“First, (if) you’re in crisis. That doesn’t just mean suicide: it’s any painful emotion for which you need support. You text us at 741741.”
…Last week Eli came home from school and told me one of his friends had died. The next morning he told me that his friend had committed suicide.
My heart breaks and keeps breaking some more. When I hear about a suicide I always envision the following scene: I see that person stuck in the rapids. I see myself far away, reaching out my hand. Then I realize I cannot get to them and they are gone.
My mom’s husband’s son killed himself when we were on vacation a few years back. A high school friend’s sister, who was a mother of five, drove to a park and killed herself. My best friend’s dad killed himself when she was away for work. Dave’s friend & coworker drove onto the Golden Gate bridge, parked his car, quickly got out, walked over to the edge, and immediately jumped to his death. I went to coffee with a mom who told me that her daughter slit her wrists and it is a miracle she is alive. Last year a student at a nearby school committed suicide by hanging in the school building. Two years ago Kyle’s dear friend tried to kill herself. This girl’s sister tried to kill herself the month before. At the same time, one of Eli’s friends called and told him that she had just taken a handful of pills.
After Eli heard about his friend he felt understandably disjointed. So, as Eli tried to process his friend’s death, he and I talked and talked. He reminded me about the rough emotions his peers are dealing with each day. Then he reminded me of this moment:
“Mom, remember that girl, the one who took the pills? I would have been the last person she spoke to before she died.”
He was fifteen at the time. He told this girl he was going to get help. Immediately he spoke with Dave and me. Then he tracked down her parents. We all made sure she was ok.
Years ago I tried to write about suicide. I was asked not to include personal stories (because they might embarrass someone). Instead, I talked around the subject.
Here is what I wrote on May 2, 2005 (*I have updated this post to reflect current statistics — By the way, suicide rates have nearly doubled since 2005 & my outlook has also changed.):
“The first day of my seventh grade Social Studies class was like any other first day of junior high. It was a warm, sunny autumn in Minnesota. This was the first year I would get to pick some of my own classes, move from room to room and actually not have to be with the same kids all day long. My teacher was new to school and I believe this was her first teaching job. She gave us our seating assignments, called roll and I remember that one seat remained empty. I didn’t really think anything of it. Kids surely would be changing teachers and maybe when this boy saw the new Social Studies teacher, he bolted for the nearest exit.
A month went by, and although some of us had been absent a day or two during that time, this boy’s seat constantly remained empty. The teacher asked once again,
“Does anyone know where Ritchie is? Did he move?”
And then, like he never existed, the teacher (choosing to leave the very large elephant in the room) never spoke of him again.
For the first month of seventh grade all this boy was to me was the perpetually empty seat in my Social Studies class. Eventually, because the subject was so hush hush, I found out through other students who knew him from their elementary school what had happened.
At age twelve, one hot and humid Midwestern summer day, this little boy went into his bedroom and hung himself.
His death haunted me for a long time. In many ways I think it still does.
‘Why would someone my age (which was twelve at the time) want to kill himself? What was he like? What made him so sad or feel so unredeemable that he felt like he needed to take his own life? Why won’t the teacher talk about it? Why do people treat this boy like he never existed? Are you less of a person if you kill yourself?’
I am a verbalizer by nature. I like to process things and I like to get my feelings out in the open. I was completely thrown by this and because I was still young and innocent. I was also completely baffled by all of the silence. I needed to talk about what was swirling around in my head, which was the shame, the sorrow and the reality that once you die, there is no coming back. The good, if there can be good from this boy’s death, is that at a very early age I understood the responsibility that we have to see the people around us. We share this world together. Consequently, it became essential for me to notice the lonely and sad people that crossed my path. And I thought that maybe if I took a moment to listen or smile or include them, they would know that someone out there sees their worth.
