Pain Inspired Purpose: Finding Meaning After Suicide Loss
Author: Kaylin Jennings-Knight
I became widowed at the age of 27. At the time, I was five months pregnant and raising three young children. My late husband, Andre, was a disabled army veteran who suffered from PTSD and TBI. He lost his battle to PTSD on June 6, 2017. Many remember this date as D-Day. For my family, we remember this day as the day our world changed forever.
Being a young, pregnant widow presented many challenges; my age, a new marital status I didn’t want to accept, and a new reality that I was forced to live in. For my three children this new reality seemed like a terrible nightmare from which they could not wake up. I delivered my fourth child, a beautiful baby girl, whom my husband had nicknamed “Peanut” while I was pregnant. I thank God he picked her name out that May, a month before he died. Our Kaylina (aka “Peanut”) was born. Being a widow and mother was a twisty mix. I thought grief was hard but having a newborn up at 2 a.m. while I experienced insomnia actually worked out because we kept each other company–as odd as it sounds it was not that bad.
As the children and I adjusted to life without Andre, it was like wading through waves of the ocean, some calm and others so turbulent. I struggled to get air, I screamed, but realized I was already above water.
Reality became more abstract when I lost my dad on May 7, 2018 to complications from a liver transplant. My world stopped. I had to come to terms that I had lost two important pillars in my life: my husband and my dad.
From Help! To Hope
Help! This cannot be real, this cannot be my life. Surely, I must have lost my mind. I remember at the beginning of my grief journey, I would cry, cry and cry. I remember wearing black and keeping my hair in a bun for a whole year. I felt lost,
I did not know where to go, what to do or where to begin…
Then I connected with TAPS. I did not know that would be a day that would forever change my life and have a lasting impact on my grief journey and ultimately help me to the road of healing.
The TAPS Peer Mentor program is amazing. Making the decision to connect with a peer mentor was the best choice I could have made. My peer mentor was incredible, she was there for me. She supported and encouraged me. Her compassionate care inspired me to become a peer mentor myself.
In 2019, I went to the National Military Survivor Seminar in Arlington, Virginia and took the training to become a peer mentor. To provide support and comfort as a peer mentor to other women who have lost their husband by suicide has been therapeutic, rewarding, and empowering.
My peer mentor also inspired me to further my education and to pursue my educational goals of returning to school. After prayer and consideration, I began school in the summer semester of 2019 at Liberty University studying Psychology in Crisis Counseling. I was able to transfer my credits from my previous university which cut my time in half for my degree!
Pain, Purpose, Passion
Though my pain has not been easy, grief is a journey, and it has birthed pain inspired purpose, and God has given me the strength to keep going. I was on the search for purpose, meaning, and how in the world can I help others who have gone through the same thing as me. I have a passion to help people and I desire to become a Crisis Counselor, working in crisis intervention, suicide prevention and providing support for those who are grieving.
I believe that grief teaches you to live, love, and honor. Live each day to fullest, love those around you by finding new meaning in love, and honor your loved ones by sharing their story and inspiring others to do the same. Their legacies live on only if we continue to share them.
In the fall of that same year, I took another leap of faith and I made the decision to attend the Suicide Seminar in Phoenix, Arizona. That’s where I became empowered to share my story with others. I faced fear and divorced the blame, shame, and guilt I was feeling. I finally felt free. Worrying about the perception of what others thought and even how they feel surrounding my husband’s death was beyond my control and not a main factor in my healing. The seminar gave me courage to use my voice, gain understanding and knowledge about suicide, and the strength to face trauma.
Connection, Coffee, and Community
Three years now into my grief journey, I do not look like what I have gone through! If it were not for this organization, I don’t know where my family and I would be. I do not think I would be where I am today.
I remember when I first heard Bonnie Carroll’s story I thought, “wow she is brave and has so much courage.” Those nights when I would call the TAPS helpline and speak to Bonnie and she would listen to me, her love, compassion, and support left a lasting impression in my heart. When Audri shared coffee with me on the phone one day after returning home from my husband’s funeral and having a meltdown in the kitchen because coffee was not made and it was my first day having coffee without him –that was an act of selfless love. I will never forget the compassion and empathy of Susan, my TAPS Care Team contact, who spoke to me and helped me with all of my needs.
The lifelong connections of all my TAPS family I will cherish forever. So meaningful too, are the cards I receive every year for Andre’s birthday and angelversary. Grief is an individual journey. It is the community nobody wants to join, yet in that community everyone is like a pattern sewn together on a quilt, our common bond is love. I will forever be grateful for TAPS and all they have done for my family and all the other survivors.
I have learned to never apologize for my grief. We are all on our own grief journey marching to our own beat. We are grievers in this world of non-grievers. Focus on your grief journey, not what others think of you. Love, honor and remember in your community of trusted people: your TAPS tribe.
Thank you TAPS for honoring my husband and reminding me that ”Love Lives On.” For each and every person at TAPS I am grateful for all you do!
Kaylin Jennings-Knight is the surviving spouse of Andre Knight, U.S. Army Veteran.
Photo courtesy of Kaylin Jennings-Knight