The Suffocating Loss; of a Leader

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Morning Zen Guest Blog Post ~ Martin Rafferty ~

continueWhat did we lose when Amy Bleuel completed suicide? Did you know about Project Semicolon? Maybe you can recall at the very least Googling what the meaning of a tattooed Semicolon was?

What now happens to the very symbol itself, already etched onto the tens of thousands of those who have chosen life? Can the symbol maintain its initial meaning? Should it?

Grief brings many questions. Some of those questions are dangerous. You will notice many of the articles that reference this loss are doing so as carefully as possible. They are no doubt following the research-based guidelines for reporting on suicide which suggests focusing on hope and informing on the warning signs of suicide.

We lose something when we avoid the difficult questions. In responding to youth suicide, my organization has supported multiple communities. I will never forget the response a parent gave when speaking at the podium about the child they lost, “I felt like I wasn’t supposed to talk about what happened, what is happening to my family. I felt like I was supposed to be silent and that was suffocating.”

I remembered those words very sharply earlier this week when Amy’s death was reported, but the suffocating moments came when the cause was omitted. I have grown up in a world where conversations occur about every subject on multiple social platforms and websites. So when suddenly a very important subject about a leader who has inspired my work was not being talked about, I felt grief.

That numbing spell was lifted when reports came out confirming what I had known. And there is a moment of shame that came with that. The same shame that I warned my staff about when they responded to the horrific UCC shooting. I had briefed them that they might see students reacting gleefully, that they themselves might have feelings of excitement in their response to such a horrific event. One staff reflected during our debrief saying “You were right about the excitement. It was helpful to know I wasn’t alone.”

There isn’t a briefing or debriefing for what happens when we lose a leader. I refuse to make any assumptions about Amy’s struggles. I know that my journey in the world of mental health advocacy hasn’t lead me to enlightenment. There are expectations and upkeep of a façade that at times makes recovery more difficult.

We find hope in answers. We find hope in knowing we aren’t alone. There are many questions that need to be answered. One answer that Amy gave us is that sharing our struggle with each other is a strength.

martinMartin Rafferty
Advisory Board Member
Children's Mental Health Network


  1. Cate Drinan's avatar
    Cate Drinan
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    Dear Martin, so good to hear your voice about this, and your honesty, your willingness to acknowledge the things about the manner of Amy's death that are so hard. All I can say in response is, last night my daughter and her best friend shared with me that a friend of theirs was in crisis, and the first thing I did was to tell them about YouthMove. The second thing I did was to get that information to their friend's mother. Thank you as always for running an organization here in Oregon that I trust completely to help my children and their friends when they need this kind of help and destigmatization.
  2. Joanne Juhnke's avatar
    Joanne Juhnke
    | Permalink
    Thank you for this honest and heart-felt reflection. Another piece that I found helpful was "On the Death of Amy Bleuel" by suicide awareness activist Dese'Rae L. Stage of Philadelphia.

    Dese'Rae writes, in part: "Often, the calling to suicide prevention comes close on the heels of a near miss with an attempt, or the suicide death of someone we love, and it comes with urgency. In that way, it puts many of us in a precarious position: we so desperately want to save others from suicide that we forget to save ourselves. We dive in with our life raft before we learn to swim."

    Well worth reading the full piece.
  3. S Biden's avatar
    S Biden
    | Permalink
    Finally someone is pointing out the elephant in the room. No one is talking about this and there are millions of us that got this tattoo.
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