In the nearly 20 years since my father's suicide, one fact stands clear: Stigma and secrets are not our friends.

Scared others would consider her a bad wife who drove him to this impulsive act, my mother told people he’d suffered a heart attack. By obscuring his cause of death and associated mental illness, our family embarked on a silent, troubled journey as we tried to ignore away reality.

Over time, the grief became less raw, even manageable. However, without the necessary support and fundamental understanding that we weren’t solitary in this experience, we never truly dealt with the trauma. Like the malunion of a fractured bone, we remain improperly mended.

Still, I do not blame my mother. Her reaction is merely evidence of those times. The shame surrounding suicide pushed people to silence. While stigma continues, people are more willing to talk about suicide, including me.

On Nov. 18, I'll be attending Helena’s Survivors of Suicide Loss Day at the Capitol building. An American Foundation for Suicide Prevention event, it gives people the chance to meet with other survivors to share stories, find hope and heal together.

If you’ve lost someone to suicide, I hope to see you there.

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Jess Hegstrom

AmeriCorps VISTA, Suicide Prevention, East Helena Public Schools

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