I sat down to watch Oprah’s highly anticipated interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and was emotionally jolted by Meghan’s stories about her suicidal thoughts and challenges getting support. To help others, I’ve shared my very personal story of dealing with my sister’s suicide in my new book, “Playing for Keeps – How a 21st-century businesswoman beat the boys,” and offer five ways to cope with a sibling suicide here.
Along with the other 17.1 million viewers, I was curious about what secrets would be divulged during Oprah’s interview with members of the British royal family. And was even more excited because we have a common ancestor. Later in life, I learned that my father’s family bloodline is connected to the Devonshire Churchills, which includes the Princess of Wales (Lady Diana Spencer.)
During this emotional interview, when Meghan said that she didn’t want to live anymore, I honestly had a visceral reaction. It instantly took me back to that August evening in 1976. My dad, mom, and I got off the plane in San Francisco. We rented a car and drove across the Golden Gate Bridge as thunder and lightning lit up the sky. My big sister (Gigi) had committed suicide, and it was like living in a nightmare that was overwhelming. She was 21, and I was only 15.
When we got the tragic news, my world became surreal and strangely foreign. The pain took my breath away, and I don’t remember breathing again for years.  
If losing Gigi weren’t horrific enough, in that split second, I went from being a regular kid at school to becoming the sophomore whose sister took her own life. Wherever I went, secretive glances followed me like a wake follows a ship. Friends avoided me because they just did not know what to say.   
As a young teen, I somehow had to figure out how to work through an unspeakable, horrible reality that no one wanted to discuss. And deep inside, I had to confront the question that haunted me every day: “Is suicide going to get me, too?”
As a young teen, I somehow had to figure out how to work through an unspeakable, horrible reality that no one wanted to discuss. And deep inside, I had to confront the question that haunted me every day: “Is suicide going to get me, too?”
When I landed my first job at 15 1/2, the raw agony of losing Gigi changed my perspective about the future. From that point forward, I was on a mission to get as far away from that awful day when she died.
Growing up fast, I learned to cope with my pain and survive. To stay strong, I got a job, played competitive sports, and found ways to build my inner strength. All this pent-up anxiety later made me more fearless in my career. I created blinders to the “little things” at work that got in my way and instead focused on winning big deals. The worst thing had already happened to me. I would go into important sales meetings with the attitude of “What’s the worst that can happen? I don’t get the order…someone says no?” There was just no comparison to the loss of a sibling to suicide.
If you or a loved one are having suicidal thoughts, it’s so important to reach out for help. Call a loved one, friend, or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255. You are not alone.
1 in 5 Americans faces some type of mental illness (according to the CDC), and it’s even more upsetting to see that suicide rates have risen during the pandemic. We must all remove the shame and stigma of asking for help and encourage people to get support when needed. 
And if you’ve sadly lost someone close to you by suicide, acknowledge your feelings and take action to get help so you are not alone. To help you be stronger, below are five things that increased our inner strength and may work for you:
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Fast-forward my life to 2004, and twenty-eight years after my sister Gigi took her own life, my dad had an open house. One of the guests asked me if I was Gigi’s little sister, and I said yes. We went into another room to talk more privately. 
“How has your life been?” she asked. I gave her a quick overview: three beautiful kids, a great career, and early retirement that same year.
She then said, “You were the light of Gigi’s life. She always hurried home from school to take care of you.”
“She is your guardian angel,” the woman said.  
Something inside told me the woman was right. All of my life, there could be chaos around me, but I would attract positive outcomes. Whenever I had a big win at work, everyone always said that I had a guardian angel.  
Now that I look back, I realize that Gigi was the wind beneath my wings. I continue to miss her often and hope my coping skills can help others rebuild their lives after the loss of a loved one to suicide.


Therese Allison