In October 2020, Suzi Raymond lost her teenage child to suicide. Suzi shares with Rachel how, in spite of being aware of the struggles her child was facing, she was unable to prevent them from taking their life. She shares critical information for any parent to help identify behaviors that could signal plans of suicide, and offers hope for all in the way she continues to choose to live a "Self-Centered" life everyday, in spite of the pain.
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Mental Health Matters: Teen Suicide Awareness
Rachel: When you guys first moved here, you were the only ones that we had met from the West Coast.
So it was so exciting, like, oh, they know what it’s like over on the West Coast!
Because, you know, the vibe between East and West is very different
Suzi: Especially in the South.
It's so different.
Rachel: It's so different. I used to go back and forth between my mom and my dad when I was little, and my motjet lived in Indiana/Kentucky area.
And so I would go to spend the summers with my dad in Las Vegas.
And it was just like a whole new world. Brands of clothing, you know, all of that stuff always hit West Coast way before it made its way.
I see that it's not that way as much anymore because of social media, you know, everything is “right now”.
But it didn't used to be that way, and probably, you know, not even as far back as when you guys moved here.
Um, speaking of that, how did you end up here? Was it just because of the job?
And what kind of culture shock was it for you? What kind of an adjustment was it, if anything, for you?
Suzi: I grew up in Southern California, 40 mi.
East of Los Angeles, and moved to LA, and my husband was in the film industry.
And so he was recruited to come out here. He did sound.
And at that point, ten years ago, Atlanta was just, was always, there was always a film industry here, but it was finally booming, um, because of the tax credits.
And so he was recruited by a good friend who came out and worked with him in LA and said, hey, come out.
There's more opportunities out here in Georgia. And he came out first and tried it for a year.
Um, finally he's like that. That's where my work is. Can you please come out, too?
So then the kids and I followed.
Rachel: Were you born in LA?
Suzi: I was born in Taiwan, but I've been in California since I was four.
Rachel: With your parents?
Suzi: Mhmm (Yes).
Rachel: Do they still live in California now?
Suzi: No, they retired back to Taiwan.
Rachel: I thought so.
It was just so much easier with the Social Security there and the universal health care.
And so they just couldn't afford to stay back, stay in California.
Rachel: Did you know anybody here in Atlanta when you moved with the kids?
No. I knew Whit and his wife, Kathy. They were our amazing friends, and they were the only people that I knew.
Um, thankfully, I work for Scholastic book fairs and was able to transfer over here, um, to a different position, but I wound up doing inside sales, and they immediately became my friends and my family, because I saw them every day, and just the warmest group of people that I still keep in touch with.
And we all still get together.
Rachel: Oh, good! How long were you with a Scholastic Books?
Suzi: For eight years.
Rachel: Okay, awesome. So I think that when we first met, I don't remember, was Brennan maybe invited to Max’s birthday party? I think that was when I first met you.
Suzi: Yes. They they all bonded. Um, Max, Brennan and the Rosini boys bonded over mine craft.
And so we had this big, giant TV, um, in our house in King Valley.
And so they were, Max was so excited to have his friends over to play mine craft with him.
And that became what the boys did every weekend. The four of them would just be in front of that TV playing mine craft.
And I was so thankful that he had that. That Max had that group of little friends when he first moved here.
Rachel: Well, because he then changed schools, right? So he had already started school, and then he was coming here as a new kid.
Suzi: He had been at the same school since preschool, and the move was so hard, because he left his best friend, Calvin, and to move across the cross country, and he was already an introvert.
And, um, I was really nervous because I was afraid, being such an introvert, he wouldn't be able to find any friends.
And my daughter, who's two years younger, is the complete opposite.
She'll walk in the room and dominate, you know, Chloe, like you walk in the room
and 10 seconds later, you'll know who she is. Whereas, Max, he kind of..
His energy always attracts, um, the people that are like him, because he's such, he has such an amazing smile and warm smile that I think he's such a, so approachable.
And he's also good at just saying, like, hi, that was his thing is, “hi”.
And he would wave.
Rachel: His spirit, so peaceful and calm.
And it was such a breath of fresh air, because Brennan also was very emotional.
He was just kind of like my little water baby, you know.
And his feelings were so sensitive. And to be able to have friends, you know, that made space for that always meant a lot to me.
Brennan is my second child of six.
So, um, when we talk about Brennan, that's who we're talking about for the audience’s purposes.
Um, so tell me more about Max.
Suzi: He was, um, such a gentle soul, you know. (Strong emotion) Sorry..
Rachel: No, it's okay.
Suzi: Um, but just recognizable because he had this hair that was big and, um, so he has my Asian hair with dad's Jewish curls.
So in essence, he's a mixed kid with Asian and white, and he had an afro.
And so walking through the elementary school, everyone knew who Max was.
Yes, um. The teachers love to, like, just pet his hair as he walked by.
So he was recognizable. And when he graduated fifth grade, he got the Peace Garden Award for being the kindest kid at the school.
Rachel: Oh, my goodness.
Suzi: Going into middle school..
Rachel: Stop right there, because the Peace Garden Award, I have to say, is a big deal.
If you didn't go to King Springs Elementary you might not know about the Peace Garden or the Peace Walk Award, but I would um, be waiting idly by every year for one of my children to receive that award.
And they start by saying, this young lady, or this young man, exemplifies blah, blah, blah.
And they would list all of these wonderful characteristics of this saintly child that they were about to name.
