Wednesday, August 13, 2014
"However long the night, the dawn will break." — African proverb
I have had suicidal thoughts from time to time because it is normal to do so. Almost everyone has, but for me, I have also fought for suicide prevention for most of my adult life. When we lived in Los Angeles, I worked suicide hot lines at the Pomona Open Door as a volunteer for several years. Later, after moving from Pomona, I worked as a volunteer—training suicide hot line workers at the San Dimas Open Door. When we moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, after working in mental health for years especially in the area of suicide prevention and wanting to stop, my wife brought me a newspaper with an article about a group trying to get a crisis intervention center started but they had no one with any experience to help them. My wife insisted I call and offer my assistance. I resisted for a couple of weeks, but finally gave in. In the end, I was one of the founders and the first interim director of the Northwest Arkansas Crisis Intervention Center. This was in the mid 1980’s and it is still operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When we opened our center, the lieutenant governor of Arkansas, Winston Bryant, came to officially open it which was in a house across from a hospital in Springdale, Arkansas. Not long after that, Winston Bryant, asked me to be on the Youth Suicide Prevention Commission of Arkansas, and I accepted and worked for several years with some very good people, one of whom was Mike Ross, who is now running for Governor of Arkansas. I wrote, produced, and directed a video called “It Doesn’t Have To End This Way” financed by the commission and copies were distributed through other Lt. Governors all over the country to be shown in high schools. I remember my youngest son coming home from high school one day saying, “Dad, we saw a video on suicide that you wrote today!” When we moved back to Arkansas after my graduation from seminary in Boston, I was invited to serve on the board of directors for the Crisis Center I had helped start many years earlier. I served on that board for another six years. I have done suicide hot line work from my home on more than one occasion, and one parishioner implored me to help her brother in another state, and I spent several hours over several days on the phone with that very troubled young man—who is now a happily married man with a family which is very active in their church (and very much alive some twenty years later). I can’t remember who said it, but the meaning is clear, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Maybe it was Phil Donohue, oh well, doesn’t matter. The main thing to know is that suicide is an act of pain that doesn’t end the pain but passes it on to all those who are left behind. There is no way to know if all of my work in suicide prevention did any real or lasting good. We don’t and can’t keep statistics on those who think about it but don’t follow through—particularly since most are anonymous to begin with. I do remember, and will never forget the time I was on the phone with a very distraught young women and heard the gun go off that ended her life. The police traced her through the phone records and found her body with the gun in one hand and the phone in the other. This was early in my struggle against suicide and almost put an end to my efforts. Happily, I had a supervisor that told me that she just didn’t want to die alone, and because of me, she didn’t. He also said that you can’t stop everyone but that we must try because every life is precious. So, while I don’t know how successful I was or any of those who offer help might be, we do know that we can’t not try. If someone you know is talking about it, see that they get help. If they are giving their possessions away, see that they get help. If they make you promise not to tell anyone, break that promise. Better an alive and angry friend than a dead one leaving you with guilt forever. There are many, many people working very hard to try to prevent suicide. Find out who they are where you live and keep their phone number handy. You never know when a friend or yourself may need to make that call. Sometimes the very best thing you can do is just to listen. I remember one of my first calls where a woman asked me what kind of cold cream I would recommend. I started to hang up on her, but paused and asked her what her friends would recommend? She told me she had no friends (aha!), so we talked and an hour or two later she had agreed to get some help. I don’t know whatever happened to her, but I know that I did all I could and that lets me sleep at night. It really doesn’t have to end that way.