Sadly, the more years I live, the more I see that it probably takes more than a smile or a hug to save someone’s life. (That doesn’t mean that I think I should stop reaching out, however, and I won’t.) The more people I encounter and the more I read, sadly, the more I know that suicide is much more common than many of us may realize. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death. In 2017, 47,173 Americans died by suicide. By 2018 statistics, suicide is Utah’s 8th leading cause of death. Additionally, In 2017, there were an estimated 1,400,000 suicide attempts. When you see the numbers laid out like that, it’s pretty astounding.
And then it occurred to me that maybe we do not realize that suicide is so common because we (still) do not like to talk about it. It is an understatement to claim that suicide is a horrible and very sad thing. Yet the more I think about suicide, the more I acknowledge that people who kill themselves have completely lost hope and are SHRIEKING for help! I think if you asked someone who has survived a suicide attempt, they may just say they tried to kill themselves they may actually minimize their pain in their response. We all need to feel worth, not shame. In a society that does not (seem to) like to speak about suicide, are we giving a person another message: that because of how they feel, that somehow they are shameful and bad and that this world would be better without them. Do I make any sense? This is such a big topic and just my little web post can not give it justice. The bottom line is this: if we are not talking about suicide, or if we are not allowing suicidal people to talk about their suffering, I would argue that we we are closing doors that may ultimately save someone’s life.
Further, as a person who has experienced depression first-hand, I know what it is like to feel hopeless, worthless and feel like, “What is the point?” I know what it is like to feel lost, yet not have the energy to go on.
A week ago, after having a very contemplative discussion with our neighbors regarding things like how evil Walmart is, the need for universal healthcare, all the problems in Africa . . . (the list went on and on), I had a sleepless night thinking about all the things I would do to make the world a better place. The next morning I decided to post that list. Number eighteen on my list was ‘Better understanding of Depression/Suicide Prevention.’
Of all the things I listed, number eighteen seemed to strike a huge chord with many of you.
Out of the many emails I received on the subject of depression and suicide, two sisters, Ryan and Molly, contacted me (Ryan emailed me and Molly left a comment). Ryan immediately told me about a walk she was doing in July called, Out of the Darkness: A 20-mile walk [through Chicago] through the night to end the silence surrounding suicide. She kindly suggested that if I really want to make a difference, I could start here. Her email came at a haunting moment: I received it just moments after speaking to someone close to me, just after she had returned from the funeral of someone she knew that had committed suicide. The universe is crazy like that. Of course, I took Ryan’s email as a sign and immediately donated to the cause. The next day I received an email from Molly. She let me know that Ryan was her sister, they were doing the walk in honor of their dad, and she wondered if I could get the word out.
I said yes, and that is when I became completely overwhelmed. To write about suicide and depression has made me acknowledge that as much as I have personally found peace in my life, there are days when I feel like a complete loser (hopeless). Those are not easy feelings to face. I also had to face the completely crushing sorrow I feel each and every time I hear of someone who has either taken their life or has tried to take their life. As sad as I have been (and I have been very sad before), I was willing to face my own pain in hopes that maybe someone out there will know that I get it, that there is always hope, NO MATTER WHAT!
Here is Molly and Ryan’s story as told by Molly:
‘My sister Ryan and I decided to participate in the Overnight after being invited by our aunt. She is my Dad’s sister. My dad took his life thirteen years ago this coming August. We never really talked to anyone about it and so it is something I have never come to terms with. What I know is that he felt like his life had gotten so far away from where he wanted it to be, with no chance to get things back on track. He just felt that his family would be better off without him. What I wonder is, would things have been different if he had shared these feelings with just one person? Did he ever even think about talking to anyone? What if my sister and I had been able to talk about it after it happened? Would I feel differently about it all now? Hopefully, through donating and participating in the Out of the Darkness Overnight we will all be one step closer to a better understanding of suicide. People just don’t talk about it because it is an uncomfortable thing to talk about, but it doesn’t help anyone to pretend it doesn’t happen.
So in honor of the life that we all lost, I will be walking, along with my sister Ryan and my Aunt Maryellen, in the Out of the Darkness Overnight Walk with the hope that we will be helping to make at least a small difference in how we all deal with suicide.
