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After daughter's death, Fergus woman launches greeting card to give "H.O.P.E." to others considering suicide

Lorrie Carlson remembers how difficult it could be to find the right card for her daughter Elisha whenever she was struggling. Now she's worked with Minneapolis artist Marva Sheriff to produce the H.O.P.E. card, designed to say just the right thing when people need it most.

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Lorrie Carlson worked with Minneapolis artist Marva Sheriff to create the H.O.P.E. card, which could be sent to people who have attempted suicide as well as to families and loved ones affected by suicide.
Contributed / Glimmers of Hope
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FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — After a 25-year struggle with mental illness, Elisha Carlson ended her own life by overdosing on prescription medicine on April 8, 2014.

Afterward, as her grieving parents, Lorrie and Mark Carlson, sorted through Elisha’s personal effects, they were surprised to find that their daughter had kept every card of support and encouragement they had sent her during her 25-year battle with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and disordered eating.

Surely those messages of hope had meant something for her to hold onto them, her mother thought. Perhaps Elisha even sometimes looked back at them for encouragement when feeling defeated or low.

The idea that the weight of human suffering could be lifted by something as simple as a card would stay with Lorrie Carlson.

“Since that time, I have prayed for a way to honor her memory,” Carlson says. “Now I believe I have found what I have been searching for.”

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Carlson has developed the H.O.P.E. Greeting Card Project, which features cards that say just the right thing when a person might need it most.

The “Glimmers of Hope” cards, which are designed by Minneapolis artist Marva Sheriff, contain encouraging messages like “Be still,” “You are essential,” and “May hope come your way.” They include restful watercolor-and-ink images of tree-lined lakes, flowers, butterflies and trees.

But the card Sheriff specifically designed for Carlson is the H.O.P.E. card, which is based on the acronym used by certain suicide-prevention organizations: “Hold on, Pain Ends.” It’s a reminder that even in the most challenging times of life the pain will eventually pass — even if it doesn’t feel like it in that moment.

Carlson remembers how difficult it could be to find the right card for Elisha whenever she was struggling. “A get well card can seem inappropriate; encouragement cards don’t always convey the right message,” she says.

Sheriff illustrated the H.O.P.E. card with two rows of dark, foreboding trees, which flank a glowing, sunny path emblazoned with the word, “Hope.”

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Carlson's H.O.P.E. card, which contains the acronym for Hold on, pain ends.
Tammy Swift / The Forum

Inside, the card contains the H.O.P.E. acronym, along with the phrase, “Pause, Breathe, Reflect, Refocus & Reset.”

There’s also a quote from writer and theologian C.S. Lewis: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

The back of the card includes an inspirational message from Sheriff, whose own life has been touched by suicide, as well as the notation: “In loving memory of Elisha.”

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Cards could help families as well

The cards can be sent to anyone who has lived with suicidal thoughts or behaviors or attempted suicide. But they also can comfort families and loved ones affected by a suicide death.

Carlson understands how friends and families sometimes avoid communicating with people in pain, for fear of saying the wrong thing or mentioning a loss that will only compound their suffering.

“There’s still that stigma where people don’t know what to do and what to say,” she says. “But I appreciated it when they did. There’s no Caring Bridge for (suicide survivors). If your child is hurt in an accident or has cancer, there’s a Caring Bridge out there for them. But there still is that stigma where people don’t feel like they can reach out to someone and say, ‘I’m so sorry. I care about you. I’m so sorry your child is struggling.’

Enter the H.O.P.E. card, inspired by the daughter who left the world too soon.

'I just don't want to be in so much pain'

Today, Carlson remembers her daughter as a bright, funny, warm-hearted individual who loved all animals and “had a smile that could light up the room.”

But after becoming the target of middle-school bullying and “mean girl syndrome,” Elisha developed an eating disorder and severe depression.

She later attended cosmetology school although her mental health struggles kept her from completing the whole course. She did work as a nail technician and later became a pet groomer. “That became her real love and she really enjoyed that,” her mom remembers. “But it seemed whenever things went right, an obstacle would be put in her path and that would trigger a relapse in the eating disorder.”

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Elisha Carlson loved dogs and horses and could be great fun to be around, but struggled with anxiety, depression and an eating disorder for years. Two years before her death, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, her mother, Lorrie Carlson, says.
Contributed / Glimmers of Hope

Elisha helped set up a business where they would offer pet grooming as well as training for groomers, but then the business ran into trouble gaining city permits and that opportunity ended.

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She also met a nice man who cared for her and set up a grooming studio for her in his home.

