My daughter Linea and I have had many opportunities to meet some very amazing people all over the country. Whether they are famous or not so famous, wealthy or not so wealthy, brilliant or merely super-smart, they are all connected by the strong desire, commitment and action to bring positive change to the lives of people affected by mental illness. A few days ago we had a conference call with Emily Smith of the Karla Smith Foundation. We spent time with the Smith family in St. Louis for the Change a Mind, Change a Life event. We left with new best friends, bigger hearts and more drive than ever to change perceptions of mental illness, assure treatment and understanding and support research.
Emily said something to us at the end of our call that touched me deeply. She told us how much she appreciated what we are doing and what Linea’s sharing of her personal story has meant to her. She also said, “I know it isn’t always easy. I know this illness just doesn’t go away. I know there are times that are hard.” I held back the tears. Emily knows. She knows that it is a lifelong illness and that, although treatable, it is not “always easy”. The Smith family lost their beautiful daughter, sister and best friend. They lost Karla to bipolar disorder. She was diagnosed at the same age as Linea. She lost her battle. The Smith family has dedicated themselves to the support and care of families who have experienced the death of someone they love by suicide. I will not turn away from this family and I will not push away the thoughts of how close their story came to being ours. Suicide walks with those of us in the world of mental illnesses and we cannot look away. Tom, Fran, Kevin and Emily Smith are making a difference. The pain and tragedy of Karla’s death is always with them. I know from personal experience the pain of losing a family member to suicide. The grief lessens but it never leaves. But there is healing and beauty and power in knowing that their work is having positive impact on the world. As written on the Karla Smith Foundation website, “KSF believes there is hope for a balanced life. Even if there is an untreated person with mental illness in the family, even in the aftermath of suicide, there is hope. KSF helps discover and nurture that hope.” Our family joins the Smith family in this mission of hope. Thank you, Karla Smith Foundation. Take a look at their wonderful work at http://www.karlasmithfoundation.org/index.php