And I would be checking, okay, that could be, that could be Brennan.
Oh, that's definitely not Brennan. But I would get so close some years to like, just knowing that is gonna be one of my kids names, and it never was, and I think a lot of my kids, but, ah, that just exemplifies what a special soul; Max.
Susi: (Laughter) He wasn't expecting it, and I wasn't expecting it.
You know, he's, he's always gotten the good grade awards and all those, but never, because he's not an attention seeker.
A bit of a wallflower. So he never got the awards where it's like, oh my God, you know, you did such a great job, um, I think, because the teachers never had to worry about him, so they never paid attention to him in that way.
Um. And a lot of teachers told me that it's like he's the kid that I never have to worry about.
So, and so when he got the award, I just remember jumping up like, what?
And, um, handing someone, I don't remember who, the camera, and just running up there and hugging them.
And he's, his smile was like from ear to ear.
Rachel: So special.
And to talk about, you know, he wasn't seeking the attention.
He was exemplifying the characters. He didn't have to say a word.
Rachel: And that always stood out to me for sure. And so now, going into middle school years..
Suzi: And he's, he's always been like that, um, just the kind of kids where everyone knew who he was, even though he didn't have a big personality or, um, or sought attention, you know.
He just was himself, um, like a little Buddha, just peaceful, calm, always smiling.
Rachel: Authentically Max.
Suzi: Yeah and he was just, you know, everyone knew who he was.
Um, middle school, unfortunately, Brennan and Max kind of lost touch a little bit.
I think that's when kids kind of find themselves in their different activities, and they go different ways.
Rachel: I think they also are seeking their identities in other ways, because I think some fracture happens where they think that they have to be or live up to a thing other than just who they are in order to be accepted.
Suzi: Yes, I think middle school is just, there's so many emotions and hormones, and kids are trying to figure things out whether good or bad.
But he found his little group in orchestra. So he came home, um, they do the first two weeks where they get to try the instruments, pick up what activities they want.
He came home, he's like, I wanna play the viola. And I'm like, I've never even heard of a viola.
And so, um, he became, um, just, it became his thing in music, playing instruments.
And it would continue to grow from there into different instruments.
But that would, that was his, his little group was the, playing in the orchestra and being in the chamber ensemble.
And that to me, I think that was like his safe haven, his little group of friends.
And I always taught my kids. It's not about how many friends you have, it's about the group that's next to you and your deep connection with them.
So it's not about having a hundred friends. Is about having a handful of friends that are good, um, that are good people and who will help you and you help them.
And so that, think, thank goodness, that's what he found.
Rachel: And he subscribed to that, too.
He, he wasn't bothered by not having a million friends.
He just, um, I think, because he's such an introvert like me.
I mean, I'm in extroverted introvert. I'm good at talking with people just because I was in sales for so long.
But to us, we don't open up to people unless we really get to know them.
Um, it's just this shell, I guess, that protects us as well as for me, it's important for me to not share my whole life with someone unless I really get to know them, and it becomes a value to them.
And so he kind of was the same way too. Um, so middle school kind of like this little blip of chaos,
I call it. Just the kids learning what they're doing.
Rachel: Was it good for him though?
Were those days good for him?
Suzi: I think so. Um. He was always the tallest one, which is funny because he sprouted so fast.
So he enjoyed being taller than everybody else.
It's all the little things that mattered to middle schoolers, you know.
And then he, um, he did pretty well in middle school.
And then he was excited to get into Campbell, the IB program.
Rachel: That’s the International Baccalaureate program at the high school.
So then going into high school, well, they were sophomores, or were they freshmen?
The Covid Mental Health Crisis
When Covid happened?
Suzi: They were sophomores.
No, they were juniors, weren't they?
Rachel: Umm, march of 2020..
Suzi: So, no, they were sophomores.
Rachel: And just finishing their sophomore year..
Suzi: Chloe was in eighth grade, so she missed out her whole eighth grade year.
Rachel: Correct. Same with Aiden.
Suzi: So they were at the end of their sophomore year.
Rachel: So where did things shift for Max? That you can tell?
Suzi: Umm, first and second year of high school in the IB program is relatively the same as.. the IB program is for the highly intelligent kids, like the Honors program.
And it, it's a challenging program. It is. And we knew going into it that I would, but he's a highly intelligent man, um.
And then, so there was just so many things that happened at the same time.
I think it was more than he could handle. So Covid hits, and everyone went virtual.
The kids didn't know how to learn virtual. The teachers didn't really know how to teach virtual.
The energy wasn't there because they weren't able to discuss. And the IB program, a lot of the classrooms are discussion, you know, learning through UM, learning through thinking, learning international ideas, from each other.
And so when they went virtual, that was really hard, because Max, he just, he didn't learn well virtually.
Now, also being the big heart empath that he was, and, um, he felt everything, and I do too, like we take it all in. So to watch the world shut down and break and people dying, the sadness, um, that was a lot to handle for all of us. (Strong emotion)
So between that and then, so going virtual, his friends were older than him by two years, so a lot of them juniors and seniors.
So at the end, at the end of the summer, after sophomore year, a lot of his friends are graduating.
So now his friends group is no longer his support system.
The group kind of broke up as well because they were such a big group of boys in my basement.
They all supported each other. So that is another thing that kind of like went away.
Um, my kids were busy. I mean, they had fencing, they had taekwondo.