Even so, she found it hard to get her business to take off and felt guilt that she wasn’t doing more to contribute to her partner’s household expenses.

To this day, Carlson believes that when her daughter finally completed suicide, it was an accident. She recalled an earlier suicide attempt in which Elisha said, after narrowly escaping death, “Mom, I don’t want to die. I just don’t want to be in so much pain.”

“I think she made a mistake and didn’t know what to do,” Carlson says. “I’ve always said they go into that deep, dark hole and can’t figure out a way out. I don’t think that’s uncommon with people who try suicide. Even people who leave notes are struggling for a way out of the pain. That’s why ‘Hold On, Pain Ends” might help them realize, if you can make it through this time, that’s the important part. Then you have someone say they care about you ... they want you around ... and that makes all the difference.”

One note makes all the difference

For years afterward, Carlson wondered how she could honor her daughter while also helping others with similar struggles.

One day, while reading a meditation in one of her daily devotional books, she learned of a Stanford study by psychiatrist Jerome Motto in which a certain segment of former patients received handwritten letters of care and support from the professionals who had worked with them after being discharged from the hospital. Motto would find that the patients who didn’t receive such letters were twice as likely to complete suicide as those who did receive those messages of concern.

In fact, about 25% of patients in the contact group sent back grateful messages to the providers.

One day while shopping at Victor Lundeen’s, a shop in Fergus Falls, she came across Sheriff's cards. Impressed by Sheriff’s lyrical illustrations and compassionate and empathetic messages, she found the cardmaker's contact information and asked if she would consider designing a card in Elisha’s memory.

Initially, Sheriff refused, saying she was too busy to take on another project. Carlson responded that she understood and asked if she could sell some of Sheriff’s existing cards on her new Glimmers of Hope website. Sheriff agreed.

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A sample of Sheriff's cards, which Carlson sells in five-card Glimmers of Hope packets.
Tammy Swift / The Forum

Then, in January of this year, it was Sheriff who reached out to Carlson. The artist told her she had been personally impacted by someone close to her who had contemplated suicide. She agreed to design a special H.O.P.E. card, charging Carlson only for printing fees.

A woman of faith, Carlson says, “I think that was the holy spirit telling me I’d better do this.”

She decided to make the H.O.P.E. cards available via freewill offering and the Glimmers of Hope cards are available for $24 per packet, with $10 from each packet going to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and To Write Love On her Arms (TWLOHA), a nonprofit dedicated to helping people affected by depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.

Carlson says she doesn’t want the H.O.P.E. card to be cost-prohibitive for anyone who can't afford it, which is why she's asking for a freewill offering. “We are highly encouraging people to make donations, but I also just want to get the cards out there, so all of the businesses we’ve contacted will be able to have the cards available for free,” she says.

Professionals could also follow up with cards

Carlson already has received positive feedback from the cards. One woman sent them to communicate with her grandson who is struggling and at a wilderness camp in Chicago. “She sent me a personal thank you note,” Carlson says.

Another woman who lost her fiance has thanked Carlson for “coming into her life” with messages of H.O.P.E.

Carlson’s sister and brother-in-law also work with a chemical dependency program and have told her they plan to give H.O.P.E. cards to people in the program.

But the determined Carlson has just begun. She is meeting with officials at Otter Tail County Public Health and plans to work with Cass County Public Health on using the cards. She also would like to see the cards sent to students who are experiencing tough times in school. "I would like to see these cards in schools for counselors and teachers to just pick up," she says.

To Carlson, it isn't as much about how the professional follows up as it is about just plain following up. "It doesn't have to be a card ... if they just used sticky notes, that's fine too. It's just encouraging people and the professionals and those from all walks of life that they could potentially touch the life of someone who is suffering to encourage them and show them they care."

The H.O.P.E. card and Glimmers of Hope packets can be ordered on Carlson’s website at https://www.glimmersofhope22.com/ . As of this Wednesday, the H.O.P.E. card can be found at Melberg Christian Gift Store in Moorhead, Vintage Point in Fargo , The Market in Fergus Falls and Cherry Street Books in Alexandria, Minn.

Carlson also plans to distribute the H.O.P.E. Cards at the "Out of the Darkness Walks" for suicide awareness Sept. 10 in Wahpeton/Breckenridge and Sept. 18 in Fargo .

Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before she learned the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the narrative to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she has worked as a Dickinson, N.D., bureau reporter, a Bismarck Tribune feature writer/columnist, a Forum feature reporter, columnist and editor, a writer in NDSU's Publications Services, a marketing/social media specialist, an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist at a nonprofit.
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