Survivor Q & A: Dempsey Rice

Been a while since I walked down the hall of the Survivor Q & A series, otherwise knows as our survivor of suicide loss interview series.

Suicide changes lives…lives like mine…and lives like Dempsey Rice.

Meet Dempsey, Survivor & Filmmaker

Part 5 of the Suicide Q & A Series features Dempsey Rice. Dempsey lost her mother to depression and suicide but thankfully the creative process helped her get her giggle back.

Giggle On® pledged to help Dempsey make the 10th Anniversary DVD of her award winning documentary film “Daughter of Suicide” a reality! I am honored Dempsey chose to share her story here at Giggle On. THANK YOU!

Please consider making a donation to Dempsey’s project. Reaching out to our fellow survivors to show them love and support is not just an honor, I feel it is my moral and spiritual duty.  Survivors need to know they are not alone. Sharing our stories with each other helps us all heal. Many of us share the same path of healing: we grieve, we give back and then we can giggle again.

5 Questions

In this series I ask each survivor the same 5 questions about the suicide that affected their lives. Each story is unique: Annie, Jayla, Kelli & Erica.

Each story teaches us something new and yet all stories are bound by a common thread. Love.

Love is Forever

Each survivor talks about loss, rebirth and remembrance. Each story documents the love shared between two people.

(As time wears on, I see less death in these stories and more love – odd, isn’t it?)

Life ends. Things change but love never dies. We may cry. We may scream. We may yield to change but at the end of the day we all have the ability to tap into love. Love is always. It is forever. Perhaps it sounds silly to you, but to me, it just is. Love is always, all the time.

Survivor Q & A with Dempsey Rice

1. How was grieving the loss of your loved one by suicide different (if at all) from the loss of another loved one who did not die by suicide?

In August 1987, a week before I left for my freshman year at college, my best friend was hit and killed by a car. Two months later, in October 1987, my mother killed herself. I was 18 years old.

These are the only two sudden deaths I have ever experienced and they are really intertwined for me. That said, 23 years later I realize that it has been my mother’s death that has had the longer term and more intense impact on my life. The only other death I have experienced as an adult was that of my maternal Grandmother who died at the age of 99, many, many years after my mother. My Grandmother’s death was welcome in many ways — her life was long and very full and we all had time to say good bye. Grieving my mother’s death was a years long struggle with my own depression, my guilt, my fear and my feelings of abandonment that really closed in 2000 with the completion of my documentary film Daughter of Suicide.

2. In the aftermath of your loved one’s death, what 3 Things helped you learn to enjoy life and laugh again…aka getting your giggle back? (could be a person, movie, habit, book, yoga, blog, pastor, support group – anything).

There is really only one thing that helped me get my giggle back: the creative process.

But that process is multi-layered and full of so many actions, thoughts, discussions and feelings that it is really thousands of things all rolled up into one. The creative step I took as a filmmaker was to begin a documentary project called “Daughter of Suicide ” (that was to eventually air on HBO) in October of 1997 (almost ten years to the day after my mother’s death) about her life and death and about how we (her family and friends) survived it.

My initial thought was to make a documentary about the grassroots suicide prevention movement that was growing out of the survivor community. I thought I was doing just fine: I had survived a suicide and I might be able to help others. Looking back, I see how naïve I was – I was not “fine” ten years after my mother killed herself, I was a mess! But in that moment, I thought I was a pillar of strength; as a result, I started videotaping family members and friends while talking to them about my mom. A good friend volunteered to interview me for the project and suddenly I was making a film.

I interviewed my father and sister, my aunts and uncle, my grandmother, a cousin and my mom’s best friend. I talked and talked about my mom and I asked questions: Who was she? What was she like as a child? As a wife? As a young mother? As a friend? My father told me about her post-partum depression, my grandmother talked about her as a happy and precocious child, and her best friend told me how supportive and open she was as a friend. I heard over and over what a GOOD friend she was, what a GOOD wife she was, what a GOOD child she was… despite the darkness that she struggled with.

I began to understand what a wonderful woman my mother had been and started comparing the stories I was hearing with my own more recent memories of her depression and anger and eventual suicide. That last year of her life, and her eventual suicide, blotted out much of the happiness I felt as a child but suddenly I was learning something new. I was asking questions and actually getting answers about all of her ups and downs. Good memories were coming back and it felt like she was speaking to me through friends and family. I was finally in conversation with my mother! It was exciting and devastating — the loss of her hit me all over again and the load of her suicide grew heavier as I moved forward documenting her life.

Several times during the three years it took for me to make “Daughter of Suicide”, I thought about walking away from the project.

I lived my mother’s life and her death over and over again.

I was immersed in its depth and struggled for perspective. I continued attending support groups and participating in the survivor community which was very helpful, but it was individuals outside that community (my family, friends, the documentary film community…) who recognized the importance of what I was doing who helped me get the film done.

When DAUGHTER OF SUICIDE was released in early 2000 I was invited to be a guest on a few TV shows, I traveled to film festivals and it eventually premiered on HBO. My pain, my family’s pain, was out there for everyone to see and it felt surprisingly good! It was as if the making of the film released all of my demons. My load was suddenly lighter despite the fact that my mom was still dead, still a suicide. I’d stepped into her darkness and came out the other side brighter, happier and freer. I could GIGGLE again! I could laugh and smile and actually ENJOY living!

3. Did you feel guilt for laughing again and enjoying life after your loved one’s death? Meaning, did you feel you were not honoring their memory because you moved past intense grief?