They had their, um, so many clubs they went to, I mean, for as me as a mom, I was driving them back and forth.
And then suddenly all those activities went away as well. So now you have this full life, and it just all goes away.
So dealing with all of that, and then the last thing he dealt with was his sexuality.
Um, Max came out as non binary. So they are they, and I keep calling him him, but I really should be calling him, “they”.
Rachel: And normally do…
Suzi: I think the thing that when I talked about Max in childhood to me, it's still him, because they were him.
Um. And then when I get him to to Max older, they become they right.
It, um, everything just came down all at once, and there were, I'm sure, other things that we didn't even know about.
So Max, um, committed suicide, October of 21.
Rachel: And he was how old?
Rachel: The world at that time was a whole lot for a 16 year old empath.
And did you have any signs?
Is there anything, um, talking to other parents right now, you know, is there anything that you, now looking back, hope to offer, as far as signs or resources, anything that you've learned in that way that you wanna pass on.
Suzi: So, um, the hard part was, um, for people with depression, and it, it was depression, it was anxiety, depression..
Rachel: And you had identified that leading up to things?
Suzi: Yes, so Max had told me he was struggling. It wasn't like I didn't know, um, we knew he was struggling.
I mean, he was already a quiet, you know, kid.
He lived a lot in his head.
But with Covid, we're all stuck at home, and now he's in his room all the time.
I would encourage him to come down and sit in the living room with me, or do homework, um, you know, sitting in the dining room, so that we were all at least in the same room, and I can see them.
But, you know, he also played more video games, um, more and more video games at night.
So then he wasn't sleeping as much as I wanted him to.
But what, what else were we doing? We weren't, there wasn't any activities that was keeping him busy.
So it was pretty much schoolwork and playing video games.
So his grades started slipping, cause junior year of IB is already really intense and really hard for a normal year, and now doing it all virtually was even harder because you're sitting at home, and when you're in the classroom and you need help, your peers and your friends are there with you.
And so a lot of times when he was in school, he would come home and a lot of his homework would be done, because they would all do it together as a group, and they would help each other. Well suddenly that support system is gone.
And so for a kid who had straight A’s, literal straight A’s from elementary school, and suddenly he had C’s and D’s, and he thought he was a failure.
I told him, it didn't matter. It it doesn't matter. And he saw his dreams just slip away.
Seeking Help for Mental Health
And so, he lost hope.
Rachel: Had you tried any medication?
Suzi: I got him a therapist, and he talked to them.
Finally, Max started asking for medication, and his dad was resistant towards it.
But eventually, with Max asking me for it, we had him see a psychiatrist, and, um, he did get on Zoloft, but he had only been taking it for a week and a half before it happened.
And so I talked to this therapist and a psychiatrist after, and I said, what happened?
Because they warned me that, and talked to him, too… We were there together when we met with them, with a psychiatrist, and she said, the medication has to get into your system, and it could get worse before it gets better.
But you need to have an open conversation. You need to talk.
Rachel: Worse meaning more depressive thoughts and thoughts of suicide?
Rachel: Are you given any resources on how to combat that or to recognize that? If it is getting worse, not better?
And, and is there a time frame given on what you can expect?
Suzi: No, it's such a individual, case by case, and watching, um, pretty much needed to watch him and watch them and make sure that they were communicating.
So just the hard part is, when you ask someone who's in that depressive state, asking him questions doesn't necessarily mean they will answer.
And so I took him to, I took the kids to Disney World during that fall break to get them out of their, get them out of their environment.
And at that point, school, everyone was struggling with school, and it was getting hard.
So I just said, okay, we need to be somewhere else and not think about it.
Um, we need to be somewhere else and not think about it.
And for a week, we were able to escape.
And so that, um, cheered the two of them up a bit just to be out of, you know, the environment, not thinking about school.
And when we came back was when we started the medication.
So then this is now late September, and, and she only had him on half a pill, like the smallest dose, to make sure that he wasn't allergic to it.
He had been taking it for a week, and he was, he was, um, cheering up and feeling a little bit
He was communicating a little bit more, having dinners with us.
Rachel: Cheering up, not tearing up.
Suzi: Cheering up, he seemed happier.
He seemed happier. So then my brain went to, oh, it's working, right.
But what had happened was, um, for a lot of people who are suicidal, they become relieved when they make a plan.
And that's why he had cheered up, because he finally knew what he was gonna do.
Rachel: He had decided.
Suzi: So they had decided what to do, and, and they were relieved.
I hear this a lot from.. I've read articles about either from parents who have um, encountered the same thing, or from people who committed suicide but didn't, it didn't go through.
It's just when you're in pain for so long and you don't see an end to it.
When you finally make a plan, you feel relieved because you have, you see the relief and end to the pain that you're suffering, right?
Rachel: That makes sense.
Was there any thing that he left you with, like message to you or anything?
Suzi: Yes. So he gave us, Max gave us closure. He left his long letter, and for his friends, too.
He just said, it was his time to go.
He said, I'm sorry, but it's it's time for me to go.
(Strong, tearful emotion)
Rachel: Sweet boy.
Sweet, sweet boy. He spent most of the letter
thanking everyone, for such a wonderful life he had.
And that's just the way he was.
Rachel: People that can't see this. I'm looking at picture of Max and Chloe, his sister.
Where was that picture?
Suzi: Disney World.
Rachel: That was the trip?
Suzi: No, that was the, the trip before.
