My name is Cassandra and I am a suicide loss survivor, having lost my brother in August 2011.

In the beginning after my brother’s death…

Every minute was a struggle to continue. I never knew how I would make it to the next minute, let alone next day, or God-forbid the next year. Looking back on those early moments I remember how much strength it took to just “be.” Because I was only capable of that and nothing more. I was lost in my grief for him where each breath seemed like a miracle because the pain of losing him was so all-consuming.

A few moments of hope stand out and are so ingrained into my memory from the first couple of months after my brother’s suicide, but of those few, there is one I will never forget:

Two months after my brother’s death…

My parents and I attended our first suicide survivor event, a walk hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, it was still hard to get out of bed every morning to go to work, let alone on one of the few Saturdays I had off. It was a beautiful, sunny day and my mood was so incongruent to the weather. Plus I figured the walk would be a celebration of the lives lived and if you can’t tell already, that was not something I was even close to being emotionally ready for! Still, I went. I think I was intending to support my parents more than anything during this experience.

The walk was what I was expecting, mostly happy faces and warm, welcoming greetings as we walked to raise awareness. Some teams had created shirts with sayings and pictures of their loved ones who had passed. Other people carried signs. We all wore beaded necklaces, the different colors representing different relationships (e.g., sibling loss is orange). I held it together so well. I looked like everyone else, smiling and pretending like I was just as fine as everyone else. It was a positive experience, even if I was not quite at a place in my grief journey to really appreciate it.

At the end of the walk, they held a rose ceremony. We were all seated in this large outdoor amphitheater. At the beginning of the ceremony, they asked for the people who lost someone in the last three days stand up. I looked around and there were a handful of people standing. My heart broke seeing them. I knew what those first few days after my brother died were like for me. There was no way I would have had the interest, let alone the strength it probably took for them to come so soon after their loved one’s death.

Then they asked for the people who lost someone in the last week to stand up. Some people stood. They continued on as more people stood with each time frame listed: two weeks, a month, three months, six months, a year, five years, ten years…

I looked around as people continued to stand for each time marker called. It finally hit me.

For the first time since my brother died, I had hope. We were not alone in this tragic experience. There are other people out there who understood. They understood how much someone dying by suicide changes the lives of everyone around them. It may seem like a strange place to find hope, seeing all of these people, most of whom are openly crying as they remember their loved one in this beautiful tribute. And yet, hope was there. I had hope that my life doesn’t end with my brother’s, no matter how much it currently felt like it did. Hope that I too can make it to three months, one year, five years, even TEN YEARS!

Now it’s been 7 1/2 years since my brother died by suicide…

Now at 7 1/2 years it’s been too many days to count each individual one, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t missed with each passing moment. I’m not sure when I stopped counting each individual day. The first year I still took it breath by breath, then moment by moment. But eventually I wasn’t counting every day as another day without my brother. It wasn’t easy. No one who has lost someone by suicide will ever tell you it’s easy. It is the hardest thing I have ever gone through in my life. And I am still going through it.

There are still some days where I am angry that he is gone. I still cry and I still grieve. I will grieve for the rest of my life because I loved my brother. Eric was in many ways my best friend. He was my confidante. He was my protector. I will always love him, so there will never be a time that I will “be over” his death. But most days I can look back on memories of my brother and smile or laugh. I have hope.

If you are someone you care about are struggling with suicidal thoughts please get help. 911 | 1-800-273-8255 | text “4hope” to 741741