The week of June 3, 2018, was a rough week for suicide prevention. I am in this business because of my personal losses—two brothers eleven years apart, both lost to suicide. On Tuesday of this fateful week, I was driving home from a speaking gig when the phone rang and a friend informed me that Kate Spade died from suicide. To which I replied, who is Kate Spade? She then reamed me out for not knowing who the world’s best designer of purses and other girl stuff was, and it sucks to type the word was for anyone. Quick google search and I found out she was the real deal and built quite the empire, and on Tuesday, June 4th, 2018, she died by suicide. Friday comes and I am meeting a friend for breakfast and my phone starts to blow up. This happens when you are in the suicide prevention arena and someone famous dies from suicide and this one left a mark. It was world traveler and foodie Anthony Bourdain and on June 8, 2018, he was gone. One suicide is too many and we have over 45,000 each year in America, and we just had two high profile suicides in one week—crap!!
Fast forward to 2021, and I am in the bathroom at my office reading Entrepreneur Magazine. Too much information, I know, but it’s my blog and I felt the need to set the scene. In the back of this magazine there is a feature called “What Inspires Me?” and it is a great read. In this particular issue the author stated that his grandfathers lunch pail reminded him of the sacrifices his family made and that he kept it in his office to inspire him. It did not take me long to figure out what inspires me, and you will have to wait to read the article in the January 2022 issue to find out what it is! Spoiler alert—they accepted my essay on what inspires me, and part of that acceptance was that I had to submit a photo of it for the article. My editor (I just wanted to type that) Jason asked me to contact their director of photography, Judith to collaborate on the photo.
God enters the chat. Ever since I have been on this journey of helping others by sharing my story, God has placed wonderful people in my path and Judith is the newest edition. Judith states via email that she is glad that they picked my submission because she too has been touched by suicide. When Judith was twelve, she lost her mom. Hurts even just to type it. They all do. She then tells me that when Kate Spade died, she wrote a public letter to her daughter, Frances Beatrix Spade, who was about the same age as Judith was when she got the news that her mom lost her battle. Judith shared what she wrote with me recently, and the world in 2018 as Katie Couric re-posted it. Hopefully Kate’s daughter saw it, because she was the intended audience and I hope she is doing OK. Being a survivor of a suicide loss just sucks.
Back to the inspiring part! So, with Judith’s permission, I now share this heartfelt letter with you. This may come in handy if you ever have to comfort someone who has lost a loved one to suicide. Translation: Keep it in a file and I’ll pray that you never have to use it.
Judith, thank you for allowing me to share this and I really hope to meet you live one day.
Open Letter to Kate’s 13-Year-Old Daughter
Dear Sweet Girl,
I don’t know you or even know your name. I trust you are in a state of shock and grief currently. These first few days and weeks without your beautiful mother are so much for a young and fragile soul. I understand where you are because I have been there, too. My mother took her own life, she was 49 years old, and I was 12. I’ll never forget those first few days alone in the world with just my dad. It was gut wrenching and still makes me hurt to remember. Instead of focusing on the pain and struggle you will find yourself facing I want to send you a letter of deep empathy and encouragement. It has been 30 years for me since I experienced my loss, and I can tell that the lessons you’ll learn and great joys of life and love that this world have to offer will far outweigh this moment in your life. I can remind you please to always keep your chin up and remember that none of this has anything to do with you. Your mom’s illness was hers alone and you just happened to be thrust into these circumstances. You will miss her everyday of your life but remember this—the real her without the mental illness loved you deeply and that love between a mother and a daughter cannot be stopped by death. That love can endure and withstand such earthly restraints. You are a living breathing embodiment of that love and her love will live through if you can let it. I know it’s hard because you are angry. She left you. But her pain is over now, and you have a sacred and beautiful life to live. So go live it. Be warm and kind and brilliant like your mother. Be amazing just like you are. Cry. Cry often. Say her name. Don’t shy away from your emotions and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are part of a loving community of family and friends, and they are there for you. You are not alone. Say that again. You are not alone. Sending you my sincerest love young girl I wish to wrap you in a blanket of love and light.
Judith Puckett-Rinella is Entrepreneur magazine’s photography director. She has held the title of photography director at T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Details, BlackBook and, most recently, Vanity Fair. Puckett-Rinella has worked with virtually every eminent photographer in the country, including Annie Leibowitz, Mark Seliger and Nigel Parry. She has been nominated for four Emmy Awards and has won two Webby Awards. Follow her on Instagram @whispereditions.
Dennis Gillan is the Executive Director of the Half a Sorrow Foundation and is proud to know people like Judith.
To Book Dennis: https://dennisgillan.com/book-now/
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