Rachel: Okay, you guys liked to go there.
Suzi: It was, it's our happy place, our family’s happy place.
Rachel: Before we leave this, because this is you. We're visiting the story, but we're not staying there because the whole point of this interview is, you and how far you have come, and are still, you know, moving.
But the point is that you are moving, you're in motion, and you've made a choice to do that throughout.
Teen Suicide Prevention: Warning Signs
Back to any advice for parents going through this? Also, back to the medicine.
Do you still believe that that was a good choice, the medication?
Do you have opinion on it at all one way or the other?
Suzi: I don’t have an opinion on it because I don't think Max had taken it long enough for it to be effective.
Um, in hindsight. And everything is hindsight, right? Um, I waited too long to give it to them.
Because it was, it was, you know, good days and bad days.
It's not, it wasn't all bad days and it wasn't all good days.
So at what point do you make the decision to put your child on medication and change your life?
Because it, it was this conception in my head that once he got on it, he would have to stay on it the rest of his life.
And so I was like hesitant to to do that to them, even though that's what they needed.
Suzi: And just, so it's like, it's just the helplessness of knowing that they are suicidal, and you know what they need.
And the array of choices there are out there, not knowing exactly, because it's not like you have a cancer diagnosis, and this is what you need to do. When it’s mental health,
there’s so many options, so many different types of help. But you don't know what it is as a parent.
Rachel: Well, because it's so variable to the individual and to the individual dynamics within a family, and to, you know, everything that led each person up to the point that they are so.
Suzi: And I was so confused as to, you know, even like, what's a counselor versus a therapist versus a psychologist and a psychiatrist?
Um, which one do you choose? And then, you know, what does our insurance cover?
What does it not cover? Um, do I take him to a mental health clinic and check him in?
Umm, you know, like there were so many things. And at that, two, we are still in Covid, so everyone in the medical field are saying, don't go to the hospital.
Don't seek help unless it's an emergency. And to me, like we were home, he was safe.
It’s not an emergency until it was too late.
So do I wish I was more aggressive about it?Yes, but at that time, I just didn't know.
And so it's just, it's also learning from what's most helpful to me.
After Max passed away, was talking with people who do suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts, because it's not something that I've gone through personally to know what it felt like, but to have spoken with people who reach out to me to explain what it felt like for Max, was the most helpful to help me
move on in a way where I felt like I did my best with what I knew.
But the, I don't know, there's, there's also infinite resources for parents, to reach out, um, and stuff that I thought I had researched well online, but didn't know.
Resources for Teens: Mental Health Matters
But the first best thing you can do is talk to your child's pediatrician doctor, and they have referrals.
That's how we found Max’s therapist. Umm, there's the Trevor Project, which helps with children
with teens. Umm, not just teens, but people who are dealing with being sexually confused, which is now affecting their life.
Umm, there's, of course, just so many support groups locally as well, who actually, I think, would be the best resource, because they know exactly what is available in your area.
Rachel: And the pediatrician would know best what's available in anyone specific area?
Suzi: So the pediatrician, max's doctor, had referred us to a therapist, and so that's who we used.
Rachel: The therapist would then know and would be able to give you resources for your specific area.
Suzi: They all know, a lot of the local people know each other, and they can refer you to, um, what
What can help. Um, one problem we ran into at that time too was, um, everyone was having mental health problems.
Rachel: Yes, you're right.
Suzi: So we, actually, we got in with her and saw a few times, but she, you know, and with Chloe, too, who I sought help for after Max passed away, was finding someone available.
And so finally, I talked to three different people, and they were completely full.
And I broke down with the fourth one. I said, I-I need to give my daughter help immediately her brother just passed away and she said give me today. Let me see.
Then she started going through her network and calling on my behalf. At that point in time, it was just hard even to get help for the people who needed it, because everyone was so overwhelmed.
Rachel: So do you both utilize therapy?
Suzi: I did.
Chloe still has the same therapist that she's been talking to since Max passed away.
And they, um, they do a checked basis now, but just, I needed her, at that point, she was 14 and it was gonna be life changing for her no matter what. But I needed for her to have someone to talk to who was able to help her professionally.
As well as someone who she can even vent to about me, you know, just someone who's there to listen to her and can understand what she's going through.
Rachel: Well, also, too, did you have any kind of fear?
I hear a lot about suicide being contagious. What do you know about that?
Suzi: It is something that happens because three months after Max passed away, um, another girl at our school also committed suicide.
And so I-I talked to her dad for a little bit and her story was almost the exact same as Max. Just the overwhelming feeling of losing hope and not wanting be here, and I don't think Max doing it gave her the idea, but it's like, I think once
one person is kind of in that situation, it's easy to see how someone else would wanna do it as well.
Suzi: And so was that a concern at all for you with Chloe?
Suzi: Yes, for sure.
She um, three or four months afterwards, she's been talking to our therapist, and I had a check-in call with her therapist as well, um.
And the three of us sat down and talked about it.
And just, you know, I told them my fear of losing another child, and they listened.
It was fear on my part, but I-I think Chloe understood that..
And I don't wanna speak on her behalf..
Rachel: And I don't wanna go too much into her either but more just that, yes, you had that fear and you addressed it, and you got the help you needed to help navigate that.
Suzi: And I um, myself did see a psychologist for a year.
So then I learned the difference with the psychologists is they have a master's degree in psychology.
