Grief from the Other Side Episode 1: It’s OK not to be OK

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Logo from Grief from the Other Side podcastParker doesn’t set out to make grief pretty. You’ll hear in this episode of Grief from the Other Side, she doesn’t really mince words. It’s a raw grief that she shares. And she has been able to transform that in a way that leads her to be a fierce advocate for mental health access for young adults. We’re going to hear about a nonprofit that she helped found, and the public awareness campaign she brought in our community that has made a difference. We are really excited for you all to meet Parker.

Content advisory: This episode contains a detailed discussion about death by suicide and may not be suitable for children. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or go to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.

Click here to listen to “Grief from the Other Side: Stories of Hope and Resilience. Episode 1 — It’s OK to not be OK.”

Transcript:

Speaker 1:

Grief From the Other Side, where the bereavement experts at Chesapeake Life Center talk about living with loss and sharing stories of hope and resilience.

Speaker 1:

Content advisory. This episode contains a detailed discussion about death by suicide and may not be suitable for children. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Amy Stapleton:

I am Amy Stapleton, Manager of Bereavement Services at Hospice of the Chesapeake and the Chesapeake Life Center. I’m also a licensed professional counselor, one of the bereavement counselors here at the Chesapeake Life Center. And I am joined by my colleague, Tammy Turner.

Tammy Turner:

I’m Tammy Turner. I am the Community Education Manager for Hospice of the Chesapeake. My role in this podcast is to just be here and listen to these stories that we get to share and then share them with you guys. I’m really happy that we are starting off our first episode with Parker’s story. So let’s give a little, if you can Amy, a little bit about Parker, what her story is about.

Amy Stapleton:

Tammy, I am really excited for people to meet Parker through this podcast. I think instantly you’re going to feel how passionate she is as an advocate, as someone who has really been impacted by a tragic loss.

Tammy Turner:

At a young age.

Amy Stapleton:

At a young age, yeah. She was a junior in high school when one of her best friends, someone that she interacted with on a daily basis, this wasn’t just someone she saw in school, he was a huge part of her life. He took his life. And Parker lived through that experience. And the theme of that podcast is, it’s okay not to be okay.

Amy Stapleton:

And Parker didn’t set out to make grief pretty. You’ll hear in her story, she doesn’t really mince words. It’s a raw grief that she shares. And she has been able to transform that in a way that leads her to be a fierce advocate for mental health access for young adults. We’re going to hear about a nonprofit that she helped found, and just the public awareness campaign that she’s brought in our community that has made a difference in schools and churches and communities. I’m really excited for you all to meet Parker.

Tammy Turner:

Let’s take a listen.

Amy Stapleton:

Parker, I am so grateful that you’re here today-

Parker:

Yes, thank you.

Amy Stapleton:

Recording this episode with us on, It’s Okay to Not be Okay. And really when I think about a story of a young adult, of somebody who’s really worked with and transformed her grief, you are one of the people that come to mind, for sure. Let’s just go ahead and get started. Tell me a little bit about your friend Ed.

Parker:

Yeah. So me and Ed had actually got … well, we’d known each other through high school, but not really that close. Junior year we got really close. We were in two classes together, weightlifting, being I’m the only girl in that class and ASL, sign language. So we worked out together, me, him, and one or two other kids, because he was the only person that I knew that wasn’t going to lift way too heavy that I couldn’t lift it either. And then he actually hurt his shoulder from baseball. So we just talked in that class because I didn’t really want to lift with a bunch of guys and he couldn’t really lift. So we got really close because just first period every other day, just talking and hanging out in that class.

Parker:

And yeah, we just became really, really close friends. Everyone actually thought we were dating. We weren’t, but that’s how close we were. So it was almost like friends that should have dated, but we didn’t. And that’s fine, but that’s how close we were.

Amy Stapleton:

Yeah. So Ed was a huge part of your life.

Parker:

Oh yeah. My whole family knew him too. We picked him up for school and stuff. And my mom was really close with him, my sister too. So yeah. It was really a huge part.

