My goal when I decided to write my first book, Do They Have Bad Days in Heaven? Surviving the Suicide Loss of a Sibling, was to bring other sibling survivors of suicide together. I knew my siblings and I weren’t the only ones who belonged to this “group” but in those pre-Internet browsing days, I also didn’t have access to others.
On Saturday night, July 21, I had the honor, and I do mean this was an honor, to speak at The Compassionate Friends Conference banquet in Costa Mesa, California. Many people said it was only the first or second time a sibling was a keynote speaker at TCF. No matter the loss-related organization or event, siblings are often lost among the throngs of parents who show up after the losses of their children. I believe that I have succeeded in having brought siblings around the world together through support groups, conferences, and online networks.
Now as I venture forward, I’m also realizing how important it is for me to show the world that there is life after sibling loss. While some sibling survivors were told never to speak of their sibling again, others like me have had opportunities to speak about them and remember them for who they were life. Talking about our siblings in this way has enabled us to reach points in our lives where we aren’t consumed by grief.
We don’t want to carry that piece of luggage along for the rest of the ride.
It doesn’t mean we forget our siblings. How can we? Instead, it means we want to enjoy the best of life’s offerings. In my talk at TCF's conference, I reminded people to pursue the goals and dreams they had before their loved ones died. For me, although I wasn’t fully aware of it until after it came true, one of those dreams was to surf. I never thought I would get up on a board, much less have the courage to actually go out and do it. But when I started surfing a year ago, I found I wasn’t scared at all. And when I was in Los Angeles last week, I was able to surf for two days. Lucky me, I knew.
After my talk, about half the people who came up to me wanted to tell me about a place to surf or to make a comment about how great it is that I’m learning to surf at 40. Sometimes I think my sister Denise is out there on the board with me, or she might be cheering me from shore. Wherever she is, I won’t miss the opportunities to realize my dreams and share who I am on this road called life.
Michelle Linn-Gust, Ph.D., is an international author and speaker about finding hope after loss and change. She is the author of several books including Rocky Roads: The Journeys of Families through Suicide Grief and Ginger's Gift: Hope and Healing Through Dog Companionship. Her first book, based on the suicide of her younger sister Denise, Do They Have Bad Days in Heaven? Surviving the Suicide Loss of a Si..., inspired siblings around the world in their survival after a loved one’s suicide. She is the President of the American Association of Suicidology and lives in Albuquerque, N.M. Read more about Michelle at www.michellelinngust.com.
Top Image via Flickr Creative Commons/dakine kane
Second Image: Michelle Linn-Gust