Umm, and they're definitely more scientific in their approach. A lot of people suggested grief groups to me, but I'm such an introvert, I wanted to grieve on my own. It was hard I-I think.
It would have been hard for me to open up in a group. Being like Max, I take everyone's emotions in so the person that I'm with, their emotions, I'm so compassionate that I would take it in.
Rachel: Like, the last thing you needed to do was to take on another person’s or ten’s grief.
Suzi: Exactly. And I'm also one of those people that's like, oh, after what we think they've been through, I don't know if mine is as bad, you know, like, that's the type of person I am.
Rachel: Well. And we can all say, oh, well, you know, that, at least that, at least that.
And, and then we take away from the importance, you know, and the validity of anything that we are going through.
So not a good place to be in.
Suzi: It wasn't, didn't appeal to me at all.
Self-Care Journey: Life After Immense Loss
Rachel: What was your first year like then, as far as your own health and self-care?
And it was, um, 2022 then, right? January of 2022? Or was it our summer group? I was thinking January might have been really soon.
Suzi: Yes, it was summer.
Rachel: So, tell me about that. And then, leading up, you know, what made you say “yes” to our group, the “Self-Centered” woman group?
Suzi: So for, um, the month after Max passed away, I pretty much moved from my bed to my couch, my couch in my bed, like, just deflated.
And, you know, it was, it felt surreal, like it was not my life, um, crying.
And then, um, my mom was here with me, thank goodness.
So she made sure that we ate.
And after a month of doing that, and Chloe was home with me, too, so she missed a month of school.
I realized that if I didn’t move on, she wouldn’t move on.
And so I needed to keep going, um, for her sake.
So after a month, I said, okay, Chloe, it's time. We need to go back to our lives.
Max wouldn’t want us to be like this.
So after that month, we talked to her teachers, got her transitioned back into school.
And at that time, I was working part time at Fulton County Airport as one of the customer service agents for Hill Aircraft, the family owned business there.
And it was so hard to get myself dressed and to go back to work, but I needed to do it.
Once I got there, my brain was able to mentally shift splits, I guess, home and work.
So when I went to work, um, it was just work, like everything else happened at home.
So it was almost like my brain created two different worlds.
And that was how I survived, um. And on my way home, every night, I would stop and cry because I was going back to my real life.
So eventually became less and less stopping, um, just, it never goes away.
But you have to
mentally remind yourself that you have to keep going.
Thank goodness I had Chloe, because without her, I don't think I would be here either.
And one step at a time until you get to the point where you spend less time crying and more time breathing.
It seems like a short period of time, but six months later, it's just this weird, like you're back to normal life.
You go day to day. You'd go to work, you come home, you make dinner, everything keeps going.
But it's almost like you've shifted it to a wholly different life, like, this is my past life.
And this is the new life going from here, and it looks the same, but it's just different.
Like shifted to a whole new reality, where that person’s no longer there.
Rachel: And then, about that time, or a little bit longer, I reached out I think, and asked you to join the newest round of “Self-Centered” women group that's getting ready to start.
The Self-Centered Woman Group is, again, an extension of Reconnected to Life.
One of the things that we offer focusing not just on The Four Seeds of Self-Care, that's the fundamentals, right?
Eating well, sleeping well, meditation and exercise. But the “Self-Centered” woman group is a year long program, because obviously shifting anything that is really at its core level.
It doesn't take 30 days. It doesn't take these five steps.
It's a journey. It is a slow progression. Um, what made you say yes?
Suzi: I think you had brought up and invited me before everything happened, I think, almost a year before, and we had talked about it.
And I said, I'm not ready yet. Um, I think, by the time you ask me again a year later, and I was
trying to step back into life. And so I think there was something you said that kind of triggered me into saying yes, because it was like the other women in the group also need help with an aspect of their life as well.
You know, um.
It's it, you know, you don't see help like that unless you have something that's broken that needs to be fixed.
And that, I think that's kind of one of the things that said, oh, I need to be fixed right now. Like I said, I didn't wanna be in a grief group and this appealed to me because it was about moving forward, right?
Self-Care Support: Finding a Tribe
And that's what I need to do. I needed the momentum to move forward.
And being in that group, I mean, sometimes we had the hardest talks where all of us were crying, but we were crying together.
And some of us, you know, there are days weeks where we talked and we were all laughing, and we were all laughing together, um, but we grew together, and we learned together.
And that was exactly what I needed at that time.
Rachel: And you all got different things out of it according to your own needs, but you brought to it also according to your own gifts, which is what's so lovely about doing any kind of long term program like that.
And a bunch of different women coming to the table because your grief, um, is not somebody else's experience, but somebody else's accomplishment is something for you to take with you into this next phase of your life, and vice versa.
Everybody just plays off of one another. And quite frankly, me, um, as the person who's facilitating this, in some ways, get the biggest gift out of it because I get it from all of you, and that's so nice.
And I also am always learning and growing and picking and choosing what I want to implement into my own life, you know?
So it's just as much of a gift to facilitate it.
But, um, the, the thing that you had said in the past is that you knew that you needed to get your shit together when it comes to taking care of yourself and your health, because you wanted to be here for Chloe, you wanna be here in this life and not just getting by?
Yes, um, it took.
Suzi: I mean, there were days during our and for the year we would all call, um, the days that actually helped me the most were the days where I didn't wanna call in at all, and I had all these hundred excuses ready to text you or Kinda
and be like, I can't make it today. And I’m like, I really have no valid excuse for not calling in, like, it's just because I don't want to, and whether it's because I don't wanna dig in that day, or I wasn't feeling it, or I was exhausted, um.
