Heidi Bryan profile

She’s driven, determined and relentless

Heidi Bryan was crushed when her brother took his own life, and she still thinks about him every day. But she has turned an unimaginable event into extraordinary activism. “The new Heidi is stronger,” she says. “I value life and people a lot more than before. I enjoy life rather than thinking it’s something to be endured.”

Bryan’s older brother, Jeff, was 40, married with 2 children. On the dark, wintry Friday he was fired from his job as a hospital nurse, he got a speeding ticket on the way home. The next day he took his wife to work but never picked her up, and that’s when the family started to worry. That evening a cousin found the body in Jeff’s own back yard.

First Bryan, who lives with her husband, Bill, in Phoenixville, was angry at her brother, worried especially about the children’s future. “They were 7 and 8, the age when they would think it’s their fault.

“I was relapsing from Lyme disease, and between that and my own depression, 6 weeks earlier I had been writing my own will. After Jeff died, I received 2 phone calls and 5 cards from people. Period. I saw old friends who knew I had a brother who had committed suicide, and they never said a word. It was as if Jeff never existed. Those people are no longer major friends, but I will never forget those who did reach out.”

Over time, as Bryan faced life without Jeff, she noticed that TV shows and movies that depicted suicide never showed what happened afterward. “They were sending a message that suicide is an option, but it’s not,” she says. “It really started to bother me. Lyme disease changed me, but Jeff’s suicide changed me to the core of my being. I wished there was something I could do.”

Four years ago Bryan and her minister formed the Feeling Blue Suicide Prevention Committee at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Radnor. After a few projects fizzled, Bryan heard actress Mariette Hartley, a survivor and honorary director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), talking about AFSP on national TV. Newly energized, Bryan joined AFSP, set up www.feelingblue.org and attended the annual event Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network (SPAN).

Last fall Feeling Blue held a successful seminar for guidance counselors of junior and senior high school students. “It’s my mission,” says Heidi Bryan. “This is what I’m supposed to be doing. Every time I started to lose faith in Feeling Blue, something good would happen. I don’t know whether I’ve ever helped someone, but it doesn’t matter. I have to do this. Between my ambivalence, the reaction I got from people and feeling suicidal myself, I simply don’t want anybody to go through what I went through.

“Because of Jeff’s death,” says this trust assistant for a bank, “I discovered a new side of me. I’m driven, determined and relentless. I may have been that before, but I never realized it.”

Written for the newsletter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.