“Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.”
My wish, and the mission of StarrBright Suicide Prevention Presentations, is to honor the life of our son, Tom, by educating others about suicide and mental health conditions and helping to inspire a cultural shift around how we talk about them.
In March of 2015 our world changed. Our sweet, hilarious, caring, pun-loving 16-year-old son, Tom, died by suicide. We were utterly blindsided; he hid his depression well, and we were simply under-educated on any signs there may have been. Our deep emotional connection is exemplified in the time we spent together, whether camping out in the car backseat on a cross-country drive from Washington to New York, helping me cook his favorite pasta dinner, swimming in our pool for hours on lazy summer days, helping me beat frustrating video game levels, caring for me after surgery, taming a feral cat who became our lifeline after his death, or assisting us with the technical aspects of community events in which we were involved. He made others laugh easily and was always the first to volunteer when someone needed assistance. He is remembered by our community members as helpful, intelligent, witty, and sensitive. Tom’s quiet humor, quirky personality, generous spirit, and love of music are only some of the things we miss most about our son.
About two months after Tom’s death, I started writing short essays about his life and suicide, as well as anxiety, depression, and my grief. I posted them on my personal Facebook page as well as other pages and blogs around the topics of loss of children and loss by suicide. I found comfort in the responses and support I received. Readers who had not experienced this loss expressed my words helped them understand the impact of a loved one’s suicide. Those traveling the same grief journey voiced I was able to put into words their feelings and experiences. Some readers shared my words with their children which then opened the door to frank conversations about suicide, depression, and anxiety. A few people told me my words helped save their lives or the lives of loved ones.
I eventually compiled the pieces in a book called 457 Days: A Mother’s Journey Along Grief’s Path to share my experience with others who end up on this painful journey. I have also drafted a heavily researched suicide prevention presentation to educate others. It includes excerpts from Tom’s writings, in hopes of presenting a more personal story for those listening. Talking about Tom whether through my writing or these presentations, feels selfish in some ways, but I feel driven to tell our story to help others. I also present about reducing stigma around mental health conditions and suicide by using best practice language.
Tom leaves behind a legacy of love and support. My loss has shaped me, but it does not define me. It has provided me renewed purpose in my son’s memory. Tom and I are forever connected, in life through the wonderful memories of our shared adventures, and, because of his premature passing, in my conviction to help educate others.
Kimberly A. Starr earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre from Whitman College and a Masters in Theatre Production from Central Washington University. After her son 16-year-old son, Tom, died by suicide in March 2015, she started writing to process her feelings around her loss. Her pieces about her grief and the aftermath of her son's death have been published by The Mighty, Our Side of Suicide, The Ugly Shoes Club, The Compassionate Friends, SOSBA, and other national and international blogs and publications. She compiled the writings from the first 457 days of her loss into a book called, 457 Days: A Mother’s Journey Along Grief’s Path.
In addition, Starr owns StarrBright Suicide Prevention Presentations. After Tom’s death, she felt called to learn more about suicide and mental health conditions and now regularly presents research-based information in combination with her personal experience and her son’s writings to a broad range of audiences in hopes others will not experience the depth of pain involved in losing a loved one to suicide. She also presents about reducing stigma around mental health conditions and suicide by using best practice language. Previous audiences have included Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Wellness Program; Kadlec Neurological Center; The Benton Franklin Youth Suicide Prevention Coalition; The Washington Activities Coordinators Association 2020 State Conference; Educational Service District 123 Athletic Directors Association; students and staff at colleges, and middle and high schools; Washington State Day of Remembrance Conference for Gold Star Families; Rotary Clubs; Chambers of Commerce; and multiple mental health and suicide prevention summits.