BY TAMMY JANE WEIGAND FALLS April 28, 2019
My 7th birthday, February 12, 1970, was the worst night of my life. I don’t remember the party or the cake or what must have started out as a happy occasion. I remember the hushed voices, the distraught looks on my family’s faces. I remember the tears and the sadness because after my party, my mom Jane drove to a radio tower in Pottsville and she jumped off.
My mother left and she never came back to take care of me and my 2-year-old brother. She was grieving and she was suffering. She died by suicide just as her identical twin sister, my Aunt Janice, had done less than 2 months earlier. They each left behind two young children, a shocked community and a devastated family.
By all accounts, my mom and aunt were kind and caring. They were loving wives, daughters and mothers but they were suffering and didn’t get the help they needed. Although I believe that my family did the best they could at the time, we never dealt with their deaths or the reasons behind them. Their suicides became a deep family secret that nobody ever talked about.
I tried to live with the loss but it was a heavy weight that, combined with difficult teenage years, proved to be too much for me to bear.
I was 16 when I found out the truth and my whole world came crashing down. No one seemed to understand how deeply I was grieving and how betrayed I felt by my family. I spiraled out of control and fell into a deep depression.
On May 15, 1987, while living in Reading, I took 100 antidepressants. I either fell asleep or passed out. When my family found me, I was unconscious. They rushed me to the hospital and after several days in the ICU, I survived.
I spent years learning to live again. I stopped blaming myself and came to terms, as best I could, with losing the most important person in my life. I became the mother that I needed when I was a child. My sons, Keenan and Kyler, have always known that I loved them and that I would be here for them no matter what.
Because I know what it is like to grieve and I know what it is like to suffer, I know what it is like to live. I learned that every day is a gift. I’m grateful to wake up. I’m grateful to be alive.
I share this with you in loving memory of my mom Jane, and my Aunt Janice. They deserve to be remembered because they were wonderful women. We honor our loved ones by how we celebrate their lives and how we learn to live after they die. Our stories need to be told and we need to help each other heal.
I’ve shared our stories many times, particularly during the last 10 years in an effort to help others. I share our stories to open a window to living with depression and mental illness. It gets better. It is so incredibly important to get help and to keep fighting to live. My mom and my aunt have helped hundreds because I have shared their stories and the lessons we can learn from their loss as part of my efforts to prevent suicide and raise awareness.
Through their deaths and the impact they had on my family, we can learn a powerful lesson about the importance of getting the help we need, the help we deserve. When we don’t get the help we need, we leave a devastating legacy.
On Sunday, the Out of the Darkness Walk will be held from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.at Sidney Friedman Park. I walk for my friends and family who died by suicide and to honor my own survival story. I walk to be the light and to show the way. I hope you can join me so I can help you honor your loved ones as I honor mine. May peace and love be yours.
Tammy Jane Weigand Falls is an events coordinator and undergraduate studies assistant for the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications and the loving mother of two sons. This column is coordinated by www.ltlwys.org whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.
This article first appeared in the Centre Daily Times on Sunday, April 28, 2019.