This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.
When Mindi Hoggan’s daughter Chaylie Holmgren, 28, died by suicide on May 17, Hoggan knew she didn’t want an obituary that said her daughter died suddenly. Instead, she wanted something that honored Holmgren and raised awareness about mental health.
“If there’s even one person that I can reach so that (their loved ones) don’t have to feel how I feel, then I’ve done my job,” Hoggan of Logan, Utah, told TODAY. “Mental health is nothing to be ashamed of. I don't want people who are suffering to feel ashamed to ask for help.”
With the help of her cousin, Lisa B. McKinney, Hoggan wrote a moving and unvarnished tribute about her daughter and suicide.
“This silent epidemic is catastrophic. If talking about it, exposing it, shouting it from the rooftops, will help even one person find a way to talk about their pain, a difference can and must be made,” the obituary reads.
“Show kindness, an openness to talk, and more importantly to listen, to see, to hear without judgement. If only to save one family from the pain and anguish of losing a loved one through bringing awareness to this tragic and senseless loss of life, then our beloved Chaylie’s death will not be in vain … we cannot afford to lose another light.”
Mental health experts applauded Hoggan’s message.
“This family should be saluted for their courageous approach to this epidemic,” Dr. Ken Duckworth, chief medical officer at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told TODAY, adding that death by suicide has increased steadily every year since the 1990s.
“It is a real positive to say the truth. The more light you let into the room, the less toxic it is likely to be. This is part of the human experience: despair, perfectionism, mental health, vulnerability.”
Being open about mental illness helps normalize it, encouraging others to feel more comfortable speaking about it — and hopefully getting help, experts said.
“It was a very powerful read," Dr. Jack Rozel, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told TODAY. “Acknowledging the illness that they died from and their manner of their death in a way that respects their life calls out the clinical issues and does so in a way that is compassionate and transparent as they did, takes some skill.”
Holmgren had obsessive compulsive disorder and struggled with perfectionism. She went to counseling and took medication to manage her health. Few people knew what she was dealing with, seeing only the “vivacious” put-together young mother who made an impact on everyone she met, her family noted.
When Holmgren laughed, it was hard not to join her. She loved dancing and gymnastics and volunteered with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Often, she traveled to conventions focused on women’s empowerment. When someone moved to the neighborhood, she welcomed them immediately.
“She was always the first person to make friends with someone,” Hoggan said. “She had the best personality and the funniest laugh and the most beautiful smile you’ve ever seen.”
She worked as a manager at a local salon, but she truly enjoyed being a mom to her three children, daughter Londyn, 10, and sons Braykin, 6, and Brixton, 2.
“She was a young mother. She had her first child at 17,” Hoggan said. “She just really took to that. She was such a good mom and she had to grow up quickly.”
Holmgren was determined, fearless and outgoing. While her mom knew that she sometimes struggled, Holmgren rarely asked for help. Often, people found themselves talking with her about their problems.
“She was a very good confidant,” Hoggan said. “I didn’t realize how many lives that she had touched until this happened.”
The week before she died, the family enjoyed a fun Mother’s Day, laughing and playing volleyball.
“She’s my only daughter and we were very, very close,” Hoggan said. “We don’t realize that the prettiest girl you know, that you might think has everything, that maybe that girl is suffering."
Rozel said another important message shared in the obituary is how much the family adored all of Holmgren and felt no shame about her mental health.
“The unequivocal statement of love and support for all people with … mental illness is an important statement. The reality is there is discrimination and stigma,” he said. “Part of breaking down the stigma is the transparency of people with lived experience with mental illnesses and suicidal behaviors or suicidal loss being out in the public.”
Knowing how to talk with a loved one who has expressed suicidal thoughts or wanting to die can be tough, he said, but bringing up suicidal thoughts won’t cause people to try it. For those wondering what to say #BeThe1To provides helpful tips.
“Shame is one of the things that can make it really tough for people to talk about feeling suicidal or to ask other people about feeling suicidal. But it needs to be OK to ask and it needs to be OK to express that,” Rozel said. “Listening compassionately without judgement helps people express their emotions and helps people feel safe and cared for.”
Hoggan is stunned by the messages she’s received from strangers sharing their own experiences about loved ones dying of suicide. She said that helps her.
“It’s actually comforting. I hate to hear that there are others,” she said. “Hearing from people actually makes me feel like what I tried to do is working.”