But those were the days that I would suck it up and call in.
And those were like, the best calls, the breakthrough calls, I guess.
And they, they were towards the end of the year, because I spent the first, I wanna say, the first quarter of our session, fighting myself like, and I-I know a lot of other people said the same thing too we were like resistant to all the things we know that are good for us.
But just resistant towards change.
Um. And so my breakthrough, I think, didn't happen till, like, almost halfway through the year when, um, you know, just talking about health, and me realizing, oh my gosh, I wanna live here now longer with Chloe before I go see Max.
Rachel: And it's funny that you should say that about just showing up for the call, because when I used to go to therapy, too, there would be days I would go in there and just sit there and kind of even scowl at her and say, I don't have anything to talk about.
Nothing's wrong. Everything's fine. And it wasn't until, um, you know, 20 min, or 30 min, and she would just, okay, you can see her, like, here she goes, asking questions, you know.
And then all of a sudden I find, you know, that I did have actually a lot to say and a lot to figure out for myself.
And so that's the beauty of that kind of format, too.
Suzi: And it takes time to, like I said, it's hard for me to be completely open and vulnerable with people that they didn't know.
And so it did take some time to, for all of us to get to know each other and be able to do that. Listening to their stories and opening up to me made me feel like, okay, I can open up to you.
If you're being so vulnerable, I can be so vulnerable as well.
Just helping me be brave in that way, um, and just being able to go through, um, all the activities that you had us go through, whether it's… And I'm still resistant to meditating.
Suzi: Sitting still is hard.
Rachel: Are you still knitting?
Suzi: I am still knitting.
Rachel: You know, we talk about meditation and what that exactly means, but I swear, just sitting there going through the motions like that…
And you've said, you know, you can just sit there and think you might be fidgeting with your fingers, but your mind is still cause you're not thinking too hard about your throws or whatever yet, right?
I mean, you've kind of got the knitting thing down, pat, where you're doing that in an unconscious way.
So you're letting your mind wander about other things. So I think that that matters.
One of the things that we talk about, um, in the women's group, we go through the wheel of life and our satisfaction levels in any one category.
Um examples, career, significant other, fun, leisure, recreation. Um friends and family.
Um, your personal environment. But, finances. Now, this is the thing for you.
I think that is a huge deal. And I just want, if you would, you know, tell the story about Suzi’s personal power when it comes to what you knew, what you thought you were capable of, and where you're at right now.
Suzi: A lot of my identity is in being a mom, and staying at home. I've always worked since the kids went back to school.
But pretty much they were never career jobs. They were jobs that I worked that help me pay for my personal items as well as the kids' items.
Because my whole identity, everything that took up all my time was being mom to Max and Chloe.
And so I, um, was grateful enough when the kids were in elementary school to work for Scholastic book fairs, which is perfect because I had vacations with them.
Um, we got free books, and I made enough money to to do all the things that we wanted to do.
And so it got to the point where, um, the kids were getting older.
And to me, a lot of stay at home moms go through this, it's like, well, you know, it's time for me, I guess, to find a real adult job.
But the fear of not being enough or not having the skills to go and get a career job is just, it's self limiting in in such a big way.
Um, for a lot of moms that want to go and get their adult job, I would say, um, so, you know, telling myself stories like, oh, I'm not good enough.
I can't apply for that. I don't qualify, you know, I-I can't do this i can't do.
That and at this point I'm working, I'm getting my master's degree, I'm getting my MBA in aviation online, taking care of two kids and there
are days where I would fall asleep with my face in the textbook, not knowing where I am.
I'm doing all of this at the same time, and still telling myself that I'm unworthy.
You know, um. I finally finished my master's degree during COVID, when everything shut down.
So I was like, okay, I gotta finish it now, because I'm not working.
The kids are home.
And I finally finished it.
And it was like, it, I didn't get to really enjoy finishing it or graduating, because it was during COVID, and my diploma came in the mail, and I'm still sitting at home with the kids, um, unemployed.
And so just feeling like such a weird, um, disappointment, I guess, when I did graduate, because it didn't help me, cause the the brain, my brain went, oh, once you reach this, you'll be able to do this, this and this.
And I'm sitting here, I'm like now this diploma, spent all this money on it.
What do I do with it? Um, we talked about in our group, we talked about careers and, um, the limiting beliefs we have that we hold ourselves back.
And I had, during that time, speaking with all the women in the sessions.
It's just, they taught me to just try, you know, like, try.
They may say, no or don't answer back, but you have to try.
So I started applying for accounting positions, knowing that I didn't qualify for it, because before, I wouldn't even apply to it at all.
But now I'm getting encouraged by this group that I need to try.
And I definitely am worthy, and I definitely know more than I give myself credit for.
And so once I started applying the recruiter, actually, it was the first time in my life since I only worked these jobs, that a recruiter actually sought me out.
And, um, I work for Brassfield and Gory, their construction company, the largest one here in the Southeast.
And the recruiter sought me out, and she said, I've been looking for someone exactly with your qualifications, and I went, “What?”!Are you sure it’s for me?
Rachel: What happens when you start to put yourself out there, and put yourself out there in a way where you actually believe that it's possible?
And not only that, about your company, um, just the resources they provide for self-care is amazing.