Amy Stapleton:

And then something tragic happened.

Parker:

Yeah. So March 1st of 2019, actually, they have baseball tryouts, which I don’t know, that might’ve made him upset a little bit because he couldn’t play because of his shoulder. But he seemed like he was okay. We drove him to school and then we dropped him off at home actually. We had a two hour delay, it was snowing. And so then we dropped him off after school and then we were just texting and stuff and he was saying how life isn’t really going the way he wants it to.

Parker:

But we finally had felt like we were getting some proper help, which I thought was really good and he agreed, but he was still down about it. “I just hope that sometimes my life will get better,” stuff like that.

Parker:

And then he stopped answering, which wasn’t that shocking because he wasn’t on his phone a lot and he would get his phone taken away sometimes for not doing his homework and just random stuff like that. And then we order pizza to my house and then the doorbell rang and I thought it was pizza, but then it was the police. And they told us that he had died earlier that day, right after we dropped him off from school, about an hour after.

Amy Stapleton:

So how did you first find out that Ed died by suicide?

Parker:

The police right away said.

Speaker 1:

What is lost?

Amy Stapleton:

Prior to this, had you ever experienced a death of a friend before?

Parker:

No, my Grandfather died when I was … oh God, I don’t even remember how old, but maybe nine years ago. I was in, I want to say fifth grade, maybe. In elementary school. So, I mean, I remember him, but I don’t remember having to grieve. It was more of just he died, this is the funeral, this is the cycle of life. I didn’t know. I was sad, but it wasn’t grief, I guess. I didn’t really experience all of that because I was just so young. I didn’t really understand it. I guess I did, but not that I remember. So then this was just-

Amy Stapleton:

Just completely different.

Parker:

Yeah, I had no idea what I was going to do. It was really bad.

Amy Stapleton:

So I think your story resonates with a lot of people, especially when we grieve over someone close to our own age. We talk about often what’s lost with that person. Can you give us two or three things that you really miss and grieve about Ed.

Parker:

So one thing that I never thought … well, I never really thought about having to grieve someone my own age. But one thing that I never even thought would be legit, was being guilty for still being alive. I’m not as bad about this anymore. But for example, the week that he died, I had a school show actually Rock and Roll Revival because I was at Severna Park. And I felt so guilty even getting on stage. I was like, “He’s not here. He’s not doing this.” And it was really hard for me to get my driver’s license because he wasn’t getting his driver’s license. And just hard to not lose motivation because in my brain it was like, “If he’s not doing it, why should I be doing it? He doesn’t get to live this happy life. Why do I get to live a happy life?”

Amy Stapleton:

Almost like survivor’s guilt.

Parker:

Yeah. And it was really weird. I never thought that that would ever happen. Even like months and months after, I would be like, “I shouldn’t be happy now.” And when things would start to get better, I’d be like, “I shouldn’t be better. He died and I should not be ever being happy.” So, that was a really weird emotion.

Parker:

And going to college and graduating. He died my junior year. He was a junior too. And now I’m in college. He has no idea. Or maybe he does. I don’t really know, but he doesn’t get to go to college or graduate. And that was a really weird thing to think about.

Parker:

Another thing that I guess I miss a lot is just like spending time with him. We did so many things together. I remember we had a snow day. We had a lot of snow that year. I don’t know why. We have random snow days all the time. And my mom and I just picked him up and we just ran errands together. It wasn’t anything, but it was just fun. And he worked at Chick-fil-A and I would go to Chick-fil-A all the time and he would just give me a peppermint milkshake.

Parker:

So just little things like that. But I’ll drive by Chick-fil-A and I’m like, “He’s not going to be there. He’s not going to get to give me a Chick-fil-A milkshake or a peppermint milkshake,” or anything like that. Because those are only during the winter. So it was during that time period.

Amy Stapleton:

So you have that association with it.

Parker:

Yeah, definitely. And I pass his house driving all the time, right where we picked him up from school, dropped him off. So just weird things like that. I’m not going to stop missing it. It gets easier to drive by them and stuff, but definitely still miss all of that. And if I could experience it again, that would be the coolest thing.

