By Emily Alvarez
International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day is the one day a year when people affected by suicide loss gather around the world at events in their local communities to find comfort and gain understanding as they share stories of healing and hope. We have learned that stories of lived experience are one of the best ways to fight the stigma of mental illness and suicide and to help get people involved in the movement. In honor of Survivor Day, we have chosen to highlight the story of a survivor who has made significant contributions to the field by investing her time, making financial contributions, and providing of emotional support to other survivors.
Diane Saslow lost her daughter, Emily, to suicide ten years ago. This is her story:
Emily Saslow was/is a daughter, sister, cousin, and friend to many. She died by suicide on October 17, 2005 at 26 years old. Emily was the one who always was smiling and laughing in any picture taken of her. She is also the one in the group who lived with unrelenting mental illness, an illness she fought against for most if not all of her 26 years.
Emily packed a lot of living into her 26 years. She excelled at school, college and law school – she participated in sports, she spent many years taking modern dance lessons and performed with a junior dance troop in Denver, she travelled and had a wide circle of friends. Even while nurturing and enjoying friendships Emily had a tough time with interactions with people. She constantly fought against terrible low self-esteems mainly because her illness kept her from understanding how exceptional she was. She hid her insecurities well, and what a struggle that must have been for her. She loved the law and enjoyed her years in law school and she spent many holidays travelling all over the world with friends. I am very proud of Emily for managing to live for 26 years.
Emily’s suicide was done with great intention. It was not a gesture gone awry. At 26 years old she wanted out of this life and she researched the methods that would allow her to leave.
Even though it is 10 years after her death, I don’t think my mourning has ended. There is a space that will never be filled in my heart and head, and there will always be an empty chair wherever I am. I no longer go to the phone to call her to tell her something funny or interesting, I just play it in my head and am soothed by my one sided conversations with her.
Emily fought valiantly against this illness from a very young age. She had therapy and medication. Emily died from a disease. Just like people who die from cancer or heart ailments. Like many parents who have lost a child to an illness, I have spent the ten years since her death working to do my part to prevent this from happening to others. I do the best I can to help those with depression have the courage to get help, and be very honest during treatment when they do get help.
|Diane and Emily Saslow at a wedding|
I continue to make meaning of my loss by speaking to high school and college students and supporting the FIRE Within program. I have also participated in the annual American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Community Walks, raising funds for research and programs that help to erase the stigma of mental illness and suicide. I co-facilitate a monthly Survivors of Suicide support group where I give direction and hope to others who are newly walking this difficult path after losing a loved one to suicide. Emily always helped others; she taught dance at an afterschool program to elementary school students who otherwise would not have had the opportunity to experience learn about the world of modern dance and all it can open for people.
I hope the work I am doing in the suicide prevention world is work that she would be proud of.
When I speak with people who are recent survivors of a loved one’s suicide I am gentle. I try to communicate that however they are feeling, they will feel differently months and years down the road. They will not feel better, but they will feel different. Once they acclimate to their “new normal” they will enjoy life’s daily pleasures, even though it seems impossible to believe that early in the grieving and mourning process. And most of all they will never lose or leave their dead loved one behind; they will take them with them on their healing path – because getting better does not mean losing your relationship with the dead.
The effects of a suicide loss are long-lasting and far-reaching. Many survivors look for ways to make meaning out of their loss and celebrate the life of their loved one. There are many wonderful organizations that provide life-saving suicide prevention programming. The Carson J Spencer Foundation elevates the conversation to make suicide prevention a health and safety priority. Through a variety of prevention programs, Carson J Spencer Foundation is changing the face of suicide loss. Whether you partner with our organization, or another, we encourage you to get involved. Giving a gift, in memory of a loved one lost, can help create the meaning that so many seek.
On December 8th, Colorado will celebrate a statewide day of giving – Colorado Gives Day. On December 8th, your gifts go further, thanks to a $1,000,000 incentive fund created by Community First Foundation and FirstBank. To schedule a Colorado Gives Day gift to the Carson J Spencer Foundation, please visit https://www.coloradogives.org/index.php?section=organizations&action=newDonation&fwID=28207