LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The survival of any tragic life event is an emotional and grueling journey says Lufkin resident Patricia Todd.
She's on that journey after losing her son to suicide 21 years ago. The passage of time has enabled her to survive her own grief by helping others who are also affected by suicide.
Patricia Todd, tonight's survivor, continuously has the company of Casey, the parrot.
Casey's chatter is almost constant, but not on April 3, 1996.
"So I walked in and the bird was quiet and that was very unusual," Todd, a suicide prevention advocate, said. "It was just an odd feeling."
Todd's climb of stairs to her son's bedroom was the start of a journey into darkness.
"I was the one who found him," Todd said.
Five days before his 18th birthday, Scott Todd committed suicide. For years, the devoted mother was haunted with a personal question.
"I thought, why was I the one to find him?" Todd said.
The answer came years later on Mother's Day.
"That was my last motherly act to find him," Todd said.
Peace had finally arrived.
"I want to remember how he lived, not how he died," Todd said.
The devoted mother began by transforming her son's room.
"What we decided to do is we knocked down the wall and made it into a very peaceful sitting room," Todd said.
Surrounded by her son's mementos and cherished photographs ...
"This picture was taken just five days before he died," Todd said.
Todd had time to contemplate how to tear down her personal internal walls which caused her such anguish. She attended grad school, achieving a master's degree in counseling, and she set up a private practice. Helping others became her goal.
"I think one of the most amazing things though that Scott's tragedy brought about was in our school system because there was nothing in place for such a thing," Todd said.
Now there is. Todd didn't stop helping.
"I was a facilitator for the first area suicide group for those who lost someone to suicide," Todd said. "And then the stories just came out of everywhere."
Hospice became involved.
"I appreciate hospice in that they are now actually acknowledging a specific grief support for suicide survivors," Todd said.
Todd's leadership was removing the stigma of suicide. Today she's an advocate for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. In May, she and her two daughters hiked 18 miles through San Diego in The Overnight Walk to raise money and awareness for suicide prevention.
"The rate has just sky rocketed," Todd said. "It's an epidemic."
For three years, Todd has walked the walk. Families would give her names of their loved ones lost to suicide. She carried them in a backpack each step along the way.
"We started the first year carrying 25 names. The next year 85 names," Todd said. "This year, over 200."
The numbers represent sadness, but they also show how more families are learning how to survive the complicated grief suicide brings.
"Survivor is a decision you make, I think, more than anything," Todd said.
And with Casey chiming out, I asked Todd if she thought her son and others lost through suicide could be survivors, too.
"If we really knew how hard it was for them to get up day in and day out, with what they had going on surviving, we would be in awe I think of how long they survived as long as they could," Todd said. I think that's the essence of everything of what you asked really."
Todd's mission carries on. An East Texas chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is in the works.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. For every suicide, 25 are attempted. That's according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, an organization Patricia Todd encourages people in need to seek out.
You can also visit Todd's Facebook page, where she welcomes followers.
Remember, if you have a survivor story, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.