Suzi: Yes, one of the things that we went through was writing what we wanted.
And, um, I remember going through this kind of writing down what we wanted in, you know, whether it's career and family, set a goal, and write down what you want to see.
And so I just remember, like, okay, I wanna work for a medium size company that makes a difference.
Make something, um. And Brassville and Court Gory, their medium size, I mean, it's $5000000000 company, but to them, it’s still mid size.
They’re a family own company.
They built the Brave Stadium, the Georgia Aquarium. They're building permanent things that are part of our city of the Southeast, of all the cities that they're in.
A family owned company that still treats everyone like their family owned company, even though it's $5 billion.
We have a gym in the office. We have, um, we have counselors in house for mental health problems.
If you have that, we have a chiropractor. And, um, you know, just everything that I was asking for
I got. It’s amazing that I wrote it down and I thought about it and just let it go, and it came and to me, there are days where I'm like, I remember walking into the office for the interview, and the office is really modern, so it's a pretty new building.
And then even an inkling in my brain want, I don't belong here, um.
And then after the interview, it changed, and I was like, I wanna work here, you know, like, just mentally shifting my brain to thinking, I don't belong here was my first that niggling thought that old me was still there.
I don't belong here to know, I wanna work here. And the interview process took a while, but it was like, so easy, because it felt like I belong there.
And so even talking with my manager's supervisor, who I interviewed afterwards, so, like, oh, we knew was you by, like, the second interview?
We just needed to go through the process.
Suzi: So that was because I finally did it.
I stepped out and I asked for it, and the universe gave it to me.
Rachel: And you surrounded yourself with people who believed in that concept.
It kind of reminds me of homebirth. You know, I'm a homebirth midwife.
I believe in women's bodies. Nine times out of ten. They're capable to grow a baby perfectly, give birth to one perfectly, unmedicated, feed that baby.
Usually the missing link is surrounding yourself with people who also believe in that thing.
Because there's always gonna be a time when you're like, I cannot do this.
What the hell was I thinking? And you need the person next to you to say, we've been there.
I always say in coaching in the women's group, I know because I know, not because I know better.
I've given birth six times on the floor in my living room.
I know when you get to the point to think, what the fuck am I doing?
I am never doing this again. And it's the same thing with this, you know, you but you build yourself up, you get your army of supporters that believe that the power of belief is so much stronger than any of our self deprecating behaviors.
If we would only put our attention on that.
Suzi: Exactly, yes. And then I started doing that to other parts of my life too, just opening up to what's um, what's possible?
What can come? For a year, I wanna say, two years after Max passed away, Chloe and I, we were just like, let's go see everything we wanted to In Atlanta, we started going to shows at the Fox Theater, um, the Symphony, you name it.
Rachel: She’s on know social media all over the place.
Suzi: We’re always like, let's go do it.
Let's go try it. We went to the Shakespeare Tavern for the first time.
I mean, just like this bucket list of stuff I want to do when I moved to Atlanta, but never did.
And suddenly it was like, well, why not? You know, why not?
Rachel: You know, what else you found is your voice, specifically, as it relates to your home, you know, and California and all of that, you know, story about the house that you had and, you know, just what you wanted for your future.
Suzi: I think it was during the year that we were having our group, I went through divorce. It wasn't s contentious divorce, but something that had been coming for a long time, and kind of lingered.
Went back and forth, and finally I was like, okay, I-I this is it, I can't do it anymore.
We still have Chloe in common, and we're, still friends, and we will always be in each other's lives because I'm not one of those people that cuts people off.
And no matter what's happened between the two of us, he will always be my family and Chloe’s dad.
And thankfully, he still is such a great support to us financially, emotionally, um.
But during that time, it was also this need to be my own person, because I had been in this couple supporting him all my life.
In essence, we've been together for 20 years, and my life was supporting him and the kids.
So in essence, I lived to serve them, um, and it was scary at first.
First to think about divorce, because it's like, what am I outside of this couple that we are and he financially supports us?
What's gonna happen if I no longer get that financial support?
Or, you know, how do I raise two kids on my own?
Just all the things that scare you and the reasons why you stay in a marriage longer than you should.
Um. Once we got the divorce through, then doing the properties was a bit hard, because it was under both of our names, or his name/my name.
At some point when we bought properties, they were split up in weird ways, um.
And he was resistant to changing anything, because ultimately, I guess I think it's a control factor, as well as knowing that he's trying to save it for Chloe.
I don't know what his reasonings were, but Chloe helped me, um, she was such a great support in helping me get my backbone, because ultimately, I'm doing this all for her.
And she said, dad, um, mom's ready to take over now.
She needs to do it. And I, in a year, went from being someone's wife, being financially supported… and it was a brand new year, too.
It was 2022. And I'm doing 3 real estate deals in three different states, um, buying the house, selling the house, buying another house, selling another house.
And it was so much fun because I knew all of it, because I've been working with Bud doing all of this our whole lives, but because he always took the foreground, I didn't think that I knew everything that I did.
But once I got into it and I did it all myself, it was like, oh my God, I know more than I more than I do.
Um, again, that limiting belief, like, I'm so small. But once I get on and do it myself, got over my fear of doing it myself, it, I knew it all.
And so now, now, with this new career, my properties in place, I am financially like set.
And just the fear took so much fear out of my life of what might happen.
Because now I'm now in control.
Rachel: It’s amazing. And it also is important to show that it's not something that happened overnight.
