American Association of Suicidology Feature
We were featured in the American Association of Suicidology – read our article below and visit their website.
His Last Becomes My First
by Jade Ashley Chamness
Sometimes I imagine what life would be like if my daddy was alive. I imagine in the summers I would return to my hometown of Eugene, Oregon, for a long weekend. I imagine my daddy and I would spend our mornings in his gorgeous drift boat, riding down the McKenzie River, taking turns paddling through rapids and reeling in colorful salmon. In the winters we would sit on chairlifts on the ski slopes like we used to. My daddy telling me his ridiculous jokes, his head thrown back in laughter at his own punchlines.
But it’s only in my imagination. That is not what my life is like. My daddy died by suicide.
His death changed my life forever. My picturesque family was ripped apart. Nine years ago I had a beautiful, simple life. When I was little, my daddy would come home every night at 5:15. My little sister and I would jump onto the kitchen counter and chat about our days while he stole extra thick slices of cheddar off the block my mom lovingly tried to keep from him “because it’s for lunchtime sandwiches.”
I remember those simple moments vaguely but remember the moment quite vividly. The moment came in July 2001. I was 17 years old and standing at a white, cracked porcelain sink, innocently brushing my teeth. I was on a youth trip, surrounded by friends, when one of the trip leaders burst in. Her face was red and she was out of breath.
She told me to call home immediately. I figured my dog Boo Boo had died or my house had been broken into. I knew something sad had happened, but I thought it was something normal sad. Everyday sad. I called and my daddy’s father, Grandad, answered. I remember his voice like it was yesterday; he sounded really sad and tremendously exhausted. I had never heard him like that before, and I knew at that moment Boo Boo hadn’t died, and that my house was just fine.
“I love you. You are my princess and I love you so, so much,” said Grandad. Then came the words: “Your father took his own life.” Leaning against the fake wood wall with the corded phone smashed against my face, my beautiful, simple life changed forever. I was in shock. I didn’t understand. I couldn’t understand. I crumpled to the floor, my lungs without air, my blond hair protecting my eyes from a world I dreaded. A world without my daddy. Life had changed forever.
I didn’t think I’d ever be able to rebuild my life, to live in any kind of peace and happiness without him.
Over the weeks and months and years following my daddy’s suicide, I found what I wanted most was to be around people who knew my pain. I wanted a way to meet other teens who had lost someone they love to suicide. I wanted help and support and a chance to be happy again. Being around other kids who had experienced a loss by suicide, who could understand my mood swings, my anger and confusion. Kids whose families were torn apart just like mine, would have made me feel so much less alone. I wanted to be around other kids that I could help and who could help me. That would have made me feel like I had some control over my world again.
It was hard to find comfort with even my closest friends. Now there was something that separated us, something I was living through, that they couldn’t understand. I desperately wanted to know other teens who could understand how much I missed that beautiful, simple life.
In 2009, I decided to start the organization that that 17-year-old girl had been searching for. Now into our second year, Break Through the Static is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and exclusively dedicated to supporting teenagers who have lost a loved one to suicide.
In the fall of 2010, we will start creating an extraordinary and essential community of teens affected by suicide with the launch of our network of support groups, retreats and camps for Bay Area high schoolers. It is our hope through Break Through the Static programs, our teenagers will 1) connect to a supportive and continuous community, 2) learn to better identify their feelings and cope with them positively and, 3) learn a language to communicate about the suicide, their grief and learn how to better relate to others. Our goal is to give them hope for the beautiful future people like you and I know they can have.
I have refused to let this tragedy ruin me. I have refused to let it define me, confine me, restrict me. I’ve taken the trigger that started the worst experience of my life and allowed it to trigger a determination to help others. I am dedicated to creating something our world so desperately needs– a community for teenagers. Teenagers who have lost their daddies, their girlfriends, their brothers, and their friends to suicide.
I will not allow my dad’s decision to end his life to be the last word. Rather, it is now the first word in the new story of my life.
Now I imagine what life will be like for a 16-year-old boy who lost his girlfriend to suicide as he snowboards and shares stories with a teen who has just lost his best friend. I imagine what life will be like for an adult woman who lost her husband to suicide as she leads a local support group for high school students. I imagine people with unique grief finding community with those who have trudged through the same muddy tragedies and found peace.
Break Through the Static will make this a reality. But we need your help. Take out a pen and paper, and write down the name of a teen you know who has lost a loved one to suicide. Now imagine the happiness and peace they could discover if they had the support they need. You can help us bring grins to their faces and peace to their hearts. Help us tell the world about our organization. Share our website (www.breakthroughthestatic.org) and our vision with colleagues, doctors, therapists, friends, and teenagers. With your help we will make a difference and change the way people think and talk about suicide.
Now I’d like to ask you to imagine something. Imagine my daddy beaming with pride as he watches me turn my pain from losing him into something so good. Imagine him realizing he gave his life for a purpose– so I could suffer, hurt and come to realize how I can help so many people who are hurting.
Use your imagination. This is only the beginning.
About the Author: Jade Ashley Chamness lives in San Francisco, California. When not pouring her energy and attention into Break Through the Static, she enjoys snowboarding, eating extra thick slices of cheddar cheese, and daydreaming about travel.