Devin Tomiak: Helping kids learn how to be resilient after experiencing a personal tragedy
This week on the Finding Fertile Ground podcast, I interview Devin Tomiak, founder of The Biggies Cards.
After losing her youngest brother Grant to suicide 7 years ago, Devin became driven to understand resilience--in particular, how to build resilience in kids.
As a mom of two young boys, her preoccupation had a unique urgency. She created The Biggies cards, an innovative, research-based take on conversation cards designed to spark fun discussions about BIG social emotional concepts with elementary-aged kids.
Devin grew up with two loving parents and two younger brothers. She felt close to her brothers and had a happy childhood…which made what would happen later feel even more shocking.
When her younger brother Grant was 28, he took his own life.
“It was incredibly unexpected. He was 28 years old. He was never someone you'd imagine would take this path. He was loved, supported, successful…he had a gazillion friends and a close-knit family. He was passionate, charming, witty, all of it. So when he died it really felt like the rug was pulled out from underneath me, because I felt like if suicide could happen to him it could happen to anyone.”
Grant was a highly accomplished chef at such a young age.
Everything on the surface looked amazing and normal, so when he died it was mind-blowing, not just for our family, but for all who knew him. He was opening his own restaurant with some incredible partners. It was his dream and he was being funded…it’s still hard to digest.”
Grant had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis several months before his death. Devin read that when someone has multiple sclerosis, they are ten times more likely to commit suicide. (Apparently the actual number is twice as likely, not ten times…but still high.)
“When he died, I had a son who was 2-1/2 and I was pregnant with my second son. So as I'm grieving I was also mummying. So as I'm trying to make sense of Grant's death, it was in the framework of my kids…and how do I prevent something like this from ever happening again? Because when you feel like the world is a certain way and people like Grant don't die by suicide…and then all of a sudden they do…it kind of undermines your sense of security and stability. It’s like an existential blow.”
Devin dove into researching how to prevent suicide and landed on the importance of resilience. Resilience stood out to her because it helps us manage our day-to-day mental health, and it can also be taught to kids.
“During this time it occurred to me that if we could talk to our kids about many of the social emotional concepts that make a person emotionally intelligent and resilient, that was a start. That was something actionable parents and teachers could do to strengthen the resilience of their kids. And so of course, these conversations had to be approached in the right way if they were to resonate.”
Devin enlisted the help of a dear friend and community psychologist Amy Engelman, and they went to work creating a deck of conversation cards called The Biggies Cards. The objective is to help give parents and teachers an easy way to build resilience in kids.
Listen to the podcast to hear all about Devin’s journey and The Biggies Cards.
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Marie Gettel-Gilmartin, founder and principal of Fertile Ground Communications LLC, is a writer and marketing communications consultant who loves to take the pain and stress out of writing for her clients. She specializes in making the complex clear, using dynamic, accessible language to explain and communicate important issues. She positions her clients as experts in their fields and helps them communicate about pressing issues. Writing communications that boost employee engagement and thought leadership, she also coaches leaders and executives on how to strengthen communications and leadership. She loves to connect people and resources or solve seemingly impossible problems.
As a podcaster for justice, I stand with my sisters from the Women of Color Podcasters Community. We are podcasters united to condemn the tragic murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and many others at the hands of police.
Fertile Ground Communications LLC is a certified women-owned business enterprise, disadvantaged business enterprise, and emerging small business.