A registered nurse, Linda Steiner Schiers was attending a class about bereavement of newborns when she received a devastating phone call that changed her life.
On September 28, 2011, her daughter, Andrea, leaped from the 468-foot-high Perrine Bridge into the Snake River at Twin Falls, Idaho. A psychosocial rehabilitation worker, Andrea did not fit the profile of someone at risk of suicide.
“She was 28, happily married with two beautiful children, and appeared to have a full, rewarding and happy life,” said Schiers, a labor and delivery nurse at a hospital in the Burley, Idaho area. “For work, I was attending a maternal/newborn conference in Salt Lake City when I got the news of her suicide. Ironically, the conference included a section about bereavement.”
Working as a health professional, Schiers was familiar with the five stages of grief. Still, she said working through those stages was immensely difficult and painful emotionally and physically.
“Her suicide ripped a hole in my heart, and I knew I would never be the same,” Schiers said. “I felt pain in the pit of my stomach and remember telling my husband, ‘I really hate how this is making me feel. I don’t want to feel like this for the rest of my life.’ I had to find a new normal me and a way to move forward without Andrea and live a happy and productive life.”
Schiers said she hopes sharing her journey will help others in similar circumstances.
“Although grief never ever ends, over time you begin to find hope again, acceptance, and peace in the loss of your loved one,” she said. “I chose to move forward and turn tragedy into something more positive and to go on living.”
Knowing she could not accomplish those goals alone, Schiers met with a grief counselor, who told her she needed to embrace several ideas.
“First, you will never, ever have all the answers as to the why questions surrounding death. If you continue to dig for all the unanswered questions, you will only dig a hole deeper than the one you’re already in. Secondly, you must forgive yourself and not think you could have prevented it. Finally, never be afraid to show your emotions.”
Instead of wondering why, Schiers sought understanding and researched anxiety and brain chemistry.
“I realized Andrea’s perfectionist personality and stress anxiety disorder overwhelmed her.”
As Schiers navigated the stages of grief, she kept remembering a dragonfly ring her daughter wore.
“While dressing Andrea for her funeral, we noticed the ring on her right hand. She bought it with one of her closest friends on a road trip the summer before she passed away and often spoke of how much it meant to her.”
Schiers said she realized Andrea’s life and death reminded her of how a dragonfly transforms from a nymph into a glorious, powerful creature with beautiful wings. With that in mind, in 2012 Schiers and her remaining children established the Dragonfly Hope Foundation. Their goals are to increase suicide awareness, promote prevention, and to provide hope and healing to survivors of suicide loss.
Every September, Schiers and her family organize Kayak for Hope at Centennial Waterfront Park along the Snake River where Andrea perished. The event is a tribute to her life and raises money for local scholarships.
“Her death here doesn’t define this as a tragic or bad place,” Schiers said. “It’s cathartic and healing to be here. Her kids say, ‘Mommy knows we’re here.’ We always see so many dragonflies, as if part of her is there with us.”
Schiers said she hopes telling Andrea’s story face-to-face and through social networking, including the foundation’s Facebook page, will help prevent suicides. She faces a formidable task, considering Idaho and Montana have high suicide rates.
In Montana, 29 suicides occur for every 100,000 people, the highest rate in the nation, according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Idaho has about 25 suicides per 100,000 people.
More than half of those who died by suicide had not been diagnosed with a mental health condition, according to the CDC report. People who call a suicide hotline mostly attribute their despondency to finances, deteriorating mental and physical health, chemical addiction, or emotionally painful relationships.
If Schiers could talk to someone with suicidal thoughts, what would she say?
“Don’t ever give up. Ask for help from professionals, family or friends. Remember, when you’re at your lowest low, there is nowhere to go but up.”
Schiers said it is comforting to think of what a suicide victim would tell family and friends.
“Instead of focusing on the last few minutes of my death, remember me for all the years we had together—my smile, my favorite food, my favorite hobby, and all the fun times we had. Things will work out, I’ll be okay. You can make it. Just try. One day at a time. And if that is too hard, try one hour at a time. Remember, there is always help, and there is always hope.”
If you or someone you know are contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to receive free and confidential support. MSN