passionately lends her voice to that cause.
Prior to her bike accident, Wendy worked in nursing leadership for 14 years, earning her MBA degree from Brigham Young University in 2007. Despite her continued limitations, Wendy is grateful to spend more time with the love of her life, her husband Mark. She is ever grateful for his support and the support of their three married sons and their wives, their amazing daughter, and their beautiful two grandchildren who fill their life with sunshine.