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Burn The Cloak Of Shame

Recently a friend invited me over to share a glass of wine and catch up on life.   We had returned to her home after enjoying lunch at a local cafe feasting on southern style meat and 3 and our sweet tea all while sitting outside breathing in the sweet Tennessee air.  I am not sure we stopped talking from the moment we saw one another.  It was one of the most uplifting and somehow spiritual conversations I have had in a long time.  We spoke of the struggles a mutual friend of ours deals with from the suicide of her child.  That turned the conversation to the cloak of shame conversation.   As if it was Jared showing up to join in, a bird flew up and sat near us on the step, then in the tree next to us, followed by my 3 birds soaring high above.  Birds are, and have been, my spiritual connection to Jared since he passed.  My friend shared how she can't believe the way some people still react to us and how people's fear of suicide makes them act in rude and unnatural behaviors. 

I can't believe Jared will be gone 2 years tomorrow.  At times it is like I lost him yesterday, and other times it feels like forever. 

I looked back and I realized that each time someone has tried to put the cloak of shame on me (as if I am wearing the scarlet letter ) I have refused to put it on.  In some cases, I think I have put it on them, for shame on them for trying to make me be ashamed of my H&!! you will.  Maybe I have not allowed this because I acknowledge the only way to stop suicide is to talk about it and let people know there is a support system. 

For as long as I can remember, I would hear adults talk about suicide and everyone would chime in on the "why did it happen" theories.  You know what I am talking about.  Husband cheating, wife cheating, money problems, criminal problems, losing their house, blah blah.  What I have learned is that we are an instant, fix it now, generation.  If I can't find the answer on Google, I don't need it.  Remember the days you had to go to a library and use the card catalog to look stuff up?  WATCH IT, I AM NOT THAT OLD!  Seriously, that wasn't long ago.  If you haven't walked into a school library recently, you might just be shocked.  In fact, I walked into the "library" at my Alma Mater and it was now a lunch room.  No books, just tables and vending machines.  The librarians desk is used to house the popcorn machine.  Anyway, we want it now.  Remember when you were a child and you got hurt?  We weren't rushed to the ER our parents washed us off, wrapped it up, and kissed our booboo and off we went again. I still have scars to prove it.  Other times the solution was to rub dirt in it and keep going.  Dr Mom always had the answer.  Windows were open, so were front doors, and kids bounced between houses getting goodies along the way.  Candy from one, ice pop from the next, glass of Kool Aide from another.  Over the years, we have all learned to isolate ourselves.  Don't believe me?  Are your doors and windows open and can you hear nature?  Or are they sealed up tightly with your air conditioner running because you are hot?  Do you talk to people in person or do you text and chat online?  Do you sit on your front porch and visit with neighbors and family or in your LaZboy?  

Well most likely you sit in your house with your AC on high chatting with people electronically.  The right now approach.  After all, visiting would require planning of some kind, traveling for someone, and undivided attention.  

Well with suicide, there are no right here, right now answers.  Not when you are doing all you can to save a life.  Not when you are picking up the pieces left behind.  Not anytime.  Not about any part of it. It is a multi layer issue.  That is why most people want to look the other way rather than tackle the issue.  It is like trying to capture a cloud for most of us.  Just when you think you will capture it, it changes form, and it is impossible to capture.  Just as no two clouds are the same, neither are suicides.  

Suicide does not mean the person lost was not loved, or did not give love.  In fact, it is quite the reverse.  They often are surrounded by so much love and give so much love, that it is incomprehensible when they are lost to suicide.  How can that be?  They were such a happy person.  They were so loved.  Suicide has NOTHING to do with amount or lack of love, it is far deeper than that.

Suicide is a method of death.  Equal to all other forms of death.  What does separate it is it carries a HUGE stigma.  A stigma that is at times enlarged by culture, by color, by age, by socioeconomic class, by profession, just to name a few.  I live in the Caribbean and I have found that both culturally and in the black community, suicide carries a larger stigma than in the white community.  It carries a larger stigma than those in the Latino community but, the Latino's here have a larger one than whites.  I have become close friends with a black lady here who lost her son a few years ago.  He was off at college in the states when he took his life.  She struggles because of the stigma associated from multiple directions.  She fights back each time someone tries to put that cloak of shame on her.

There is nothing to be ashamed of.  My child struggled with a disease that we could not find the root of.  A disease that was being treated.  He was a great kid/young adult.  Why should I be ashamed?  I should be ashamed because of their lack of education on the subject?  I should be ashamed because they are uncomfortable saying the words?  

So just try to put that cloak of shame on me again.  I will remove it from my shoulders each and every time.  I will give it back to you, or burn it - be prepared.  I have enough weight to carry everyday in my grief, I don't need unnecessary weight from a stupid cloak.  

So if you happen to be around when the cloak of shame is given to someone.....stand with them as they refuse it.  If they are struggling, help them take it off.  

Last week, because a group of teens in Tennessee refused to wear the cloak of shame something great happened.  A bill was signed into law.  A bill that mandates more training for schools and now requires every employee of the school be trained in suicide prevention, intervention, and post-vention.  Schools must also have policies and procedures in place for when a student reaches out for help or when an intervention needs to take place or for the wake of the aftermath.  This bill strengthened the Jason Flatt Act and was named Jared's Law #JaredsLaw.  Nashville took to supporting the law and lit a downtown bridge up red on Friday night of CMA fest, ironically Chris Stapleton was performing that night and had just received an award for his suicide awareness song, Fire Away.  

No matter the cause of death, I hope you never allow the cloak to be worn by anyone, ever again. #burnthecloak.


Below is Governor Bill Haslam seated with Senator Kerry Roberts, AFSP Shannon Hall, TSPN Misty Leitsch, TSPN Executive Director Scott Ridgway, Jared's Keepers Student Ambassador Cameron Eanes, Jared's Keepers co-founder and Director of Student Outreach Kelsey Neeley, Mrs Dianne Roberts, Representative Mary Littleton

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About the Author

Deb is a survivor of suicide loss. She lost her 17 year old son, Jared, to suicide in June 2014. Since that time she has become an advocate for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and founded Jared's Keepers Foundation, Inc, a non-profit suicide awareness and prevention organization reaching the youth community. She has become an active speaker and enjoys her time reaching students in middle schools, high schools, as well as colleges. She also has spoken to community groups, Fire Departments, Police Departments, Ambulance Departments and other organizations on how to safely talk about suicide to those left behind and the community in general.

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