Paying forward an uncle’s love

“The day before my birthday in 2009, I was surprised to see a mail truck delivering a birthday card from my Uncle Billy that cost $15 in postage. I was stunned! The next day, he called me on my birthday, ending our conversation by saying he loved me. It was a little unusual that he would send that card and actually say he loved me, as he was a quiet person by nature. But I was turning 30 and nine months pregnant with my first child, so I didn’t really focus on his behavior.

The day after my birthday, my uncle died by suicide.

Tara and Uncle Billy celebrating their December birthdays together, 2003 looking at a birthday cake.
Tara and Uncle Billy celebrating their December birthdays together, 2003

My mom and aunt are both nurses, and, even so, our family didn’t completely recognize the sometimes subtle signs of suicidal ideation – like my uncle’s loss of interest in his favorite sports teams and not wanting to attend family holidays (he skipped Thanksgiving that year when my husband and I were hosting, mere weeks before his death). Uncle Billy was married, but he told his wife not to tell anyone of his struggle. That’s why I’m so dedicated to making sure people become familiar with those signs and know how to get help as well as the safest ways to intervene.

I joined the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) even though I wasn’t sure what to expect – would the walks and events feel hopeless? However, I found the engagement uplifting and moving, so I’ve stayed involved since 2013 with programs and events in my hometown in Connecticut. In 2018, we brought the first suicide prevention walk to the neighboring town of Niantic and we surpassed our fundraising goal. This summer, I was named to the board of the Connecticut chapter of AFSP, where I will use my personal social platform to continue illuminating the issue of suicide and work toward a series of successful virtual suicide prevention walks in October during COVID-19. It’s my way of telling Uncle Billy I love him, too.

Tara with her Aunt Margaret (Uncle Billy’s wife), 2019 Out of the Darkness Walk, Niantic, CT
Tara with her Aunt Margaret (Uncle Billy’s wife), 2019 Out of the Darkness Walk, Niantic, CT

Tara Autrey has worked for Aetna for over 12 years and is currently in Commercial Product Marketing. She writes occasionally about suicide, and you can read her article My uncle is so much more than a suicide statistic on The Mighty or follow her for mental health content on Twitter: @TaraA_79. She lives in Waterford, Connecticut.

Our commitment to suicide prevention

As one of the country’s leading health companies, CVS Health is committed to helping people on their path to better health. Part of that mission is and must be the reversal of our devastating suicide trends. To drive meaningful suicide prevention, everyone must play a role. As employers, health care providers and community members, we have a collective responsibility to do more to intervene at times those at risk of suicide are most vulnerable.

CVS Health is prioritizing suicide prevention as a strategic imperative, intervening with members and non-members during vulnerable times to offer a range of specially tailored, evidence-based resources and support. CVS Health will also continue to work with suicide prevention non-profits and industry experts such as the American Foundation for Suicide and Prevention (AFSP) to deliver suicide prevention training and expanded resources to Aetna members and the public. We commemorate Suicide Prevention Month knowing that that prevention and hope is possible for millions.