Raven Saunders opens up about mother’s death, managing grief

Shot putter Raven Saunders comptes in a hulk mask
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At the Tokyo Olympics, U.S. shot putter Raven Saunders helped elevate the conversation about mental health.

“I know I’m about to inspire so many people,” she said in a powerful interview after winning Olympic silver. “I’m about to inspire so many young girls, so many young boys. So many LGBTQ people, so many people that have battled suicide, so many people that have almost given up… It’s not just about me.”

Saunders later emphasized that message on the Olympic podium when she made an “X” with her arms, telling reporters the symbol represented “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.”

As she stood on the podium, Saunders – who competed in the shot put final wearing a Hulk mask and also won over fans with her dance moves – didn’t realize she was about to be handed one of the toughest challenges of her own life.

Less than 36 hours later, the South Carolina native was in the Olympic village watching U.S. teammates Athing Mu and Raevyn Rogers compete in the women’s 800m final when she got a call that her mother, Clarissa Saunders, had suffered a seizure and was on her way to the hospital. Shortly after that initial call, Raven’s uncle informed her that her mother had passed.

“At that point, I lost it,” Saunders told co-hosts MJ Acosta-Ruiz and Lindsay Czarniak in the newest episode of the On Her Turf podcast. “To lose the No. 1 person that made a lot of this worthwhile, it hurt.”

(The full interview with Saunders is embedded below. You can also listen to the On Her Turf podcast on Apple, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app.)

Saunders credits her mom with helping her get through her darkest times.

“She kept all of us together,” Saunders said, noting that her mom would always check in to make sure she had gotten her anxiety and depression meds.

And while Saunders said the months since her mother died haven’t been “peaches and cream,” she noted that she’s been able to manage her grief by relying on her support network and using tools like therapy to take care of her own mental health.

“Holidays, for anyone who has lost a parent, they’re tough,” Saunders said. “They’re some of the toughest days you’ll go through.”

Saunders is also hopeful about how conversations about mental health are already changing, no doubt due in-part to her own advocacy. The 25-year-old said she’s especially thrilled whenever friends casually mention their own therapy appointments.

“When I talk to my people, I always, always, always press therapy.” Saunders said.

She also keeps her mom close.

“I actually carry her ashes with me everywhere I go,” Saunders told Acosta-Ruiz and Czarniak, showing off a locket that she wears around her neck. “Anything that I do, every TikTok that I make, she’s right there by my side.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC