Sunday, November 5, 2023

Hope in Grief

      Over a year ago, Rotary Magazine asked me to write something about suicide and handguns. I found a club member affected by this tragic plague, talked to relatives and friends of her lost loved one, and accompanied her on a suicide awareness march in Dallas. 
      The article is in the November issue, after passing through a lengthy editing process,and I encourage you to read it here. I also thought it might interest blog readers to see the article as originally written, which you'll find below:

     Jesse Cedillo was a soft-spoken young man who dreamed of becoming a police officer. But being heavy, and suffering from chronic back pain, he worried about the physical demands of the job. After high school, he regularly helped out around the Locust Fork Baptist Church, the center of life in a small rural Alabama town that is Jesse’s mother called “just a blink of the eye really” along the highway between Huntsville and Birmingham, a community located in Blount County, a hilly region dotted with long-established farms slowly losing their tug-o-war with new housing developments. 
     On April 18, 2015, Cedillo had a cheerful conversation with the church pastor, Rufus Harris, assisted an elderly parishioner down the front steps, made sure the lights were off and the doors locked, then went to his grandparents' house, next door to where he lived with his mother. There he stepped into the study, took one of his grandfather's guns and shot himself. 
     He was 20 years old. 
     "It was a complete surprise," said Cedillo's aunt, Lori Crider, through tears. "He was very quiet. He always seemed to be fairly happy." 
     "It shook up the whole community," said Harris. "Everybody was broken-hearted over this event and couldn't understand why something like that had taken place." 
     Why do people kill themselves? The question arises immediately after this surprisingly ordinary tragedy. More than 47,000 Americans commit suicide every year—128 a day— according to the Centers for Disease Control, making it the 10th most common cause of death. More victims than taken by car accidents or pneumonia. 
     Jesse Cedillo’s friends offered one explanation — he was bullied, maybe even the night he shot himself. 
     "People were probably mean to him," said his youth pastor at the time, Randy Cater. "High school can be that way." 
     Cherie Cedillo, his mother, said that any mockery was affectionate. 
     “He was overweight, he was teased,” she said. “But everybody loved JC. The way he took it was not how they intended. He was like an old soul. He was just different.” 
     There is another, even more significant reason hiding in plain sight. One that doesn't get talked about nearly enough: a gun was readily available. In some parts of the country, guns are so prevalent, they are hardly noticed, never mind viewed as perils. 
     “We’ve always been around guns,” said Cherie Cedillo, who won awards for shooting when she was in the 4H Club. “Daddy always kept the one that JC used, just for personal protection. It’s always been there. We had no idea.” 
     Suicide rates in states with the highest level of gun ownership are three times higher for men, almost eight times higher for women, than in states with low gun ownership. 
     Not because gun owners are more suicidal. Rather because when someone attempts to kill themselves with a gun, they usually succeed, 90 percent of the time. Intentionally overdosing on drugs instead, for instance, is fatal in only about 3 percent of cases. Since most who attempt to kill themselves and fail never try again, guns steal that second chance. They make suicide too easy. 
     What is not in any way easy is coping with the aftermath. Millions of Americans struggle to understand and accept the suicide of a friend or loved one. Crider, a member of Rotary since 2010, threw herself into helping others to cope with her own grief and to prevent suicides from happening. In 2021 she created the Suicide Prevention and Brain Health Rotary E-Club. 
     "As soon as I heard about cause-based clubs becoming a thing, we chartered the new club," said Crider, who lives in Dallas. "We're at about 50 members. It was really surprising to get that many. It's needed, and the Rotary provides a great resource in helping spread the word." 
     Crider's e-club was one of the sponsors of the Out of the Darkness Dallas/Fort Worth Metro Walk on the last Saturday in October, 2022. Since 2004, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has sponsored some 400 such walks all across the country. 
     "The walks raise awareness around the issue of suicide, reduce stigma, educate the public and allow those with a connection to the cause to come together," according to the AFSP. "They also raise funds to support research, advocacy, education and programs." 
     The morning of the Dallas walk dawned gray and rainy, with wintery clouds surging across the skies framing the roller coasters at Six Flag Over Texas, as participants gathered at nearby Choctaw Stadium, home to the Texas Rangers for a quarter century. 
     Shirley Weddle, charter president of the suicide prevention e-club, stood in the concourse, setting up a table with a bowl of wristbands and another of red-and-white mints, plus handouts and pens. She lost her only child, Matthew, to suicide when he was 21. 
     Weddle said that society encourages people to seek help, then punishes them if they do. 
