Healing After Suicide – i understand Book Interview

suicide prevention sunset

What better time than National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month to speak to Vonnie Woodrick about her new book? Vonnie and her children created the nonprofit organization, i understand in 2014 to change the way we talk about suicide. And to address the stigma and language surrounding what is the terminal effect of a mental illness.


Since 2014, Vonnie and the i understand team have provided education, mental health support, comfort, and a powerful voice for change to anyone struggling with suicidal ideation or the aftermath of a loved one’s suicide. Her book, i understand  pain, love, and healing after suicide, is available now. In the book, as in her life, Vonnie speaks from the heart. And her journey from “fairy tale” love story, to tragedy, to finding good in “something so awful” is an homage to Rob Woodrick, family, and the power of love to heal.



After losing my husband, Rob, to suicide, I was devastated, confused, and heartbroken. No life experience could have prepared me for suicide’s claim on my husband. I was left to wonder, “What happened?” I thought suicide was something that happened to other people, other families. Only crazy people die by suicide, right? Yet my husband wasn’t crazy; he was kind, gentle, and loving. How did this happen?

From i understand by Vonnie Woodrick


National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is a time to share resources and stories in an “effort to shed light on this highly taboo and stigmatized topic”. In this regard, Vonnie’s book tells the “story” of her relationship to Rob Woodrick, a complicated man with anxiety driven depression. Vonnie says Rob’s depression was not something that impacted the family day-to-day. It was just something they had to “deal with”. But the loneliness and isolation in the aftermath of his death by suicide affected each member of the family for a lifetime.


The book honestly depicts what it felt like for Vonnie and her children to experience the stigma associated with suicide. It also charts how, more than ten years after his death, the nonprofit i understand was born. We sat down with Vonnie to talk about her organization, the book, and the fine art of starting the conversation about suicide.


suicide prevention

The author at a book signing for “pink heart day” …


Interview with Vonnie Woodrick

Sanford: There is a theme that runs through the book – the loneliness of being left behind after suicide. Could you speak to that?

Vonnie Woodrick: Suicide is a difficult journey. It’s shocking. My kids and I didn’t have any friends or peers who had gone through what we were experiencing. I was a young widow. It felt very alone. People only know what they know. And if they haven’t experienced what I have experienced, it’s hard to empathize. And after a couple of months, the expectation was that we should be okay. But we were not okay.


Sanford: In the book, you talk about the “trite” things people said to you, like “everything happens for a reason”. What did people say that was a comfort?

Vonnie Woodrick: (Pause, smile …) People do not know what to say. Do you know the number one question people ask about a suicide? How did they do it? The religious folks tell you your loved one went to hell. Some people think suicide is a crime … What gives comfort is when someone mentions their name, shares a memory or a laugh. You know, Rob is not here, but we think of him and miss him every day.


Sanford: At the beginning of every chapter you have a quote, everyone from Bettie Davis to Edgar Allan Poe. Where did they all come from?

Vonnie Woodrick: To me, a quote is a sentence or two that sums up my feelings about a particular subject. I have been collecting quotes and journalling for 17 years. Writing it all down made me feel better, and I probably would not have written this book if I didn’t have my journal notes to look back on.


Sanford: You mention the generational suicide in Rob’s family in your book, but not a lot of detail. Is that in deference to the family?

Vonnie Woodrick: Yes. It’s a sensitive subject, but I have to speak my truth. We didn’t talk a lot about Rob’s family history when he was alive, because it didn’t seem like we needed to. We knew Rob had anxiety driven depression. The truth is, that level of pain has a deadly side-effect.


Sanford: In the book you say most people who attempt suicide do not want to die – they want relief from the pain.

Vonnie Woodrick: And we do not talk about it. The person who is suffering does not know how to escape the pain. The loss of control. At some point they just want to end it all. Because of this, the word I think of is “burden”

A person with depression does not want to be a “burden” to their loved ones. They are ashamed. They may even have been doing well, but slipped – and that is okay. As long as you continue the conversation. And the loved ones face so much guilt. What could we have done? I do not feel guilt over Rob’s suicide, probably because our relationship was so good – complete. I think there are some things we just don’t know. If you hear my story and my truth and I hear yours, how can we blame each other? It’s what i understand is all about.


In the days and weeks after the funeral, I struggled to comprehend how a father of three could possibly think his children would be better off without him.

From i understand by Vonnie Woodrick


Sanford: As an addiction treatment center, we understand the connection between anxiety and addiction. Can you speak about that?

Vonnie Woodrick: There is so much pain that has not been dissected. We could go all the way back to childhood to determine what caused the depression. And so, it makes sense that people with anxiety and depression would self-medicate. For a short time, drugs and alcohol can provide a bit of relief from the pain …


suicide prevention

It takes a village …


Sanford: You are a proponent of changing the vocabulary around suicide, how does that work?

Vonnie Woodrick: Words matter. When you say someone “committed suicide” it implies complicity. The definition of “suicide” (which we are trying to change) includes intention. Why are we not talking about the pain? For example, I can say, “He killed himself”. That makes for an uncomfortable exchange. What do you respond to that? Or I can say, “He died of depression.” That opens up a meaningful dialogue.


Sanford: Finally, please explain the quote attributed to you in the book.


Deep down, you already know the truth. Let’s face it together. 

From i understand by Vonnie Woodrick


Vonnie Woodrick: People set you free. There should be no hiding behind your illness. Open up and speak your truth and the truth will set you free. You will not be judged. One of my finest moments was receiving a message from someone who said i understand saved their life. And this person acknowledged that it also safeguarded the lives of their entire family. When you hear something like that, the journey becomes clear.

And what a journey it is… Thank you Vonnie, Sanford 

If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately.

Get involved at the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI).


Sanford Behavioral Health is licensed and accredited as an addiction, eating disorder, and co-occurring mental health treatment facility, serving all of Michigan and beyond. Each of Sanford’s facilities in Greater Grand Rapids is carefully and diligently crafted to create a welcoming and comforting environment. Sanford is led by a psychiatrist-led team of medical, clinical, and support personnel providing medication-assisted, evidenced-based treatment to residential, outpatient, and telehealth patients. For more information, visit www.sanfordbehavioralhealth.com.