Carly’s Story: “I Made My Life Extraordinary”

Stories of Suicide Loss Survivors

I first met Carly at a memorial cemetery. We were talking about the subject of death when she told me her extraordinary story about the loss of her father. I was struck by how instead of feeling like a victim, she empowered herself to find healthy ways to overcome her grief and return to life. 

Carly’s Story: I Made My Life Extraordinary

I lost my father to suicide roughly 20 years ago. He had been going through a traumatic life event for the month preceding his suicide. He had been placed on administrative leave for a false accusation that completely upended his career, status in the community, and his daily life. 

His death came as a total surprise to me, and I think to everyone that knew him. He was typically a very buoyant, bright personality that loved life. There were signs beforehand, but I never connected them with any real danger. He had never been particularly candid about his self-doubt, but he admitted to me that he “couldn’t do it” in regards to potentially facing conviction. He had lost weight rapidly and lived in a near-constant state of fear that he would be arrested and returned to jail.

A Fugue State

I wasn’t told it was a suicide at first. I was told he had a stroke and died at home. I was devastated. My father and I had grown close in the last year before his death, and I remember falling to the floor screaming that I’d never be able to talk to him again. Just the realization that he was gone, that his voice was gone – it was so total and unbelievable and suffocating.

After the initial shock, I was in what felt like a fugue state. I was remarkably angry when I was finally told it was a suicide. Though, oddly enough it made my grief slightly more bearable knowing he made the choice himself.

For weeks, it felt as though I was fighting off a flu. I was exhausted, my movements slow, and everything felt surreal. My son was an infant at the time and in the middle of chemotherapy, so I had to leave directly from my father’s funeral five days after he passed to take my son back up to Portland for treatment.


Years of Retreat

Between my family being decimated by the loss of my father, and my son going through cancer treatment, I didn’t have the energy or capacity to pursue support. I was also very young – 20 years old and a single parent with an infant living in a city with no family nearby. I retreated for years into collaborative writing online, disconnecting from the outside world and rarely leaving my home. My anxiety and depression worsened significantly.

There were occasions over the years that I sought therapy, but my counselors were concerned about my fragility to withstand treatment. I eventually abandoned any investment in therapy to rely on solid friendships and my own life pursuits for coping with my grief.

Making Life Extraordinary 

After roughly eight years of existing in survival mode I found myself desperate to accomplish as much as possible, to live my life without regret, and to make my time here as extraordinary as possible. 

This led to my developing many positive habits and skills. I began running and exercising, which remains a consistent, powerful self-care tool for my withstanding stress and emotional trauma. I earned three degrees in subjects I was passionate about, traveled the world, became an activist, did interviews for prominent radio shows and magazines, and had my writing sent to Congress. 

I also took a lot of risks and pursued adventures I might not have before. My father was an adventurous spirit, curious and in love with stories, so I felt inspired by him to pursue higher education and travel the world.

I refused any kind of situations that distracted me from my passionate life. Instead, I began to choose healthy, supportive people; jobs that honored my spirit, and goals that expanded my heart and vision. I have also learned to disregard most trivial, daily irritations and disappointments; now able to brush them aside as unimportant. 

After losing my father and nearly losing my son, I realized life is so terribly short and precious. I don’t take time for granted. Every interaction with my loved ones ends in “I love you” because I know it might be my last chance.

My experience also forced me to learn what I want and what no longer serves me, and to make the choice to honor that firmly and without apology. I have become fearless in the pursuit of what moves me, excites me, and ignites my soul.  

Be Relentless

If you have lost a loved one to suicide I encourage you to be relentless in the pursuit of your life. The pain will always be there, and though it feels immense and all-encompassing, I promise you, you are larger than it can ever be. You are the enduring firmament beneath these passing storms, and while the storms might have the power to change the landscape, life will always find a way.