Carrying My Sister’s Story

By Billy DwyerNovember 16, 2017

November 18 is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. For the first 18 years of my life, that day slipped past just like every other. But for the last four years, November 18 has become one of the most significant days of my year.

On June 7, 2013, after years of struggling with chronic migraines, my sister Melissa died by suicide. To say that day completely altered my life would be an understatement. Following her death, I wrestled with thoughts like:

Would my sister still be alive if I had done something differently?

What will others think when they hear how she died?

How can I continue living without my sister?

Shortly after my sister’s passing, I was approached by a group of “survivors” in my town who had also lost loved ones to suicide. They, and others I had connected with online, shared pieces of their journey with me. Their stories and their words and their honesty helped me to realize that the thoughts I was struggling with were not exclusive to my own experience.

Still, despite the reassurance, these thoughts were overwhelming; usually the loudest voice in the room. It was difficult to hear anything else, which led me to feeling isolated.

In the months that followed, I struggled with finding a way to move forward. I felt guilty for feeling any emotion other than grief. My sister was on my mind every single day. I was worried that if I didn’t remember my sister’s story and the pain she endured, that nobody would.

Throughout my freshman year of college, these feelings weighed on me like an anchor. As I was immersed in this fast-paced, high-stress environment, the guilt I was experiencing only seemed to double.

But those weighted emotions seemed to dissipate when I shared my story—my sister’s story—with others. I found comfort in the conversations that reminded me that we’re all carrying our own anchors. While I shared a common pain with some of these people, others had entirely different experiences. The content of these conversations didn’t matter, but rather the people having them. The reassurance that while I felt alone at times, I wasn’t alone. There were others out there whose struggles looked like mine.  It was through these exchanges that I started to find myself moving forward.

I knew I wanted to use my story to make a difference. I wanted to use the pain, and the empathy I felt, to help others. The idea that I could use the heaviest season of my life to lessen the pain of another pushed me to continue. And through that idea, I would be honoring my sister’s story the best way I knew how.

Four years later, that is still my intention. I am building my life around that goal. It’s taken new shape over the years: moving to Florida to intern with TWLOHA, working with refugees and immigrants for a year, and now continuing my education with a Masters of Social Work program. Throughout these varying seasons of my life, I have never lost sight of why I started down this path. I recognize that there are so many people who feel alone, who feel isolated, who feel that their voices are not being heard. I want to love and support those people; I want to challenge the narrative surrounding these struggles. That’s what my sister would want me to do. That’s what I want to do.

My sister wasn’t weak.

My friends aren’t weak.

I am not weak.

We need to support those who struggle, whatever their struggles might involve. If we can put loving people first, and asking questions second, I would argue that we could change lives.

After all: Love is still the most powerful force on the planet.

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Comments (12)

  1. Mary Jo Anastasia

    Thank you for sharing your sister’s story. I know there are so many people out there who have struggled with some of these same issues and giving your voice to people who cannot speak for themselves is the best way to honor them.

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  2. Alicia Fernandez

    Oh sweet William, I am so proud to know you. You are such a wonderful example of what’s good in this world. Your empathy towards others will take you far, that I am sure of. Melissa is proud of you as is your mother and I ! As a mother of a struggling child I applaud and thank you for all the work you are doing.

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  3. Allison Salisbury

    Absolutely beautiful words, just like the soul of the young man behind them. Thank you for sharing your sister’s story, along with your own. My first and continuing impression of Billy is that he is an inspiring activist: a genuine, intelligent young man continuing his studies to best exercise his natural leadership abilities for social change. Thank you Billy; your words are sure to encourage others to speak up and ease the pain of many more.

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  4. Jacqueline Doll

    Love❤️❤️ My daughter is working on her social work mental health grad student program. God bless you! The world need needs more people like you!!!

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  5. Lee

    Thanks for helping people man.

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  6. Cat

    Thank you for sharing. It means more then you might think.

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  7. Cat

    Thank you for sharing, it means more than you may realize.

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  8. Deborah

    I loss a daughter to suide very hard life I have now

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  9. Ariana Rivera

    This blog by Billy Dwyer emphasized the true meaning of TWLOHA. As a person myself who has learned that some years ago a family’s friend wife has passed from suicide and with my own sibling fighting the same battle it is a extraordinary to find someone to create the words I never could. This blog discusses a young man’s journey towards this organization with the start of his sisters death. He discusses also how it took a hard hit on him and his college life. He tried to be extremely humble during a dark time. He found an organization that made him able to express his privileges onto others and has a created a lasting relationship with this organization. It was a pleasure reading this.

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  10. Maurice Hogue

    Thank you, Billy, not only for honoring your sister with such love and compassion, but for giving it to others also. You are a shining example of our youth. I knew your mother after Melissa. Her love still shines bright and part of it is because of you. Thank you so much for helping others!

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  11. Michelle Kelley

    Congratulations Billy I know Melissa is proud of you and I’m glad you found your place in this world. My sister Lauren and Mike is my brother. We now have a niece and nephew to teach about finding their place in this world and what is important to them and why. Keep up the great work. Erin always tells us how your doing. I know even all of Heaven is looking out for you and has your back. GO BILLY DWYER AND TRLOHA!!!!!

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  12. Εlena Zachou


    Reply  |  
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