   "Just a few years ago, if I renewed my license for radiology in the state of Texas, they would ask you questions about have you had depression, and they will try to monitor you," 
Weddle said. "There are physicians that will go across state lines and pay cash and use a different name to get help because they don't want to say they're getting assistance." 
     Even prestigious universities like Yale pressure suicidal students who seek help to drop out. Which speaks to an important aspect of the walk — to publicly demonstrate that suicide, whether committed by a loved one or simply contemplated, is not a taboo topic. You not only can talk about suicide; you must. 
     "There is still so much shame about it," said Pamela Greene, a licensed professional counselor participating in the walk. "So we're trying to dispel that. We are not alone. There's this many people, and I really believe it has changed their lives, being able to open up and talk about their experiences." "
     Awareness is a big piece of it, for me personally," said Stephanie Duck, chair of the Dallas walk, who lost her grandfather to suicide in 2018. "I think, the more we talk about mental health, the more we talk about suicide awareness and intervention, the more likely people are to feel comfortable reaching out, seeking help, not feeling alone. A big part of awareness is getting the facts out there." 
     Handouts and brochures were offered at tables ringing the concourse at Choctaw Stadium. Shielded from the rain, a thousand people or so milled around, greeting each other, hugging, taking literature and snacks. One table gave away strings of color-coded Mardi Gras beads: white for the loss of a child, red for a spouse or partner, gold for a parent. 
     Crider wore seven strands, in purple (loss of a relative) green (personal struggle) teal (supporting someone who has attempted suicide) and blue (general prevention).  
     "I've lost more than Jesse, unfortunately," she said. "I had an aunt in the '90s. Then a friend about mid-2000s. Then my cousin in West Virginia after Jesse. I wear a purple for each of them." 
     Certain factors increase the risk of suicide: men kill themselves more often than women. Whites more than Blacks and singles more than marrieds. The suicide rate in rural areas is double that of the city; experts blame isolation and the ready availability of guns. The more educated you are, the less likely you are to kill yourself. Though suicide is the second leading cause of death among U.S. teens, after car accidents and before murders, that’s because young people tend not to die otherwise; suicide risk actually rises with age, topping out at those older than 85. 
     Suicide is an epidemic in the military — since the 9/11 terror attacks, four times as many service members have taken their own lives than have fallen in battlefield operations. Military personnel tend to have many risk factors found in the general population — male, lower education level, access to firearms — and add others unique to service: post-traumatic stress, deployment abroad far from friends and family, sexual assault that is also epidemic. 
     The suicide rate for male veterans is 50 percent higher than that of the general public, 2.5 times higher for female vets. A dozen veterans commit suicide every day, according to Tony Dickensheets, manning the Soldiers' Angels table at the Dallas walk. He served in the Army, 101st Airborne, guarding the DMZ in South Korean. A Rotarian and member of Crider's e-club, he speaks to police and veterans groups all over Texas. 
     "I know what suicidal ideation is because I battle it weekly if not daily," he said. "I have a severe mental illness; I am bipolar, and battled it for 37 years." 
     How can he be so open about something that many are reluctant to admit, even to themselves? 
     "I'm a Christian,” he said. “I like to give back. I believe in giving back." 
     The benefit flows both ways. 
     "Whenever you help others you help yourself," he said. "Whether you have mental illness or not, whether you are a Christian or not." 
     His organization connects volunteers stateside with soldiers, sailors and airmen stationed abroad, suggesting they send a monthly letter or care package. Even just a postcard can be the kind of connection that keeps despair at bay for someone serving our country. 
     "There are different ways to serve," he said. "Adopting a soldier overseas is a way of serving the military." 
     Suicide by gun spiked to a 20 year high in 2020, thought to be partially due to negative effects of COVID lockdown. Rotaries have been active in encouraging the public to lock up their guns. For instance, in March, the Rotary Club of Avon, New York offered a presentation by Lock and Talk Livingston, a program handing out free gun locks to encourage safe storage. 
     At Choctaw Stadium, cable gun locks were also available for free to anyone who needed one. 
     "We talk about how important it is to lock up and secure firearms in the home or vehicle," said Donna Schmidt, standing at the BE SMART table. 
     "The word 'SMART' becomes an acronym to remember behaviors we have around guns," she said. "'S' for secure—securing your firearm, unload it, lock it. 'M' is modeling your behavior around guns. 'A' is 'ask.' A lot of people don't think about this when your kids or grandkids go to somebody else's house, ask them if their guns are locked up. 'R' is recognizing the risk of suicide is three times higher for a home with a firearm in it. For a depressed teen, it's 10 times higher. 'T' is for telling other people the idea about securing firearms. If you have one, then please be safe. The idea of storing a firearm securely is not anti-gun." 
