I explored this premise based on my own and my family’s experiences with my Dad’s suicide. It was the most broken, disorienting, unstable feeling time of my life. As I have written before, I don’t even remember a lot of what happened for a good year around that time. Yet, mostly thanks to my Mom and fully supported by my immediate family, we took the opportunity to tell our story, and to tell my Dad’s story.
We shared publicly that his death was suicide, that he suffered with Depression, that he had experienced sexual abuse by a neighbor when he was a child. We thought we were being transparent for our own purposes and healing. It turned out that our transparency was of a far greater purpose and broader healing.
We received literally hundreds of personal notes and letters (they continue occasionally over a decade later) of people sharing their own stories of suicide, Depression, and abuse. Some of these people were friends we had known for years but never knew shared these same experiences. Others were total strangers who had simply read the obituary and wanted to share their gratitude and their own story with people they knew would understand.
It was incredibly powerful. We were powerful. My Dad’s life remained powerful, and even took on new power after his death.
I share all of this again as I observe the Mayor of Nashville, Megan Barry, who recently lost her only son to an overdose, as she turns this most powerless feeling moment in her life into perhaps her most powerful. In fact, Mayor Barry’s being open and honest about her loss, her son’s struggle with addiction, and the frustrating and futile need and desire of a parent just to ask her son “what were you thinking” could be the most important work she has ever done.
I know there are parents all over the country, and even the world, who have already read her story, listened to her words, and feel just a little more whole because of it. I know there are parents right now who will lose their child in this sort of tragedy, who have yet to realize how important the Mayor’s example will be to them.
So, I guess this is in part at thank you to Mayor Barry, but also a note of encouragement to everyone else who feels alone, shamed about, or broken by their lives and the tragedies they have experienced. You are not alone.
The more we can all muster the courage to share our struggles openly the more lives we can save, the more families we can heal, and the stronger communities we will build.
We can and will be powerful in our most broken moments.