My son is a big part of why I’m here and why I do this work
In November 2011, Ann lost her beloved 19-year-old son Brian to suicide.
I’ve met so many families like mine, who have lost a child away at college. And they had no idea how much their child was struggling.
Brian had loved high school, especially time spent with friends and playing on his travel lacrosse team. He also struggled with anxiety and depression. Brian saw a therapist and took medication. Even when symptoms exhausted him, he seemed to quickly recover.
By the time he started college, he appeared to be doing better. The youngest of Ann’s three sons, Brian loved snowboarding. He chose Castleton State College in Vermont to be near the mountains.
The transition to college was great. He had so many friends there and at home in Connecticut. But I noticed when he came home at the end of his freshman year there was just something a little bit off. I couldn’t pinpoint it.
Brian couldn’t wait to go back to school again, though. Whenever Ann voiced her concern, he would say, “Don’t worry about me because I’m in my safe place.”
Brian died during his sophomore year of college.
The ripple effects from suicide just go on and on and on and on. We’re a family in a small community. Our house was like a revolving door when Brian died, and people were coming from out of the woodwork. I think they were just shocked. Like, ‘How could this happen to a family like them?’
For the first couple of years, Ann functioned, but barely. She went to counseling as well as a grief support group with her husband. She started to attend workshops and trainings to learn as much as she could about suicide.
In 2014, she sat her husband and two older sons down.
I told them “I don’t know what we’re going to do, but I need to do something. And I’m going to call it Project Brian.”
That was the beginning of the Brian Dagle Foundation. Ann and her family established the organization to support others experiencing the grief of losing a loved one to suicide, and to educate members of the community about suicide prevention.
The foundation’s base, Brian’s Healing Hearts Center, is a welcoming home on Niantic, Connecticut’s Main Street. The center has cozy rooms, a sprawling porch, and doors that are open to anyone grieving the loss of someone important in their lives. Guests can attend support groups, reading groups, social events, and receive grief counseling—all at no cost.
Ann developed the foundation with “a lot of starts and stops.” Putting herself out there, and sharing about a painful topic, was sometimes as exhausting as it was meaningful.
She has met with lawmakers in Washington D.C. and Connecticut to advocate for suicide research and awareness. She has been a companion to hundreds of grieving people—both in groups and in one-on-one settings—and has trained countless others in suicide prevention.
I never thought I would survive this, nor did I want to survive in the beginning. But I’m glad I did. I live again, I love again. I have a full life with family, friends, our community, and the work that we do now.
The most beautiful moments happen when she sees fellow suicide loss survivors engage with life again after months, a year, three years, or however long they need.
For Ann, Brian is at the heart of such gifts.
It’s been more than ten years, but our story doesn’t end just because he’s gone from me physically. I still have a relationship with him in my own way. I still talk to him, and I think he talks to me.
Brian, who was a friend to everybody and was always there for others, continues to inspire Ann.
I think I’m carrying on some of the work that he would do. His story doesn’t have to end and mine doesn’t either. It goes on. I go on, and he goes on, and we are able to do this together.