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Diane Waterman: Uncelebrated birthday brings grief, questions

The end of October 2015 passed unnoticed for most caught up in what has become the beginning of the holiday season. There is a lesson to be learned. Many of us become so preoccupied with the clutter of daily life that we lose sight of the basics. When you peel away the layers, all we really have is one another. We need to listen to one another, because we might not get a second chance.

At the end of October, we remembered a close family member who would have celebrated her 30th birthday had she not taken her own life. At age 10, she told me, “I am a devil child!” because of her birthdate. Now I will never find out if she was the one who flushed Grandma’s bridgework down the toilet. So many questions remain unanswered; even the little ones.

Because of her act of self-destruction, a gifted young woman will never achieve that milestone of young adulthood, that age of maturity, leaving behind her 20s and years of youth.

She will never know how much we appreciated her many accomplishments. There are times in our lives when we don’t get a second chance: to become closer, to visit or to have a long phone call. Families have spread out across the country, but we desperately need that support system.

Perhaps because she was feeling the hurt herself, she had wanted to work with families to make their lives better. She would have been the first female in the family to earn a doctorate degree, but it was not to be. What she really needed was a doctor of the heart.

This is a moment you relive many times. Inevitably, our biology reveals the importance of family. It trumps all. Science is probably trying to fix this feeling of unbearable sadness, but is it really fixable? We who remain behind are left with guilt and many unanswered questions.

Those of us who suffer the loss of a loved one from suicide are far from alone. Every year, over 40,000 people in the United States die by suicide.

To commemorate those who have succeeded in ending their own pain and causing pain for so many, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), a nonprofit organization, sponsors its annual International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. It was held last year in the Buffalo Psychiatric Center, and I had the privilege to attend.

The AFSP logo is a life preserver, and its motto is “Out of the Darkness.” I needed both.

When I entered the packed auditorium, I didn’t know what to expect. After a lunch provided by the AFSP, we were asked to write the first name of the person we had lost on a card. The moderator of the program lit two candles. Then she extinguished one to represent the life extinguished, and she read the names one by one. There were at least 30 names. Individuals sniffled in the darkness.

We viewed the documentary, “Family Journeys.” It helped so much to hear the stories of others from diverse backgrounds. After the film, there was a panel discussion. Many in the audience had difficulty sharing their experiences. The family members of a veteran who had suffered from PTSD told of their experience. We were from diverse backgrounds, and every walk of life. This is one journey that I never thought I would be taking.

The AFSP has resources on its website, To find out more about the event held each November, email