Stacey Paulson introduces Patricia Bravo simply. “She’s my ray of sunshine,” he says, and the wattage of his smile backs up his words. Stacey and Patricia each lost a parent to suicide. They also shared a six-month journey as partners in the Forefront Cares mentoring program.
Stacey’s mother died by suicide last summer. Patricia lost her father to suicide many years ago as a young adult. Last spring, she began volunteering as a mentor for Forefront Cares. All mentoring is done by telephone.
The night of Stacey’s mother’s death, the first responders included a chaplain who knew that Stacey would need help in traversing the shock, pain and grief. The chaplain gave him a business card with the names of several agencies. A star was inked in next to Forefront’s name. “He told me, ‘If I was you, I would call Forefront,’ ” Stacey said.
Shortly thereafter, Stacey and Patricia began their conversation. He shared his pain and confusion, and she began to listen. “I could tell her anything. And I did. She saved my life,” he said.
Forefront’s Sue Eastgard knows about the power of listening. Her career includes 30 years as a clinician, manager, master trainer and suicide bereavement counselor.
“Listening is just magic. This program, Forefront Cares, has shown me this all over again,” Eastgard said.
Then the road grew rougher for Stacey. Two weeks after his mother’s death, his father died from cancer. His dad’s death sparked a community outflowing of grief and love — even the paramedics who responded took a moment, one by one, to say their farewells to a man who had befriended them all.
With the two deaths, one on top of the other, Stacey found it more important than ever to count on one person with whom he could share all his thoughts. “I can’t call my aunts and uncles and say the things I was saying,” he said.
“We created a safe space for your grief — even without meeting,” Patricia said to Stacey. At times, she checked in with Eastgard to ensure her own sense of wholeness.
“And it was just as much a journey for me as for Stacey. I didn’t have all the answers. The idea is to figure it out together.”
Thursday was the day Stacey and Patricia chose to talk; through summer and fall, they stuck to their schedule, one hour each week. The day worked well for Stacey. By Tuesday, he felt the pressure building from emotional pain and isolation. But Thursday was within reach. Their talks also prepped him for the weekends.
Patricia had not realized quite how much her help meant to Stacey until the day he told her that she was the light at the end of his tunnel. Her reward in all of this?
“I am honored that Stacey placed his trust in me when he was in a very raw and vulnerable place. That’s the gift, gaining his trust, when we don’t really know each other.” – Patricia Bravo
The two are tapering off their calls, as Forefront Cares is designed for a six-month window, creating a temporary bridge to other supports in the community.
Stacey seems ready for the change. He meets life with a ready smile, a self-described goofy sense of humor and a perceptive nature. Stacey is also beginning to think about a new role, as a future Forefront Cares volunteer.
“Do you have to be 100 percent on top of things before you do this?” he asks.
The answer to that and a lot of questions is just one phone call away, at Forefront.
By Marny Lombard