Greensboro, N.C. -- Meredy Swafford always thought of suicide as something that happened in other families; not hers. And certainly no one she loved would do such a thing.
But on December 4, 2005 that all changed a suicide hit home and became part of her story.
The Centers for Disease Control says more people are now dying from suicides than car accidents in the United States. And still, as a society, we have a stigma about the topic.
Swafford says she's working to lift that stigma and hope people can openly talk about suicides before it's too late.
"It's a complicated grief, because the person you loved killed a person that you loved," Swafford explained in her home, recalling the death of her husband 48-year-old, Doug Swafford. He was the man she loved and the dad who helped raise her two children.
"There are a lot of unanswered questions, there'll always be unanswered questions," Swafford said.
But looking back, the widow says she can now see some of the little signs she missed while focused on her husband's declining health.
She says her husband had a rough childhood, had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his time as a Marine, he was diagnosed with a kidney disease and then a painful lung disease the day before his death.
"He would say things, things like, you know, 'I could just end it all.' just in flight, I don't think he thought he'd ever feel better than he did that day."
Swafford says she went to work one morning and came back to her husband's lifeless body.
"I came home at about 5 o'clock and walked in and found that he had shot himself. I thought, 'OK, he's got a mask on. He's messing with me. And then reality set in. I was like, he's, and he's gone.'
It was on December 14, 2005.
"Then you had Christmas, December 31st was his birthday as well as New Year's Eve, so all of this just slammed into one thing."
Within weeks, Swafford was diagnosed with PTSD.
"You have to be a survivor in order to get through the ordeal because it's a struggle," she said.
As part of her healing, she has now made it her job to speak out about suicides and perhaps lift some of the stigma attached.
She organizes events to raise awareness, raises money for suicide prevention efforts and gives speeches
"To me it's important because the more we talk about it, the more we know the signs and symptoms. And more we're able to find help for those who need it," she said. "I was never angry at my husband. I never thought that he did this in any way to get at me. I believe that someone gets into a deep, dark hole, and it's the only way out. They don't think about those around them."
Swafford says sometimes the person in the situation doesn't realize their own vulnerable state and it's up to those around them to recognize some of the signs: feeling hopeless, talk about feeling trapped, talk about being a burden, increased use of alcohol or drugs, depression.
If you need help or suspect a loved-one does, there are several organizations willing to help:
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
For younger people there's a Youth-line: 1-877-968-8454
Our triad counties have resources as well:
Alamance-Caswell Area Mental Health
24 hours / 7 days
Teen Crisis Line
Youth Focus, Inc.
4pm - Midnight
Mental Health Association in Greensboro
Winston-Salem Contact Helpline of the Triad