In fact, it's still unfolding, which is why dedicating a year to focusing on things like yourself, limiting beliefs and surrounding yourself for a year is so important with like minded people in order to really have the structure the foundation for that proper growth.
And so I am getting ready to adapt that “Self-Centered” women group into an online offering so that more people will have access to that.
And thank you for sharing your story about that, because I think that that's really important.
Umm, where are you headed now? Like, what's you just got a promotion at this job?
Suzi: Thank you. Um, we, we had an interview. We talked about two years for me to get to.
So I was assistant project accountant, and now I will be full project accountant.
I'm taking on, I mean, projects that are 60-200 million dollars.
Rachel: Oh my goodness.
And it's so much fun just seeing, um, the progress of the buildings that we do day to day.
Of course, I pay bills, but just the excitement of, like, oh my gosh, pretty soon a courthouse is gonna go up.
I was a part of that, you know, um.
Rachel: And so nice to be a part of a company that stimulates you to feel like you are a part of this whole thing.
They, um, we get to go on site visits where we see.
So one of our largest projects is a Children’s Hospital of Atlanta.
It's been going on for ten years. We got to go when I started.
Within the first month we visited, and then we could to go see it again now that it's done.
And that's one way for them to allow us to see that we're part of this bigger picture.
Rachel: Where is that? At Um,
Suzi: It’s off of 85.
Rachel: I know where it is!
You get off into the in, go right, and it's on your left hand side.
I was recently at a birth that way, um, and saw your company’s sign.
And so when I would go that way, I would think of you.
Suzi: So that's, that's our biggest project right now. Um, my projects
I mean, I have one in Fort Lauderdale, one in Nashville.
Birmingham. So just because we're in Atlanta does mean our projects are in Atlanta, but also have a 350 unit apartment building going up in West Midtown, and I pay all the bills for them, you know, like, cool.
So it's just, it's fun aspect, because I never thought I'd be here.
And it's, it's really great that you understand the value that you have as part of that whole process, like they need you on that team.
So also, you're getting ready to graduate the daughter. So Chloe is a senior in high school, and it's really weird because I'm not ready for her to leave, but I want her to leave.
I want her, she's excited because she really does wanna go out of state for school.
And I want that for her, too. Um, just the experience of it.
And she's also applying to schools in state, but just, it's so exciting to go through that and going to college visits, all the things that I never really did in high school living in LA, it's like, oh, you're going to one of the three schools in LA because you live here.
So just the possibilities for her is so exciting, and I want that for her.
The fear of being an empty nester, which I-I know a lot of people go through, especially since she's my only one now, and I think I’m pretty good at keeping myself busy so I don't.
Rachel: I don't think that’s gonna be an issue. You’re gonna be pretty hot to trot based on your social media, and that is just something that I really wanna highlight, too is that through all of this, it's choices.
You've made, the choice, you've made, the choice to get up off the couch and out of bed, um, for Chloe’s sake, which, by the way, you've set a blueprint, you know, because she will experience some sort of loss, grief obstacle as she goes up and away from you.
But you really have set the bar, you know, for what you're able to overcome and accomplish and continue on and on.
And you have been, um, an example for me. You know, that what, what we can still overcome, and the life that we can have in spite of unimaginable loss.
Because it's after something so big. Whether you yourself go through something that is close to death or you're near or you lose somebody.
Suzi: There's two choices. You can either wither away and just let it overtake you, or you can decide to keep going and I-I know that Max would not want me to stop. That’s not why he did it, he did it because he didn't want to be a burden.
He wanted us to be able to live without worrying about him and now we don't have to worry about them.
But losing a child is one of the hardest things.
Um, deciding to move on and keep living for Chloe, for myself, it started off because I want to live for her, because I needed to show her that she needed to keep living too.
But then eventually became for myself as well. It also opens you up to so many possibilities that, I mean, I definitely am more a more open person now, because it's like, you realize life is too short to not do the things that you want, um, the experiences.
Because before when something would come up, I would be one of those logical persons, oh, I can't do this, you know..
Rachel: All the reasons why.
Suzi: Exactly, the budget, the schedule, this and that.
And like, recently, my sister asked me to join her in Colorado for a friend's wedding reception.
We already have a trip plan for Dallas. Almost like, well, why not?
I will fly out to Colorado, to Denver on Friday night, fly Dallas on Saturday, and get back to Atlanta Monday.
Why not? So that's just, I think it's become like my motto, like, why not?
And it's not that I go crazy. But, you know, there's just things like, can I do it?
Can I afford it? Yes, so let's do it.
Um, it's, I think, hopefully, I think, out of anything that is great that has come out of our tragedy is that Chloe and I have both become much stronger people because of it.
The the hard growth that's come out of having to dig our way out of grief has made us both stronger.
And Chloe is just amazing. Um, I don't know if she would be the same person if Max was still here, because she was always his little shadow.
And so to see her thrive and grow and make her own decisions is also amazing as well.
Rachel: It’s lovely to see that.
The amount of discomfort can also be the amount of opportunity for growth if you let it, if you let it.
Thank you so much for this conversation. I'm glad to see you.
I'm sorry that it's always, you know, for a reason, but such is life.
But it's lovely to see you. And thank you for telling us about Max, sharing him.
Hopefully everyone on here can hear what I was saying through the crying.
Rachel: Oh, we can hear it. And thank you for being “Self-Centered”.