Around 16 students, faculty and staff gathered Tuesday night to share stories, advice and support about suicide during the second Light the Night’s suicide awareness event. Held in the Collegium, the event was aimed at following up and expanding dialogue about the reality of suicide on campus, in Seattle and around the world.
“We try to cater to people who have lost someone to suicide or who have struggled with it,” sophomore and event coordinator Nina Reisen said. “We wanted [the event] to serve as a reminder that there are people at SPU who support them.”
During the event, audience members watched videos and listened to speakers Monique Vanderbroucke, a sophomore, and Allison Soike, a 2003 Seattle Pacific alumna.
Vanderbroucke began by telling audience members about her past struggles with depression.
Vanderbrouke said that in fourth grade, she often contemplated the meaning of life. She remembers thinking about the sadness and tragedy surrounding many peoples’ lives and wondering how anyone could be happy.
Vanderbrouke recalls waking up every morning in seventh grade and feeling like she wasn’t good enough. Soon, she said that she began to experience panic attacks and develop eating disorders. Because of these, she said that her feelings of depression continued into high school.
“I would wake up in the mornings thinking, ‘I don’t understand; I’m doing all I can… I’m a devout Christian, and I hate my life,’ ” Vanderbrouke said.
Vanderbrouke said that she remembers standing in front of her bathroom mirror one night with a handful of pills. Just before taking them, she started to think about her niece.
“I didn’t want her to live in a world where her aunt had committed suicide,” Vanderbrouke said.
Vanderbrouke, after this, began to work through her family and religious issues taking medication and investing in the communities she was connected with.
“This is the first time in my life I’ve ever really been happy,” Vanderbrouke said. “[It] feels good to be free of what I’ve been constrained and suffocated by my whole life.”
Soike told audience members about her experience losing her youngest brother to suicide 11 years ago. Growing up as the oldest of four kids in her family, Soike said that she embraced the responsibility that came with being the oldest sibling.
Two months before her graduation from SPU, Soike said she received a phone call informing her of her brother’s suicide. She remembers wondering why she hadn’t picked up on any signs or indicators about his troubled thoughts.
“Sometimes, it feels like 11 years, sometimes it feels like 11 days,” Soike said. “Sometimes, it feels like 11 lifetimes ago.”
Soike credits the support she received from her residence hall floor and other friends during her time at SPU as key to her eventual understanding and acceptance of her brother’s death.
Currently, Soike works at the Boys and Girls Club. She said that her experience with her brother’s suicide is one of the most powerful messages she can pass on to the teens she works with.
“I don’t want to be healed from my pain… I want to feel it,” Soike said. “Nothing could ever fill this hole in the shape of my brother … but I don’t want them to. It reminds me of who he was.”
Soike and Vanderbrouke ended the event by giving audience members advice about dealing with people who are struggling with suicidal thoughts.
“Ask questions … have grace,” Soike said. “Even if it feels like the wrong thing to say … it shows you want to talk.”