Amy Stapleton:

Yeah. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

What remains?

Amy Stapleton:

So how did you untangle that feeling of, “Wow, should I be here? Because Ed’s not here,” from, “I actually want to live and I can remember him and grieve and still live.” How’d you work through that?

Parker:

Yeah, it was really hard. I got really, really depressed I would say. You knew me during that time. It was not a fun time at all. And a lot of it was because “he’s not living, why should I be living” type thing when we were so close.

Parker:

But I feel like through it all, I learned a lot of like who I really have in my life and who’s going to actually be here for me. And I lost a lot of friends through the way and stuff like that. But I always have my family. There was a certain amount of stuff that stayed consistent. Every single month I came here for grief therapy. And there was always some consistent factors and I relied on them heavily as like, “Okay, let me just get to the next grief therapy and then we’ll take it from there.” Like, “Let me just get through this week of school.”

Parker:

And then summer I go away to a camp called Woodward a lot. And that was really nice because nobody knew anything. So I could tell them, but I didn’t have to. So, that was really nice because if I didn’t want to like talk about it all the time, I didn’t have to. Nobody thought of me as like, “Oh, your friend killed himself.” It was never brought up like that. I just could be myself and that I think helped, distracted my mind a little bit.

Parker:

I also got pretty close with his guy friends, his guy friend group. I’m still friends with them today actually, which helps because they were going through something similar. So I just found who’s consistent in my life, who’s constant. And mainly, I’m the only one that’s always going to be constant in my life, and try to be like, “Okay, he would want me to be happy. He would want me to have a good life. He would want me to find these good people. So let me just slowly get out of this. I’m going to live for him if not for myself.”

Parker:

And now, I mean, I’m living for myself, I’m at a way better place. But that’s kind of where it started. If I’m not going to live for myself, I need to do it for him. He wouldn’t want me to ever be sad like that.

Amy Stapleton:

So I do remember you from those times. I remember a couple of things, that poetry was really important to you.

Parker:

Oh, yes. I still read poetry and write it.

Amy Stapleton:

And music was really important to you.

Parker:

I still have tons of playlists for grief.

Amy Stapleton:

So, yeah. What are some of the things that really helped get you through that?

Parker:

I actually love writing poetry. Button Poetry does spoken words and they really, really help just because they put how you’re feeling into like pretty language. I don’t know. You’re like, “I’m not the only one feeling this.” And then music again is the same exact way. You can just listen to it. And you’re like, “Okay, someone wrote this who was feeling some type of similar as to the way I’m feeling.”

Parker:

That’s kind of how it was like coming here to grief group, Phoenix Rising. Because although not everyone in that room had the same experience as I did, they all had a similar experience of grief. And I was like, “Wait, so many people are going through what I’m going through. This isn’t a bad way to feel. It’s just a way of feeling.” And it’s something that I could get through. And I saw some people that had gotten through it. And I was like, “Okay, I’m going to grow from this. I’m not going to be in this awful place forever.”

Amy Stapleton:

Yeah. So, you learned that grief changes, that you change, and that we all need a team. I think it’s so powerful to come together with people your own age and realize, “Hey, I’m not alone in this.”

Parker:

Oh yeah, for sure. And then I also got together a group where I started, Our Minds Matter, which was an organization or a movement that tried to shatter the stigma around mental health. The main reason I wanted to do something like that was because I really did try to find some help before he resorted to that and before he died. And the proper help wasn’t there. And no one can save every single person. But it was really hard for me to watch him cry for help and not get that. And some people can’t even reach out.

Parker:

So I just wanted it to be an easier way to find help, better resources, all of that kind of stuff. So I started a movement, Our Minds Matter with a few other people in my grade and the grade above. And we did a ton of things. And I think it actually made a lot of progress in the community. Mental health is a lot more talked about for sure in this area, at least. And we got a new counselor, we got an addict counselor in the school. They rearranged some of the budget to put more budget towards mental health. Just little things like that, that I don’t think would’ve happened if it wasn’t for people standing up and being like, “We need change. No one can die like this.”

