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In April, as the pandemic was building and the world seemed to be spiraling out of control, our son lost his battle with depression and anxiety and made the decision to end his life. Our family was already going through other difficult issues, and this seemed like just one more challenging blow. I wondered at our resilience and how we could ever recover. By the grace of God, we are healing and doing better than expected.
My last interaction with my son was so completely normal that it felt like a quiet gift. He dropped by the house a day before mask-wearing was mandated in our state. He ran down to the basement, retrieved his long bow, and asked me to look up archery store hours on my phone. He asked to make a sandwich, I gave him a fresh pineapple to take with him, and off he went. No hugs because… “social distancing.” Not many words were exchanged and there was no indication of what was to come the next day.
A week or so after our son’s death, my husband and I visited the apartment he shared with his girlfriend. As we talked with M. about what had happened and shared our memories of Tom, she revealed an antique frame in which she had placed a small piece of painted black fabric. She explained to us the deeper meaning behind the patch our son had painted.
She told us the figure of the young boy on the patch was dressed as a knight, pointing to the brave, caring, noble heart of our son. The little knight was carrying a bouquet of red flowers. Over his shoulder peered a demon, typical of Tom’s artwork, but my breath was taken away by the most startling feature of the patch: the complete absence of a mouth on the little knight’s face.
My heart broke as I realized this painting reflected my son’s struggle to express himself and to be heard. I cannot help wondering now how I could have listened better, maybe lectured less. Would he still be here if someone could have connected with his locked-up voice, making him feel heard, understood, safe?
As coordinator of Voice and Vision’s Bucks County Consumer and Family Satisfaction Team, part of my work involves designing questionnaires to be utilized in interviews with individuals and family members who have lived experience with mental illness or substance use disorder to listen and gather their experiences about access, treatment, service delivery, outcomes, satisfaction, and recovery principles. To effectively give people a say in the way services are designed to help people heal and recover.
When I saw the fabric patch of the mouthless knight my son had designed, I suddenly understood more completely our mission at Voice and Vision, Inc. which is, in my own words, to listen to and capture the voices of those who often feel they have no voice or who feel misunderstood because of their addiction or mental illness, and to help them cast a vision for what life can look like in recovery.
Although I cannot go back and change what happened to our son, I can promise that Tom’s brave little silent knight will have his voice now as he continues to inspire me to listen deeply and empathetically to individuals and their loved ones, to share their voice and experience with those who create the policies and services that help support them, and to remind them their words matter and their future is full of hope and possibility.
“Listen. People start to heal the moment they feel heard.” ~Cheryl Richardson
This blog was written by guest author, Paige M. Neuman. Paige is the Coordinator of the Consumer and Family Satisfaction Team in Bucks County, which is a program of Voice and Vision, Inc. You can read more about Paige on the Staff page of the Voice and Vision website.
Next week is National Suicide Prevention Week (September 6 – 12), which is part of National Suicide Prevention Month and surrounds World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10. It is a time to remember those affected by suicide, share resources and stories, and raise suicide prevention awareness. #NotAlone
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