“I say the best cure for grieving is living,” says Emmy Hamlin, who lost her 15-year-old daughter in April 2019
When Emmy Hamlin lost her 15-year-old daughter Alydia to suicide in April 2019, she didn’t think twice about including her cause of death in the obituary.
“When you see that a young person dies, the first thing you want to know is what happened,” Hamlin, 40, tells PEOPLE. “And if I put shame and stigma on it, then how are people going to feel comfortable stepping forward saying, ‘I’m struggling with these hard feelings’? There’s nothing to be ashamed about.”
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Advocating for a change in the way people talk about suicide is just one of the many things Hamlin has taken comfort in since losing Alydia.
She also writes, paints, makes music and visits friends — anything to stay busy and keep her from spiraling into the tidal wave of depression and anxiety that often plagues parents who lose children to suicide.
“I say the best cure for grieving is living,” says Hamlin, who lives in Kirkwood, Missouri. “Because I feel like Alydia kind of isolated herself, and I don’t want to do that with my grief. It’s almost like her depression just got transferred onto me.”
Kelly Houseman, a licensed mental health counselor, tells PEOPLE that studies have shown child bereavement by suicide or other causes imposes an approximate two-fold risk of suicide in their parents.
Suicide bereavement is also linked to increased depression, anxiety disorders and marital breakups, she says, as well as heightened shame and stigma.
“The self-blame, rejection and anger are probably some of the biggest reactions,” Houseman says, adding that people in these heartbreaking situations often think, “How could I miss this? They seemed so happy. Even the day of, gosh, they were happy and smiling and we’d just had a conversation.”
Emmy Hamlin and her daughter Alydia
For many, like Hamlin, therapy helps, as does online or in-person support groups specifically for parents going through similar ordeals.
Also helpful is finding ways to keep their child’s memory alive, whether it’s memorializing their legacy through a 5K or creating a nonprofit, Houseman says. Mental health advocacy can also help accomplish the same goal, and people will often do that through public speaking or publishing a book.
It’s those methods that have helped Hamlin the most in the aftermath of losing Alydia, a high school sophomore who loved playing guitar and singing, had just started her first job at Smoothie King and was weeks away from getting her driver’s license.
Hamlin says that though her daughter struggled with depression and was on Prozac, her death was incredibly shocking, as her family thought they’d had her demons managed.
“I find comfort in every time I talk about her,” she says. “It’s therapeutic for me in its own way. Talking about her is like I get to visit her.”
Alydia’s organs were salvaged and saved the lives of several other people, including a 15-year-old girl in Indiana who received her heart — another thing Hamlin credits with helping her stay strong.
“I call her my heart daughter. I got to meet her and listen with a stethoscope and meet her whole family,” she says. “It sucks. I miss Alydia, I miss her all the time. But I try to find solace in those little things and being part of their lives.”
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If Alydia’s organs have kept people alive, so, too, have Hamlin’s advocacy efforts; she says a series of signs she put out in her front yard reminding people that they’re loved and that their mistakes do not define them recently brought a welcome surprise.
“I got an anonymous letter in the mail that said, ‘Hey, I just want you to know, I was out for a walk because I wanted to kill myself and I saw your signs and I didn’t. So thank you,’” she says. “So little things like that just help to counterbalance the epic s— sandwich that I’m always trying to eat.”
Hamlin says she keeps her days focused on staying busy with friends and family, including her husband Chris, 14-year-old son Keegan and three stepsons, and keeps a blog about her healing process that she hopes to one day compile into a book.
“I wish a lot of things, but at the end of the day, I can’t change what happened,” she says. “All I can do is talk about it and hope that her impact reaches somebody else or that one other parent won’t have to go through this.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
If you or someone you know need mental health help, text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.