     As a steady stream of walkers moved out into the rainy morning, a long, snaking line on the sidewalk was knotted with groups of friends and relatives, some holding large photo montages of lost loved ones, or wearing matching tribute t-shirts: “Team Jake” and “#ForJames” and “#TeamJulian,” honoring an 11-year-old. Their stories often involve the presence of a gun turning a passing impulse into a permanent loss. 
     Last July, Joshua Garcia and his girlfriend Courtney Barrett went out to Whataburger for dinner. Afterward, for reasons mysterious — maybe because he'd been drinking — he walked out into the garage and used the gun he carried on his hip for protection to kill himself. 
     "It was definitely spur of the moment," said Melissa Barrett, Courtney's mother. "She happened to walk out there and seen him put the gun to his head. She couldn't have stopped it, but at the same time, she told me she thought about going and grabbing the gun herself. She didn't know she'd be able to survive. I could have lost her that night as well." 
     The emotional damage that suicide inflicts on loved ones cannot be overstated. 
     "Our lives were completely destroyed for ..." began Kathy Thompson, whose son Luke, age 18, hung himself the week before Thanksgiving in 2018. 
     "...two years," added her husband, Tony, a pilot. 
     Luke’s mother said she was struck, reading his note, by how massively her son underestimated the toll his death would take on his parents. Suicidal teens can feel so insignificant; they don't understand their central place in the lives of others. 
     "I don't think they realize the impact," she said. "He did mention in his letter, he thought people might be sad for a few minutes. He thought, someone might cry for a couple days. We cried for years. We will cry for years." 
      Four years later, she can look back at the tortuous road they've been traveling. 
     "The first year you're in shock, a zombie," she continued. "Then the second and third years were so hard. You're really realizing that this is real. Just kinda going through the motions." 
     "We turned to God," her husband said. "We both have a very strong walk with the Lord right now. Got involved with the church that helped us through this. Now we lead the grief share at our church." 
     Faith can be a refuge to survivors, but it can also plague believers taught that suicides are condemned to hell. The families of those lost to suicide often reject that. 
     "I know where Jesse is," said his grandmother, Mary Ann Crider, who discovered his body. "It's a comfort. You hear people say things like, 'If somebody takes their life they go to hell.' I never found that in Scripture. Never. It says, 'Nothing can separate us from God's love.' Jesse was mentally sick, probably depressed, because he was picked on so much." 
     The walk was brief. Two kilometers, a little over a mile. Long enough to raise $227,532. But its non-monetary value is obvious to those who need to do something: gather, walk, talk, hug, cry. 
     Dawn Carson Bays had gallbladder surgery a week ago, and cut her recuperation short to show up and walk in memory of her husband David. 
     "We didn't have any guns in the house until we went through the [2020 George Floyd] riots," said Bays. "So I told him to go get guns from his dad. Then I told him to take them back, and he ... didn't. That's how he killed himself. He disappeared on a Monday and he killed himself on a Thursday." 
     That was two years ago. Of course she feels guilty for having been the motivation for that gun being there. 
     "The second year is harder," she said, because she was "in a haze" the first year. 
     Now she finds herself a refugee from her own life, lost in a dark, strange land. 
     "There are no words," she said. "I've given up. I was very successful in my career, and now I'm like, ‘It's not worth it anymore.’ Done. I've totally changed. Everything is different to me. I have to get up every morning and I don't want to." 
     Bays has a message to share. 
     "If you are contemplating suicide, you don't understand the impact on all the people you left behind," she said. "It's not a bad thing to say you're not okay. It's not a bad thing to say, 'I need help.' The effect on me, my family, my friends...." 
     How can you know if a loved one is contemplating suicide? Those close to Jesse Cedillo had no idea. 
     "His demeanor hadn't changed," said Randy Cater, who was with him "24/7" the week before a spring break church youth retreat. "I didn't pick up anything much different. Nothing was out of the ordinary; there didn't seem to be any triggers. I wish I would have known to ask. " 
     "It is pretty common that you hear that: 'We had no idea,' or that they just seemed so happy, and things like that," said Stephanie Duck, the walk chair. "Some of the key things to look for are changes in behavior, changes in mood, changes in appetite, things they are doing, things they're involved with. Are they getting rid of their possessions? Saying, 'Oh well that doesn't matter. I won't be needing them.' Watch out for that kind of language." 
Lori Crider
     “The signs were there, we just didn't read them,” said Rufus Harris. “I wish I had been more attentive. I wish I knew what to do." 
     Parents of children who commit suicide invariably wish they had pushed harder to find out what was going on. 
