To The Strangers In Whole Foods Who Surrounded Me After News Of My Father’s Suicide

Illustrated by: Elliot Salazar
This week, Refinery29 is exploring mental health topics as part of our partnership with Clinton Global Initiative University.

Dear Strangers,

I remember you. Months ago, when my cell phone rang with news of my father’s suicide, you were walking into Whole Foods, prepared to go about your food shopping, just as I had been only minutes before.

But I had already abandoned my cart full of groceries and was standing in the entryway of the store. My brother was on the other end of the line. He was telling me my father was dead, that he had taken his own life early that morning. And through his sobs, my brother kept saying, “I’m sorry Deborah, I’m so sorry.” I can’t imagine how it must have felt for him to make that call.

As we hung up the phone, I started to cry and scream as my whole body trembled. This just couldn’t be true. It couldn’t be happening. Only moments ago, I had been filling my cart with groceries, running errands on a normal Monday morning. Only moments ago, my life had felt intact. Overwhelmed with emotions, I fell to the floor, my knees buckling under the weight of what I had just learned. And you, kind strangers, you were there.

You could have kept on walking, ignoring my cries, but you didn’t. You could have simply stopped and stared at my primal display of pain, but you didn’t. Instead, you surrounded me as I yelled through my sobs, “My father killed himself. He killed himself. He’s dead.” And the question that has plagued me since that moment came to my lips in a scream: “Why?” I must have asked it over and over and over again. I remember that in that haze of emotions, one of you asked for my phone and asked whom you should call. What was my password? You needed my husband’s name as you searched through my contacts. I could hear your words as you tried to reach my husband for me, leaving an urgent message for him to call me. I recall hearing you discuss among yourselves who would drive me home in my car and who would follow that person to bring them back to the store. You didn’t even know one another, but it didn’t seem to matter. You encountered me, a stranger, in the worst moment of my life, and you coalesced around me with common purpose — to help. I remember one of you asking if you could pray for me and for my father. I must have said yes, and now when I recall that Christian prayer being offered up to Jesus for my Jewish father and me, it still brings tears to my eyes and makes me smile.

In my fog, I told you that I had a friend, Pam, who worked at Whole Foods, and one of you went in search of her. Thankfully, she was there that morning, and you brought her to me. I remember the relief I felt at seeing her face, familiar and warm. She took me to the back, comforting me until my husband could get there. I even recall that as I sat with her, one of you sent back a gift card to Whole Foods; though you didn’t know me, you wanted to offer a little something to let me know that you would be thinking of me and holding me and my family in your thoughts and prayers. That gift card helped to feed my family when the idea of cooking was so far beyond my emotional reach.

I never saw you after that. But I know this to be true: If it were not for all of you, I might have simply gotten in the car and tried to drive myself home. I know I wasn’t thinking straight, if I was thinking at all. If it were not for you, I don’t know what I would’ve done in those first raw moments of overwhelming shock, anguish, and grief. But I thank God every day that I didn’t have to find out. Your kindness, your compassion, and your willingness to help a stranger in need have stayed with me until this day. And no matter how many times my mind takes me back to that horrible, life-altering moment, it is not all darkness. Because you reached out to help, you offered a ray of light in the bleakest moment I’ve ever endured. You may not remember it. You may not remember me. But I will never, ever forget you. And though you may never know it, I give thanks for your presence and humanity each and every day.

Originally published at The Mighty.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following:
Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and a one- or two-sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.