Carol Stiers-Zito was the center of the universe; at least she was to me. My wife's sudden and unexpected death left a devastating void in my life and the life of our daughter. The last seven years have been an obstacle course of grief, second guessing and self-doubt intertwined with a constant search to extract something positive or affirming from the tragedy.
She had been a highly decorated police officer and investigator for nearly 20 years. She was an accomplished musician, homemaker and most importantly, a devoted mother to our five-year-old. She was a unique woman who could spend a day on a horrific crime scene or on an undercover assignment and still come home and be mother, wife and homemaker.
She probably never imagined the unilateral damage she would cause in 2006, her final thoughts and fears scribbled hastily on yellow post-it notes. The impact was crippling, the loss so deep, I could not see forward to a time of normalcy.
The truth about how Carol died would remain a closely guarded secret from all but a few within a tight inner circle. The years of grief were overshadowed by the fear of my daughter and those around us learning the truth. No doubt over time word of what had actually happened would spread, but it seemed each person who knew did their best to protect those who could be hurt.
More than five years would pass before I felt it time to open up to my daughter about how we lost her mother. She took the revelation as only I could expect from a young woman forced to grow up too fast. Each day now brings the plusses and the minuses and we learn to take the good with the bad. Things will never be what they once were ... but I have found that they can improve from what they have been.
As I was now far less fearful of any revelations, I turned to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and International Survivors of Suicide Day. I did so to find a way to give, to teach and to help others and myself heal, grow and venture forward. Getting involved and meeting those who have lived with the challenges and encountered some of the same experiences can forge new paths or help reopen some that had long since been abandoned.
There is no getting over the loss; you simply learn to live with it as you make your way. I have made more than a few bad decisions since then and have taken a few wrong turns along the way but somehow I always find myself putting things back on track. With the right outlook and the right support, you learn to be optimistic. I have certainly found that support among other survivors.
Every year, survivors of suicide loss gather together in locations around the world to feel a sense of community, to promote healing and to grieve for their loved ones with those who have had similar experiences. To learn more and to watch programs from this and previous years, visit American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's website: afsp.org/survivorday.