Speaker 1:

What’s next?

Amy Stapleton:

Where does the Our Minds Matter movement go from here?

Parker:

So since we all went to college, well online, sadly, but supposed to go to college, some of the ambassadors took charge. That being said, with the pandemic, we can’t really plan many events and stuff. So it’s kind of on hold right now. We were talking about … We’ll still post some stuff on social media, but we wanted to do more events. We were doing a lot of events. We did a march and a rally. And we had a big festival, like a wellness festival with a bunch of different resources and stuff. And face painting and dogs and people were singing and stuff. And with COVID, we just don’t want to put anyone at risk and stuff. So right now we’re kind of on hold. We’re still making sure people are okay and checking in and have our resources all up on our page. But hopefully, if the virus can get a little bit more under control, they’ll take over and start planning some events. And I’m not far, even if I do move in, so I can still help with that too.

Amy Stapleton:

That’s such a tremendous resource for the community. Thank you for-

Parker:

Yeah. I really am glad that it’s helped so many people. I didn’t realize it would help so many people. Not that I didn’t do it to help people, I wanted people to like have a resource. But I was so low when I did that. And I was like, “I’m just angry. I’m just so angry that he died and that he tried so hard not to, and then still did,” that I was like, “No one can do that. No one can go through that.” And I don’t know how I did that at such a low point, but I had so many people that were supporting me and helping and all my friends that helped with it too.

Parker:

And now there’s tons of resources. Even if you just go on Our Minds Matter Instagram, there’s so many resources there for any type of help you need. And it’s definitely a good starting place if you don’t know … like, “I want to talk about it, but I’m scared.” I think it definitely helps people with that.

Amy Stapleton:

So you just named the exact reason we’re doing this podcast, which is all about resiliency. Which is how do we move through really hard things and not let them define the rest of our lives, but inform who we are, and then transform that in some way to make a difference.

Parker:

Yeah. I definitely am so much more … I don’t even know the right word, but I guess I’m just more understanding of mental health. It’s so important to me to focus on my mental health, check in on my friends, make sure that everyone is doing okay, “Does anyone need help? Are you sure you’re going to be here tomorrow?” And just stuff like that, whereas before, I didn’t really acknowledge that this many people were even struggling. I had no idea. Maybe I was living under a rock, but I feel like it was just not talked about. And now it’s so much more upfront in the forefront of everything.

Amy Stapleton:

What do you know about grief now that you didn’t know before Ed’s death?

Parker:

You can get through it. I didn’t think that I was going to. I was just so down and depressed and I was really almost scared for myself that I wasn’t going to make it through. And now I know that it is possible. No matter what you go through, you can still make it out on the other side. And that people are always there. You’ll have people that are going through the exact same thing. You’ll have people that have no idea, but you’ll have a lot of people that are also going through similar stuff as you, that you can talk to. And they can understand where you’re coming from. And they can relate in a sense of like they’re feeling the same way. It’s not a strange feeling. It’s a real feeling and you’re allowed to feel like that.

Parker:

And I just didn’t even know that would even exist before. So I’m very glad that I know now that it’s possible because unfortunately, everyone does die. So now I know if it ever was to happen again, I got through it and I can again. And I definitely am still grieving and I think I will be for a while, but I’ve grown a lot from it. I know how to handle myself. I know how to go out of my house and not cry every single time I pass Chick-Fil-A or just contain my feelings and express them in a healthy way that I didn’t know that I could do that before.

Amy Stapleton:

You just use the word real. And I think that describes you so well, that you’re real. That really what you’ve tried to do is take away some of the stigma and shame about mental health and really advocate for people to have resources and places to talk about their darkest times and what’s needed. And I think from what I know of you, your contributions in this way are just beginning.

