Sept. 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. A little more than two years ago, I lost my daughter to suicide. It was tragic, traumatic and haunting. Shortly after her passing, a colleague reached out to me. During our conversation he shared a poignant quote from the late Yale University psychiatrist, Hans Loewald: “The task of a healthy life is to turn ghosts into ancestors and resentments into regrets.”
At the time, I was in no frame of mind to grasp the meaning of those words. I still was shocked, angry and depressed. A few months later I addressed a conference, sharing the podium with that colleague. During his presentation, he repeated the quote and I heard it for the first time.
I was haunted by the ghost of my daughter. I saw, heard and experienced it at every turn. It kept me awake at night and disrupted my concentration during the day. Moreover, the ghost was fueled by my resentments of people who should have helped, things not done, words never said.
I examined Loewald’s work more deeply. He said ghosts “long to be released from their ghost life and led to rest as ancestors. As ancestors they live forth in the present generation, while as ghosts they are compelled to haunt the present generation with their shadow life.”
That’s when it clicked. As a survivor, my task is to lay my daughter’s ghost to rest, to help her live forth by honoring her memory, celebrating her life and carrying out her work.
I recalled meetings with a gifted grief counselor who shared with me the need to let go of my resentments, to let go of my obsession with what I, or anyone else, might have done to prevent my daughter’s death.
I finally realized those resentments were the source of an enormous, exhausting amount of negative energy and that dwelling on them wouldn’t change the past. My resentments simply fueled more negative energy that eventually could consume me and potentially those around me.
Today I’m working to acknowledge with regret all of the things that might have been. I am finding a semblance of peace by addressing those regrets on behalf of others, getting involved in community mental health initiatives and being part of the Jana Marie Foundation.
Make no mistake, turning resentments into regrets is difficult, never-ending work. But it’s also liberating. It frees me to focus on the amazing person that was my daughter, things we enjoyed as a family and things that were important to her.
Most importantly, as my resentments turn into regrets and my daughter’s ghost is laid to rest, she is living forth in the work we do and the people we serve. She would have rolled up her sleeves and been right there with us. We know she is.
Please join us Sept. 10 at Millbrook Marsh for a community celebration of hope, remembrance and healing in honor of World Suicide Prevention and Awareness Day. Together, let’s remember, heal and prevent.
Albert A. Vicere is professor of strategic leadership at the Smeal College of Business at Penn State, a board member at the Jana Marie Foundation and co-chairman of the Centre County National Suicide Prevention Day Commemoration. This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities That Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.