I felt alone and depleted when my dad took his own life on May 2, 2003. I went to counseling once a week and read books about grief and loss. My four-year-old son started a tradition; before bedtime, we say prayers and send “kisses to Grampy in heaven.”
After my dad died, friends were at my parents’ home within 48 hours mowing the lawn, cleaning the house and bringing food. It was surreal. About a year later, I had lots of questions: “Why could my family not have prevented my dad’s death?” “How could I get out of the terrible state of grief I was in?” And, “How could my family and I make a difference for other families dealing with depression?”
I believe that one of the reasons that my dad got into such a deep hole of depression is that he lost his connections with the community. He was trying to tackle health and business challenges all by himself. Despite our close family, my dad often isolated himself and put on a mask made more convincing by frequent joking. This did not happen overnight. Even in 2000, I was worried about my dad. I bought him Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam. The concepts in this book about people’s increasing independence and the ensuing problems struck a cord.
My sister, Meghan, and I didn’t want people bowling alone; we wanted people bowling together—literally and figuratively.
We determined that the event in honor of my dad would benefit the Suicide Resource Center and Loveland Counseling Connections, a program of Larimer Center for Mental Health. My brother-in-law and husband co-designed a special Bowl for Life logo. Eleven people came together to launch Bowl for Life, an informal, family event in memory of my dad and every person who has lost the battle with depression.
We are in the process of planning our fifth annual event in September 2008. Through Bowl for Life, participants support suicide prevention for youth and adults in need. This is necessary anywhere, but especially in Colorado which has the sixth-highest rate of suicide in the nation.
I would be lying if I said holding Bowl for Life was easy. Talking about mental illness is hard and some people are made visibly uncomfortable by the topic. Telling my dad’s story reveals so much that is private. But nothing will change in our society unless we directly address tough issues. Without forums, I believe that people will continue to sweep depression under the rug. It is much better to be part of the solution than a contributor to the problem!
I am sharing my story here because I believe that community involvement makes a positive difference. My own healing is more complete by honoring my dad and working to affect change. Anyone can be a CHANGE MAKER. Whether losing a loved one to a car accident, cancer or suicide, partner with a nonprofit organization to help them raise money.