I have talked to more people about my dad since I registered for this event than I have in years. I know that other people feel strongly about it, but like I said, nobody likes to talk about it. I agree with what you said, nobody should feel so hopeless, but if they do, that there is no shame in it and there are ways to change it. I just want as many people to know about this as possible. Sure, I am looking for the money to meet my fundraising goals, but that money is going to make a difference in someone else’s life somewhere down the line.’
Thank you Molly, Ryan (still) and all of you for giving me an opportunity to talk about something that is so important to me: hope. If we lose hope in ourselves, each other and in this world, then what do we have?
And I cannot end this without saying that if you are having suicidal thoughts or know someone that is, please get help. Please tell yourself you can make it through the next five minutes, then the next, then the next. Please reach out! We are here for you.”
Now back 2019:
Earlier in the week I had an opportunity to write on a memorial page for Eli’s friend. I cannot imagine the heartbreak his parents are going through now.
Here is what I wrote: “Our son Eli and your son share many mutual friends. Your son is a year younger than Eli. Eli told us he met your son last year and that your son sat by Eli and their group of friends. Eli told me how smart he was.
A few weeks ago my husband and I walked into the Sugar House Rubios to grab something to eat while we waited for Eli. The restaurant was virtually empty. A very nice young man took our order. I remember joking around with him because my husband kept changing his mind. It was your son. He did not roll his eyes at my husband’s wishy-washy-ness. Instead, he was very patient, kind and suggested some options (telling us what he liked best). A few minutes later, Eli walked in and walked over to our table. Eli did not see his friend. As he sat there, he told us that your son had just texted him. Eli told us his friend was working at the counter and immediately popped up and went and visited with him. I remember thinking,
‘what a thoughtful kid.’
As we left, we all walked over to the counter and visited with your son. I only wish I had paid more attention to that moment.
When Eli received the news this week that your son had passed he said,
‘Mom, I saw him at school on Monday and gave him a hug.’
We want you to know that your son touched many lives. Eli did not know him as well as others. Nevertheless, your son impacted Eli’s life and Eli definitely considered your son a friend. We are all very sorry for your loss.”
This evening we will attend the funeral. I still have no words. I am so sad that this family are in a place where they have to make this suggestion and also grateful stated that in lieu of flowers that we donate to the American Society For Suicide Prevention. Hey and if you are sad, please know you can always reach out to me. Never feel like you are too much. Never feel ashamed. I may not have the right skills, but I have the energy to help you get to the right place. I am here and I see you — for real. I promise.
Ultimately, I think we can no longer ignore how pervasive suicide, suicide attempts and depression are. That is why I keep wracking my brain, trying to figure what else I can do.
As a mom, I try to be more transparent. I try to let my boys know that that they are of worth and that I see them — that their feelings of sadness are ok, and that it is ok to fail. I am sure there is more. I am open.
From the principal of Eli’s School:
“Our students’ lives are precious, and as we move into the coming weekend, we want to equip you and your families with every resource at our disposal to keep our students safe. Below, you will find a list of additional resources to help you help your students.”
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- SafeUT Crisis Text and Tip Line app: This app is a statewide service that provides 24/7 crisis Intervention to youth through texting, phone calls, online chat, or an anonymous tip program.
- Salt Lake County Crisis Services including Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams: 801-587-3000
- #BeThe1To: 5 Action Steps, and why the steps can help prevent suicide.
- Encircle: (Utah-based) A LGBTQ+ family & youth resource center
- LGBTQ+ Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- Trevor Project Hotline for LGBTQ teens: 1-866-488-7386
- Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition
- Utah Chapter – American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- NAMI Utah
- Crisis Hotline Text (#741741): Text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the United States, anytime, about any type of crisis. A live, trained Crisis Counselor receives the text and responds, all from our secure online platform. The volunteer Crisis Counselor will help you move from a hot moment to a cool moment.
Know this: You are loved. You are not alone.