Simply put, no. I suffered for just about thirteen years after my mother’s suicide — I carried around pain and fear and depression all of the time. I feel like I suffered enough! I continue to honor her memory as an artist, as a daughter, as a sister, as a friend and as a mother myself but I do NOT feel bad about moving on with my life. I wish I had been able to much earlier than I did!

4. For those of you past the 12 month mark of a loved one’s suicide, what advice would you give to someone who has recently lost someone to suicide?

Everyone’s has their own time line and you should grieve as long as you need to. Don’t let anyone tell you that you should be done with it. That said, give yourself permission to be happy, to giggle, to laugh, to enjoy brief moments of life, to look for the silver lining and to move on when you are ready! In addition, I encourage you to seek out other survivors of suicide on the web or at support groups. There is power and healing in group talk and in knowing that others UNDERSTAND your story.

5. What type of resources do you feel survivors of suicide need the most?

Survivors of suicide need to know that they are not alone, that what they are feeling is OK and that there is NO SHAME in losing someone to suicide. My film “Daughter of Suicide” was made to pull surviving out of the closet and to let survivors know that there are many of us and that feelings of anger, depression, frustration and fear are all OK.

Survivors also need to know that they will live THROUGH the experience, that they will not remain mired in grief and that is possible to THRIVE after suicide.

Related posts:

Giggle On Survivor of Suicide Loss Interview Series

Survivor Q & A: Annie DiMattia

Survivor Q & A: Jayla Boire

Survivor Q & A: Kelli Karlton

Survivor Q & A: Erica Volkman


  1. Thank You Christa! I am so glad you are and are BACK.

    I am experiencing goose bumps reading the Dempsey Story. And not unlike laughter, “goose bumped flesh” is a way of experiencing emotional release. Tears work too.

    The creative process heals! Thank you for this powerful reminder Dempsey.

    We suicide survivors are entitled to creatively live life with joy and power. Be fully alive while you are alive!

    With respect, gratitude and healing laughter for what you, and Dempsey shared with us.
    Carmela Carlyle
    Laughter Yoga Therapist
    .-= Carmela Carlyle´s last blog ..Newsletter – April and May 2010 =-.

  2. WOW. While I was reading Dempsey’s story, and thru her answers I was reminded (of course) of how I have journeyed, “journaled” and questioned my way through my mother’s choice to end her life. And how true it is: the creative process is so vital to the healing process. Not to say that we all have to make a film, write a book, start a blog :) or become artists in the honor of our loved one’s memory (even though I’m grateful for Dempsey’s and others’ great work there!), but that we have to TELL the story of our loved ones with the many dimensions in which they lived their lives (in SPITE of suicide, which tends to flatten a rich life down to one flat fact). Christa, we’ve spoken many times about the choice to be a victim or a survivor . Dempsey’s story illustrates beautifully the way we make a difficult but healthy choice — taking any creative approach we can to see the WHOLE person who existed in our lives, from every angle. I like to say that I finally saw my Mom as “another woman,” instead of just “my mom,” once I really saw her in context of her whole life. It is a bittersweet memory, and my salvation.

    It’s so clear now that our “job,” post-suicide-trauma, is to focus on seeing the entirety of a life so that we can see all the living parts and not just the dying part. In this vision, we truly “see.”

    Thanks Christa & Dempsey!!!

  3. This is a wonderful story. I too lost my mother to suicide and completely relate to the emotions and turmoil surrounding Dempsey’s tragedy. Thank you for sharing this touching story.

  4. After just reading the article and comments, my mind is swirling with feelings unsaid. I struggle to listen to my inner voice so I can type the words, so I can re-read them in hopes of understanding my world. Perhaps this is how journaling helps. ..

  5. A co-worker and I were talking about suicide and she said that she believes that is very selfish of those who committed suicide because they are not thinking of the ones they will leave behind.

    Not once have I thought of killing myself even in the midst of depression, but sometimes the pain could be too much it is unbearable – the darkness and gloom. But I thought there is always hope of better days to come, which where I am now thank Jehovah and His son Jesus Christ.

    If I kill myself – I’d leave behind young children who will not know what they have to do in their lives. They NEED me. Sure it will be a selfish act to kill myself – that would not be thinking of them and I love them so much.

    It’s not to say that Dempsey’s mother did not love her and the rest of her family but what I found out is that in depression, you are SO ALONE in that darkness in your soul. Therefore, I’d say that even though it might look selfish to kill oneself and not think of the tremendous pain you’d cause to those you will leave behind, a part of me says “selfish” is not an appropriate term to use for these unfortunate souls. May God bless them and give them a new chance in the Day of Resurrection when Christ calls out their names from their graves and memorial tombs.

    What are your thoughts on this?

  6. Thank you for all of your wonderful comments. Anna, I have suffered from depression in the past and I do understand the pain and suffering involved with a disease that awful. I do hope you are seeking treatment and that you are FIGHTING!

    I know my mother loved me deeply, but she lost the fight her own depression in part because she did not seek help (she refused it point blank) as she was sliding down the slope.

    I will never turn my back on help. I will always fight the disease. I will giggle and love and enjoy my life and my children. I hope you can do the same….

  7. Dempsey,
    Thank you for your kind response and encouragement. I never stopped seeking help, I never stopped talking. I’ve always told myself that one day, in my search for answers, I WILL find the comfort and healing. Somewhere, someone will say the right words, somewhere, a book will say the right things – and some actually did!

    That was my journey, a journey that brought me to the feet of God. I now pray constantly and talk to Him every single day and thank Him for all the blessings He never cease to give me. It is vey powerful to talk to Him daily.

    Have a wonderful weekend with your family!
    – Anna

  8. Ahhh you have had so much pain. You are a strong woman though. I love your name since I have the same one! There aren’t many people with this name, especially women.

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