There is Hope after Suicide
By Wendy Parmley, RN, MBA
April 16, 1975, “I woke with a start to my dad’s frantic cries. Unaware of anything or anyone else, I bolted up the three flights of stairs from my basement bedroom to the top floor of our split-level home. There I found my dad with terror in his eyes, pacing back and forth, trapped in the too-small hallway. His hair disheveled and his muscles taut, Dad was unrecognizable as he screamed and cried, erratically running from room to room, ready to pounce on an unseen attacker.”
So begins my book, Hope after Suicide: One Woman’s Journey from Darkness to Light, which details my healing journey following the suicide death of my mom. The day before the book’s release, news of Robin Williams’ suicide death propelled me back nearly four decades to that day I learned Mom had died. I was twelve years old at the time. She was just thirty-one. And my heart was shattered.
Since Williams’ death, more than 20,000 people have ended their lives. Every 12.9 minutes, another person dies by suicide, making it the tenth leading cause of death. 90 percent of those who die by suicide have a treatable mental illness (afsp.org), and those left behind often suffer for many years with symptoms of PTSD, depression, and other mental health disorders.
Yet, I know there is HOPE—hope to save the next life, and hope to heal a broken heart.
On their website, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) lists warning signs we should all know: talking about killing themselves, feeling hopeless, acting recklessly, sleeping too much or too little, having intense anxiety or panic attacks, becoming socially isolated and withdrawn, acting irritable or agitated, or showing rage.
AFSP reminds us to take every threat seriously. Fifty to seventy-five percent of all people who attempt suicide tell someone about their intention. Some of us are afraid to talk about suicide, though, for fear of pushing a friend over the edge, and hastening their death. Research shows, however, that talking about suicide actually reduces the risk of suicide. It is OK to ask, “Are you thinking about ending your life?”
Suicidality is a mental health emergency and we should seek immediate help at a psychiatric clinic or the emergency room. We can also call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
As a twelve year old in 1975, I didn’t have access to mental health care to help me process the trauma of my mother’s suicide death. Instead, I buried all the hurt and pain and heartbreak with “rocks and dirt”—and anger. I wore a mask and covered up my sorrow with work and a smile. And I kept the secret.
It wasn’t until years later that I sought some therapy. A diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was the last thing I wanted. But naming what I was experiencing allowed the clinician to create a treatment plan. He utilized a technique called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) to help bring the painful and traumatic memories to the surface where I could then process them in a healthy way. I was finally able to find meaning in the loss. I was able to walk from darkness to light, and through God’s grace, my heart was healed.
As tragic as Williams’ death was, it has given us an opportunity to talk openly about mental illness, learn about ways to get help, and realize that suicide is no respecter of persons. For those of us living in the aftermath of unimaginable loss, let us continue to share our stories. As we unashamedly share, we give courage to others to share—and to begin their own healing journeys.
“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 the light.” (Parmley, pg. 189)
About the Author:
Wendy Parmley, RN, MBA suffered a disabling bicycle accident in September 2011. Unable to return to her 20 year nursing career because of the continued effects of a traumatic brain injury, Wendy began the slow and painful penning of her angel mother’s story and Wendy’s healing journey following her mom’s suicide death. Twelve-year-old Wendy’s mom took her life when just 31 years old, leaving behind her husband of thirteen years and their five young children.
Author of Hope after Suicide: One Woman’s Journey from Darkness to Light, and suicide survivor of 40 years, Wendy has long advocated for suicide prevention. She participates on various professional and community based groups dedicated to that end, including Hope4Utah and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
Wendy 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. Wendy was a favorite speaker at the recent Salt Lake City National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) annual conference and at the Chainbreaker Foundation. Wendy’s heart-felt story leaves the audience filled with an abundance of love, understanding, and hope as she shares her own journey from heartbreak to hope and, finally, to healing.
Prior to her bike accident, Wendy worked in nursing leadership for 14 years, earning her nursing degree from Utah Valley University in 1991. Wendy graduated with her MBA from Brigham Young University in 2007 and was honored to be the convocation speaker. Wendy has three sons and daughters-in-law, one daughter, and two beautiful grandchildren who fill her life with sunshine. She and her husband Mark live in Orem, Utah.
About the Book:
Hope After Suicide by Wendy Parmley
Age range: Adults and older YA (16+)
Paperback: 216 pages
Publisher: Cedar Fort, Inc. (August 12, 2014)
After her mother took her own life, Wendy Parmley learned firsthand the heartache, despair, and loneliness that accompanies suicide loss. Reinvent your definition of saved, perfect, and forgiveness as you read this true narrative of a woman opening her heart years after her mother’s suicide and learn how to overcome any loss in your own life.
Hope after Suicide has been endorsed by Hope4Utah’s executive director, Dr. Gregory Hudnall. It has also been listed on AFSP’s list of resources and received a positive review from the American Association of Suicidology. Parmley was invited to represent her work as a panelist at the 2015 Virginia Festival of the Book.