For at least six months after her son's death, Emily Boller told almost everyone he had died of complications from diabetes.
“I couldn't tell anyone, except those close to me that he died by suicide,” she said. “I couldn't say those words because of the shame and stigma associated with it. I wasn't ready to talk about it because of that paralyzing shame.”
But with September being National Suicide Awareness Month, Boller, 57, is sharing her story of her son Daniel's death in 2012 so it can provide hope and help to others who are in the middle of the struggle or may face it in the future.
Daniel was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 11 and could never find the right medicinal balance, his mother said. Along with adverse reactions to some of the medications, by age 15 his mind would slip into medical delirium because of high blood sugar with symptoms of hallucinations. After eating junk food for a week, in which his blood sugar levels were continually over 350, Daniel died by suicide at age 21 on May 27, 2012.
It took years for his mother to find the faith and healing to build the strength to share what changed her mission in life.
“More than courage, it took God's healing in order to talk about it now,” she said. “It says in the Bible that when we go through hard times we can give the same comfort to others as we ourselves have received. We receive comfort through hardships, and then we are able to help others with similar ones.
“For example, when you go through something like cancer, you reach out to someone who has had cancer, not someone who has never experienced it. I have never experienced the death of a husband and would have no clue what that would feel like, so you reach out to someone who can understand what you have been through. Now I want to help others because at that time I felt so isolated and distraught – and I felt like I was the only person going through it.”
There were 50 deaths by suicide in Allen County in 2014 and 75 in 2017. A person dies by suicide every eight hours in Indiana and 1,034 people died by suicide last year, according to Alice Jordan-Miles, director of Purdue University Fort Wayne's Behavioral Health and Family Studies Institute and director of the Indiana Suicide Prevention Coalition. Suicide is the state's second-leading cause of death and more than twice as many people in Indiana die by suicide as by homicide each year.
“When you are talking about mental health, there's always a taboo or stigma fixed to mental illness,” Jordan-Miles said. “Frankly, we need to start talking about mental illness just like we did cancer and AIDs 20, 30 years ago.
“We as Hoosiers need to start championing mental health, and it all starts with the language that we use in regards to mental illness.”
Jordan-Miles said she would like to see more churches become involved in offering programs, as well as more seminars and events being held throughout the community.
“I've been doing this for more than 15 years but I'm optimistic because famous people had to die by suicide for us to talk about it around the water cooler, people like Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. That has brought the topic more into the mainstream,” Jordan-Miles said. “The more people talk openly, the more we can change some of the stigmas and include more people openly in these discussions.”
While Boller's husband, Kurt, felt more comfortable reaching out to fellow church members and friends for prayers and help, Boller needed more time to ask for assistance. After all, she said, the first recollection of the stigma of suicide in childhood was “don't talk about it.”
Boller recently started speaking to various church groups about how to reach out to families who are in the midst of a mental illness crisis, including the aftermath of a suicide. The Lutheran Foundation has initiated a program encouraging churches in the region to open discussions about mental health topics, she said. They want to increase awareness and provide information about the programs that are available to help those who are suffering from mental illness and their families.
There are various suicide support groups available, including those at Visiting Nurse's Peggy F. Murphy Community Grief Center at 5920 Homestead Road.
Boller has written and designed a pamphlet titled “When Someone Dies By Suicide,” which includes tips and suggestions from her own experience that might provide comfort and help to other survivors. It describes the shock, the need for privacy and the need for space and time to simply process. Copies of the three-page pamphlet can be obtained by contacting Boller at www.emilyboller.com.
“Families aren't alone,” Boller said. “If they have a family member struggling with mental illness, or they are in need of suicide loss support, there are all kinds of resources out there that I didn't know about at the time. There's all kind of support and support groups, and there are churches with open arms that can provide help for the entire family. Isolation makes it worse, but this is not an isolation issue anymore. Mental health issues and suicides are growing in number in our culture, and we need to be aware and equipped.”
As most counselors will say, there is no timetable for healing. Boller needed six years to restore, learn about herself, her strengths and what she believes God had planned for her.
“After a while, you learn there are other people out there and you aren't the only one,” Boller said. “It's a healing process, and I really believe a part of the healing is being able to help others. There has to be a full circle and it has come around to that point where I want to help others. It's not something I want to bury and pretend never happened.”
If you go
What: Suicide Loss Survivor Candlelight Ceremony. Stop Suicide Northeast Indiana, Mental Health America of Northeast Indiana and Purdue University Fort Wayne will host the event to remember loved ones who have been lost to suicide.
When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Venderly Bridge, Purdue University Fort Wayne campus, 2101 Coliseum Blvd. E.
For more info
• The Boller family will share more of their story and invite discussion about suicide at St. Michael's Lutheran Church, 2131 Getz Road, at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 7. • The toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number is 800-273-8255; the text line is 741741. • Lutheran Foundation sponsors the website www.lookupindiana.org; the phone number is 800-282-8349 and text line 494949. • Remedylive.com offers help by calling 888-807-2226.