In 2009, Jenny Wolpert’s daughter, Grayson, unexpectedly took her own life. The loss of her daughter made Jenny realize she needed to embrace life and all its possibilities.
“In the year after my daughter’s passing, I busied myself with healing both our family and myself. I then began taking a long hard look at my life and where I saw it heading. I always felt regret for not having finished my degree,” said Jenny about her decision to enroll at Walden University and earn her BS in Communication.
Knowing that life is truly a gift, Jenny felt an overwhelming desire to finish the degree she had started many years ago. Walden’s mission of social change resonated deeply with her, as Jenny had a strong desire to give back to her community and to help others.
In recognition of International Survivors of Suicide Day on Nov. 17, Jenny shared with Spotlight on Walden how this unexpected tragedy has given her a new focus to make a difference and prevent teen suicide by talking about it.
Why is sharing your story about your daughter important to you and your family?
The morning after we lost our daughter, I vividly recall sitting up in bed, firmly planting my feet on the floor, and thinking, “The silence needs to be broken about suicide.” I knew that in our tight-knit community, people were finding out about Grayson’s death on that day; I did not want to hide from what happened. I wanted people to know that her struggle and ultimate demise came after years that were filled with difficulties but also a great deal of love, support, and medical attention to her needs. I share our family’s story in order to let others know that they are not alone in their struggles—there are people who care, resources for help, and ways to survive.
At Grayson’s memorial service, our dear friend gave everyone a little slip of paper that offered a to-do list in memory of Grayson: “Love, be loved, and grow.” I remember to do these each and every day.
How do you plan to spend International Survivors of Suicide Day?
International Survivors of Suicide Day, sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), dedicates a day to those of us who have lost a loved one in one of the most tragic and confusing ways possible. This annual event comes at a time when we are faced with moving through the holiday season without our loved one to share it with. This year, as I have for the past two years, I will participate in the Ventura County support program through AFSP, where a dedicated group of local survivors provides a safe, nurturing place for people to share their stories, support one another, and discuss tools that help us all through the grieving process.
What other ways have you gotten involved to help teens and families prevent suicide?
A dear friend shared with me information about the organization To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA). It is an outstanding resource that offers support for young people in ways that they can relate to—online technology and music. I immediately signed up for a three-day workshop they were offering in Florida, and while there I had an immediate connection with the organization. Since then, I have worked with them and my community to bring the message of help to our young folks. With the passion of three amazing young women at the local high school, we have started an annual “Love, Be Loved, Grow” acoustic afternoon concert to raise money and awareness for TWLOHA. We are currently planning our third annual event. I also continue to work with a local group of survivors by holding workshops on suicide prevention at local venues.
How do you see your Walden degree making a difference in the lives of others? What’s next for you when you graduate later this year?
I have always been drawn to communication. This was my major when I first started college, and I never lost my passion for it. To me, communication embraces not only skills for communicating but also psychological and sociological tools.
With all of my newly developed skills, I plan on continuing to give back. I will continue my philanthropic endeavors to break the silence around suicide through speaking engagements and working with organizations looking for the best ways to reach out to our youth. I am also thrilled at the opportunity to become a speaking coach for Own the Room, whose mission is to fill the world with better speakers. The more I can help others learn to express themselves through communication, the more we can engage, help one another, and inspire change.
Survivors of suicide can gather and participate in International Survivors of Suicide Day programs on Saturday, Nov. 17, in cities around the world. Find a location near you or register to watch online.