“I am sharing my story because by retelling the story of my late friends, I was able to save the life of a complete stranger.” — Rayna Rose Exelbierd

In Judaism, we have an expression to save one life is to save the whole world. We also have a rich history of retelling stories, even if some are traumatic. We do this to remind ourselves of where we came from and to give us more value in making decisions moving forward. I had a really hard month in my personal life, whereas my professional life is blossoming with incredible opportunities. I’m learning as I grow older, we aren’t always so blessed to have the best of both worlds at all times.

I lost two friends this month to suicide. Both under 30, and both belonging to similar friend groups. Many were shocked when Mason took his life. He was funny, incredibly intelligent, and was always the most fun to be around. Growing up together, we participated in many of the same activities. Just a few weeks later, Taylor decided to take his life. Many reported Taylor reached out during quarantine to check on others, but no one had any clue he needed those conversations more than we did. Taylor was hilarious, friends with everyone, and was a self-proclaimed sneaker king with over one million followers on his Instagram selling sneakers to people all over the world. From the outside, these boys had amazing families and life experiences many only dream about.

Earlier this week, I posted the following status on Facebook. I shared their stories, and the impact their loss had on me.

“In the past month, I’ve lost two childhood friends to suicide. These men were hilarious, sensitive, and brilliant. If you are sad and feeling alone, I beg you to reach out. We can cry together. I too have had my fair share of ups and downs and it would mean the world to me to know that I can help someone who feels like they are in a dark place. You are not alone. You are loved, you are blessed, and you are protected. In honor of my friends, I am committed to doing more to help others with mental illness and depression. Together we can combat suicide and create more awareness and spaces for people to share. I love you all ♡”

It made me feel better to get support from those I loved, but what really inspired me came from someone I’ve never met before.

Have you ever gotten a friend request from someone you don’t know? I messaged the woman, only to find out that she had seen my post and that it resonated with her. Only later in the day, did she reveal that she was going through a nasty divorce and that she saw my message on one of the darkest days of her life. This broke my heart. She is a mother of two college students. As someone who lost a parent at 26, I can’t even begin to imagine how traumatic losing their Mom would be.

We kept talking, and later in the day, I suggested we link up for live music. This is what she responded, “That sounds like fun. Thank you. Somehow you lifted the dark cloud covering me. Maybe your post came on my feed by accident, but purposely because I was ready to give up, but thinking of those who would suffer after reading your post made me find the little things to bring happiness. Music is one! Thank you Rayna”

Many times we log on Facebook and we see things like, copy and paste this status to know people suffering aren’t alone, or to prove that someone is always listening. While I know people have good intentions, I want to discourage those posts. There are a lot of tough things happening in our country right now. In my opinion, we can no longer COPY and PASTE our thoughts and feelings. If we want to make an impact, we have to be willing to share stories that are hard and hurting us. This is the only way we can really learn from each other and be inspired to reach out.

My post was short. It was raw. It was from the heart. Since sharing my status, I’ve had a few people reach out to share about their journey of suffering, but also to check in with me. I write this story to empower YOU- the reader. I want to inspire you to share statuses about people close to you impacted by suicide. How much you miss them, shoutouts on their birthdays because that realness might save a life. If people know you have an intimate connection with the topic, they may be more willing to open up about their feelings.

We can not run away from tough conversations because unfortunately those suffering have a track record of doing so and many times we find out when it is too late. In honor of my friends, I am committed to creating space and opportunities to discuss mental illness and suicide so that families don’t have to bury their sons or their Mothers’. My goal is to empower you to be brave and have these tough conversations with your children, friends, and coworkers. There are 6 billion people on this planet. We have to do a better job of supporting those who feel alone and remind them of their value on this planet. For me, this is the first step. Who is with me?

The Rose Grows ❤