Parker:

I just remember, right after he died, I got probably a hundred texts. Just like, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. What do you need? I’m here for you.” It was almost overwhelming. I’m so glad that I had them, but it was that many texts that I was like, “I don’t even know how to answer this.” And I just remember being like, “This is not normal. No one feels like this. I’m so alone. All these people want to help me, but they don’t even know what I’m going through.” And I thought that what I was feeling was not okay. I was like, “This is not normal for me to be this sad.” At the time I had known no one that had gone through something like this. And even been this sad over a death. My mom was obviously sad when my grandfather died, but I never had experienced it like that. So I was like, “This is so not normal.” And now I’m like, “That’s completely real emotions.” You’re not supposed to feel any way, but you’re allowed to. And it is definitely real. And I did not think of that before.

Amy Stapleton:

I remember you coming in and you saying, “I am not okay. This is not okay.” And just really kind of allowing yourself to feel that instead of putting it in this nice tidy little box and pretending.

Parker:

Yeah. And I did do that for a while. I pretended like everything was fine. Like I said, I was in a show that week, so I had to put on some makeup and get on stage and pretend like everything was completely fine as if he was not supposed to be in the audience. And finally, I was like, “I can’t do this. I cannot live this way. I’m not even acknowledging what’s happening. And I don’t even feel like I’m in my body. What is going on? This is not who I am.”

Parker:

And then I finally was like, “I need to let myself feel. This is horrible, this sucks. And it’s not okay. But I have so many people that want to help me and advocating for people to get help. I need to do get help myself.” And it definitely did help. And I don’t feel like that anymore. And I still have hard feelings and it’s still not easy, but I know how to acknowledge them healthily.

Amy Stapleton:

Well, it’s always so good to see you and to watch you rise. The name of Phoenix Rising, the Phoenix is the bird that’s transformed. It rises from the ashes. So when you think about yourself rising from this grief or being changed the rest of your life by this loss, where do you see yourself going next?

Parker:

Well, I just actually declared a second major in family and human services. So I hope to continue to help people with this and be able to share my story. I found a lot of help when other people told me what they were going through. So I hope that me expressing what I’m going through and what I did go through and what I made it out alive through is helping other people, knowing that I can do this, I can get through this. So I just hope to keep helping people. I don’t want anyone to have to feel like what they’re feeling is not okay and completely wrong. Even if you’re not okay, it’s still okay to feel like that. And I don’t want people to think they’re just stuck in this isolation of, “I have to be perfect. And I don’t feel like that.”

Parker:

I want people to be able to express that. So I hope to just keep helping people and making a change in the world. The suicide rate is so high. It’s so incredibly high. The fact that I only know one person that died from suicide is like, I’m lucky. And I don’t want people to ever have to go through what I did. So I hope that I can help with that stigma and change it.

Amy Stapleton:

Thank you.

Parker:

Of course, thank you.

Amy Stapleton:

No doubt you’re helping people here and now, and will continue to do so in the future. So thanks for coming in today. It’s always good to see you.

Parker:

Thank you.

Amy Stapleton:

Talk to you soon.

Parker:

Yes. Thank you.

Tammy Turner:

So Parker really talks about it’s okay to not be okay.

Amy Stapleton:

Yeah. I think Parker gives us all permission to grieve, not to just make it look good, not to just put on a mask and pretend that we’re okay when we’re not. Parker brings, as you heard in her story, just a realness to this conversation. And so I hope it opens the space for other young adults to realize they don’t have to be alone in their shame, in their isolation, even maybe any stigma they hold around their grief or getting help, that help is out there. And in fact, it’s because of people like Parker that it’s more accessible, that it’s found on school campuses, that it’s available in our community. And I’m really glad that Parker is carrying that message forward.

Tammy Turner:

Yeah, that’s a real gift. An absolute gift.

Speaker 1:

Grief From the Other Side podcast is made possible thanks to the generous support from the John and Cathy Belcher Institute. For more information on grief and loss services, visit chesapeakelifecenter.org, or call 888-501-7077.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or go to https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.

Other resources that can help include:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: https://afsp.org/

American Association for Suicidology: https://suicidology.org/

Alliance of Hope (for suicide loss survivors): https://allianceofhope.org/

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