It seems almost crazy to believe the first half of 2019 is almost behind us. In many ways, it feels as though the year has been flying by. Our amazing organization now stands at 70 members, with more than 50 in attendance at Elevate each and every month. Our fourth annual women's retreat is scheduled for November 8-10th, and we only have 9 spots left! Somehow that feels so surreal to write, for an event that is still close to five months away. I remember a year ago, finding myself in a state of panic, with more than half of the spots to fill. I'm so humbled to know these events are more than just fun and games; they are touching hearts and creating ripples of change and legacy.
But in the midst of these celebrations and excitement, I want to pause.
Although 2019 has been a year of so many incredible blessings, it's also been sprinkled with tragedy and loss.
In my own personal life, I lost a dear friend to suicide in January. Her name was Caitlin Staten, and she was someone I had worked with many years prior in the insurance world. I had the pleasure of training her and teaching her as much knowledge as I could in the short few years we shared an office. I remember spending a few of our lunch breaks with her at her apartment, showing her how to make pot roast in the crockpot, and her teaching me how to use a flat iron to straighten my crazy curly hair, (a trait we shared and despised at times.) When I found out Caitlin had died, my heart broke into a million pieces. Every conversation, every text, every memory came rolling back. I could see her gorgeous smile every time I closed my eyes, and picture her twirling the ends of her hair as she told me about her dogs. I was devastated to learn she died by suicide. I can't possibly imagine the amount of pain or despair she must have been feeling in that moment, so overpowering and overwhelming. A dear friend of mine uses the phrase, 'in that moment she forgot how much she was loved.'
Sitting in Caitlin's memorial service was somber and heavy. Her family and friends did such an amazing job of talking about her and even the delicate issue of suicide. They remembered her for who she truly was, and challenged us all to remember her that way. Story after story was shared of Caitlin's incredible heart for animals and people. She used to give food and money (and more) to the 'bums' on the side of the road, one friend lovingly shared at her funeral. She also spent hours and hours behind the wheel, transporting rescue dogs, and saving others along the way. She showed up for those who couldn't show up for themselves.
Less than 10 days after that memorial service, tragedy struck again. This time it was the death of our Heart Sister and board member, Shelley Storm. She also died by suicide, and once again my heart broke into a million pieces. Shelley was the friend who showed up to everyone's events and birthdays and always brought a gift. She volunteered to help setup or cleanup for events, and she would send texts just to encourage me and tell me what a wonderful job I was doing. She also selflessly gave her time and energy to CASA - an amazing and somewhat thankless volunteer position to help kids in the court system who often had no one else to protect them. She was their voice.
Were there signs we had missed? Was I not a good enough friend to see this coming? Is this an epidemic? Two suicides within 30 days was enough for me to realize this is a silent disease and it needs to be talked about. Depression and anxiety is running rampant in our world and circles. No one feels safe to share they are having suicidal thoughts, and so they don't open up. And then the rest of us are left behind, wondering how we missed it.
It's time to change the conversations.
If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, you need to feel safe enough to open up. If your family doesn't want to hear it, or your spouse isn't able to help, reach out to someone who can.
Reach out to me. I'm listening. I see you. I hear you. I will not judge you. I will not hurt you. I will support you. But you have to let me in.
This was originally going to be a post to remember these two sisters I've lost and miss dearly. I hope I've done that, but I also hope I've planted a seed in those who need it. Know that you are here for a reason. You matter. Your story matters. Your story isn't over yet. Stick around and find me - I want to hear it.
One thing that both Caitlin and Shelley had in common is that they had huge hearts and volunteered to serve those without voices. They immersed themselves in a world of darkness to save others and dig them out of it. But somehow they ended up being unable to dig themselves out of that darkness.
So I guess that's my call to action for this post. Check on your friends, especially the strong ones who show up for everyone else. Check on the ones who volunteer at the local shelter, or rescue all of those stranded pups and cats. Check on the friend who is always there for you, but suddenly has retreated into her home and avoids the calls. Check on her. Call her. Text her. Tell her how much she means to you. Send her a handwritten note.
Social media tricks us into thinking we are all connected, but I think it's making things worse. Get out of your house or office and go meet your friends for coffee or lunch. Let us all remember nothing beats human connection.
Do it for your heart. Do it for your sister's heart.
Do it for Caitlin and for Shelley.