What 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.
Martin Rafferty Advisory Board Member Children’s Mental Health Network