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shifting the conversation

Mental health awareness month: Shifting the conversation with Susie Fotheringham

Susie shares a personal story of losing of a loved one that inspired her mental health journey.  

At Sabre, we are committed to embracing and celebrating our diversity. In this inclusion & engagement series, Shifting the Conversation, our people share their stories to engage in open dialog and shed light on their broad, rich and unique perspectives. In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, this blog highlights a personal story of losing a loved one that inspired a journey to mental health, penned by Sabre’s Susie Fotheringham, an active member of Sabre’s Well-Being Advocate Network (SWAN). SWAN provides peer-to-peer support to destigmatize mental health as we work to educate and raise awareness.

I’m the youngest of three and fit every stereotype of being the baby of the family. When I was 32, I still asked my dad for gas money, shopped in my mom’s pantry and sought my parent’s validation in all my life choices. I didn’t believe my dad was immortal, but I had not considered living in a world without him.

It came as a shock when my healthy and fit father was diagnosed with terminal cancer in May of 2012. The shock unlocked a range of emotions that varied in weight and intensity. I felt a sense of guilt for being sad or crying in my dad’s presence because he was trying so hard to help us come to terms with the fate he already accepted.

I wanted to find the strength to help him navigate through his illness and learn how to avoid the pain I felt and would feel when he passed. While I knew I could lean on friends and family, I wanted expert preparation for losing the greatest person I’ve ever known. I found professional help through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

My therapist helped me realize that love cannot cure cancer. It sounds silly that I needed help understanding that, but initially, I couldn’t accept it because it felt so unfair. I also learned to consider the difficulty he faced getting care from us when he was always the caregiver. While it was challenging to pause and reflect on my emotions with my therapist when my dad was sick, I knew the mental “exercise” helped me navigate through the pain to be stronger for my dad as he got weaker.

After fighting for six grueling months, my father passed away. Dealing with the loss, I experienced many emotions right away, including anger. I took issue with the obituary phrase “survived by.” My dad didn’t survive, and I definitely didn’t feel that I survived anything when he died. Years later, I’m still in the stages of mourning. While I wanted to avoid grief, I needed to learn how to live with it. My grief must exist because it’s rooted in the love I have for my dad. It’s a by-product of every memory I carry of him.

I allow myself to feel sad, but I actively seek joy. If I can’t find it, I create it. Being a bright spot in someone’s day – a compliment, a Say Thanks recognition, telling a joke – is how I try to foster happiness. Grief still comes in waves, but education and practice help me carry the mental “weight” and learn new ways to cope. 

The biggest lesson I have learned is to appreciate the present. Life is too short to miss an opportunity to connect with the ones you love. When I reflect on my dad’s life, I rarely think about his cancer or passing. I remember him teaching me how to drive, his corny dad jokes and our family vacations throughout the years. Reflecting on these memories helps fill the void left behind by the loss. Grief may be the price of making memories, but it is absolutely worth it.

May is the month my mental health journey began twelve years ago. To me, mental health awareness means acknowledging my mental weight. Today, I take proactive measures to maintain both my physical and mental health. I practice strengthening my mental muscles to bear more “weight” or learn new techniques to lose the stress and worry “weight” in my life. Mental health does not equal the absence of illness, loss or grief – it’s finding empowerment in my response.

Sabre is shifting the conversation with stories from passionate and bold inclusion group members. At the heart of our inclusion & engagement efforts, our eight inclusion groups, and counting, aim to amplify the voices of our team members and create a sense of belonging for all. Together, we celebrate diversity, applaud individuality and embrace unique perspectives to empower our global team members to bring their true selves to work every day. Learn more about our inclusion & engagement mission.

about the author

Susie Fotheringham is a proud member of the Sabre Well-Being Advocate Network (SWAN), providing peer-to-peer support to destigmatize mental health. As a Certified Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Susie also helps foster a healthy and productive workplace in her role on the People Team.  

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