One year ago today, I looked in my younger brother’s eyes before departing on his trek to St. Simons Island, Georgia to visit our parents, and said “Mills, I love you. I’m glad you’re my brother and I want you to stay strong and remember that we all love you and will continue to find ways to help your psychological struggles so you can find peace. Have a safe trip, soak up lots of love from mom and dad and I look forward to your return.”
Mills looked at me and said, “I love you too, Anna.” But what his eyes were really telling me was goodbye.
Just 30 hours later on October 19, 2009, my father’s good friend arrived at my door step to deliver a message that I never wanted to hear. My little brother, the jokester, charming, handsome, good natured fellow and my best friend had indeed ENDED his life ON THIS EARTH. In a blink of an eye, my life was never going to be the same, and today my life is forever changed.
My experience as a suicide survivor has been an emotional rollercoaster ride, and I must remember that as impossible as this journey may seem right now, I know I will survive this, too. Mills’s pain is over and now it’s time to start healing mine. Every day has been a constant struggle to enjoy the same things and to find peace within myself as my life allowed before his death.
Recently I was asked, “What do you think when you look at this photo of your brother?” My immediate response was “I think about how many other people are struggling with severe depression and suicidal thoughts, and HOW THEY believe just as my brother did, that there’s no other way out, NO FUTURE, NO VISION OF GETTING WELL than ENDING their life ON EARTH. I wonder what it will take to cease the number of suicides…especially among our
Following that question was a question that caused significant pause, almost leaving me speechless. “Anna, what do you feel when you look at this photo of your brother?” I couldn’t find an answer. I realized that even after one year of grieving my brother, that I was still numb. His death is still raw. One year later, I have yet to find peace amongst the emotional turmoil and I’m still struggling with the ability to just simply FEEL…FEEL SOMETHING. To me, the grieving process of a survivor of suicide requires learning how to FEEL again, not feel better, but to just FEEL.
Through my grieving process I’ve learned that metaphors are a great way to describe what’s going on inside of me. Metaphors have helped me discover my emotions and thoughts of my own, but more importantly, have also helped me express my stage of grief to others. I’ve learned that each day is a new day and simply getting out of bed and brushing my teeth is a success. I’ve learned to remind myself that it is okay to cry, to get in my car and yell at the top of my lungs, and I’ve learned that it’s also okay to laugh. And most of all, I’ve learned that if I don’t keep post-it notes on my walls and on the dashboard of my car to remind me “Anna, remember to take care of yourself today,” that I will not remember to practice self care.
Through this tough, unique, unexpected and chaotic journey…I’ve made the choice to channel my grief into positivity. I’ve learned that the best way for me to heal is to talk about my experience and brother, Mills to all who will listen. I’ve chosen to be an advocate for suicide prevention. I’ve chosen to establish, Hidden Wounds, an organization whose mission is to provide greater psychological counseling for veterans and military personnel in need. In this capacity, I’ve made it my privilege to honor the many who have served our nation while creating a legacy for Marine, Corporal Mills Palmer Bigham.
Our mother, Margaret Ann Palmer always said, “Mills is a gift from God.” Through all the joys while living, and through all the emotional turmoil after death, my mother’s words have become a greater reality than ever before. Mills is a gift from God, he was while on Earth, and his death to heaven is too, a gift from God today. His death was not in pain, and I am reminded of that everyday through Hidden Wounds.
Remember survivors, it’s never too early to start healing. Remember, the stigma surrounding mental health treatment and suicide will not cease without shouting loudly your reasons through personal experience for it to stop. Remember that you didn’t choose suicide…it chose you. And when the “Why’s” become too strong, allow yourself to find a lighthouse to lead you to a safe place where you can allow the “How’s” to be easy.