     "Don't be afraid to have conversations, even if it makes your child unsettled, or even makes them defensive," said Jerry Howe, who wore a photo on a lanyard around his neck of his daughter Megan, who killed herself in 2017, age 23, a month before graduating college. "Be blunt, and ask, 'Are you okay? If something's not right, you need to tell us about it. If there's something you're unsettled about, you have any kind of thoughts along those lines, any suicide ideation, you need to talk to us and you need to go to professional help or you need to talk to someone. You just can't keep it hidden away because that's the worst place to keep it. Inside, it's only going to build.’" 
     After Jesse Cedillo killed himself, some 200 Locust Fork residents came to the church for an impromptu memorial service. 
     "I wish he would have known he was loved by so many people," said Cater. 
     What should you do if you suspect someone is contemplating suicide? The National Institute of Mental Health offers "Five Action Steps for Helping Someone in Emotional Pain." 1) Ask them directly, "Are you thinking about killing yourself?" 2) Keep them safe by reducing their access to lethal items — not just guns, but pills, knives, ropes, etc. 3) Be there, listen uncritically to their feelings and acknowledge what they are saying. 4) Help them connect to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, 988 on any cell phone; 5) Stay connected, following up and keeping in touch after a crisis. 
     After a person commits suicide, it is too late to save their life. But it does not mean that lives cannot be saved. Kathy Thompson could barely speak at her son’s memorial. But now she and her husband talk about it to others, one-on-one, and have seen results. 
     "We shared our story with this gentleman, and he talked to his family about it,” said Tony Thompson. “His daughter went to school next day and said, 'I haven't been sleeping the past two days. I have this plan...' There was a huge intervention. The wife called me and said, 'I think you guys saved my daughter's life.' She was able to talk about it. She didn't want to worry her parents. So she was going to take her life. That's the thought process. They're not thinking clearly. Later, she was crying at her high school graduation party, saying, 'I wouldn't have been here.'" 
     Those tending to the needs of the suicidal, or living with the aftermath of suicide are encouraged to practice self-care: look out for their own mental well being, their own health. For Lori Crider, that means to always keep moving. She has hit her 10,000 steps every single day, missing only one because of a blizzard, over nearly the past three years. Even the rain on the Walk out of the Darkness can be seen as a blessing. 
     "We've been in such a drought," said Crider. "I'm really grateful we got the rain we did." 
     At Locust Fork Baptist Church, the Prime Timers, a group of older parishioners who get together on Mondays to play checkers and dominos, sometimes bring up the subject of Jesse, who loved games and would often join them. He was only quiet until he got to know you; then he opened up. 
     "It's been seven years since he passed away, and we still talk about him," said his grandmother, Mary Ann Crider. “It's always ‘Jesse would have said this,’ or ‘Jesse would have said that.’" 
     Her husband of 55 years, who died recently, got rid of the gun Jesse used to take his own life. 
     "We didn't want it," she said. As for the room where it happened. 
     "I thought afterward, every time I went in that room, that's what I would think of," she said. "But you know that's not true, I don't think of it every time I do go in that room." 
     What changed? "
      God has given me peace," said his grandmother. "It is something you never get over. But time does ease things a bit." 
     The pain eases, but does not go away. 
     “I think about him every day,” said his mother, Cherie Cedillo. “It’s just hard. I blame myself and it doesn’t matter what anybody tells me.” 
     She was busy at the Dollar Store at the time of her son’s death. 
     “I was working ridiculous hours,” she said. “There were a lot of time, I was working in the store, and I’d turn around and JC was there. He’d say, ‘I was heading up to church, and wanted to see if you wanted lunch.’ It was like 15 miles out of his way.” 
     She thought working so much would improve life for Jesse and his older sister. 
     “I was trying to make it better for them,” she said. “But now I think, had I been even working a 40-hour week job, would I have noticed something was wrong? I just wasn’t home to see it. It’s just hard. I don’t think I’ll ever not blame myself.”

                                                                                       # # #    


  1. Wow, this is one heavy-duty column about a very personal struggle. I’d be lying if I said I never thought about it. I think we all have. At the time, it seems to be the perfect escape. It’s not, it gets better, and one has no idea what and how it affects others that really matter. Maybe that’s why I never even tried. I knew I’d hurt people I love. But I am operating with at least a quazi-level of sanity. That’s a whole different story. The majority of us cannot fathom how or why someone would take their own life. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around it. If they only knew how much pain was inflicted by their actions. Maybe some things aren’t meant to be understood.

    1. Studs Terkel brilliantly captured people's thoughts about death and dying in "Will The Circle Be Unbroken?" in 2001.The guy who made the strongest impression on me was a physicist who worked at Los Alamos. He was in a downward spiral...and was contemplating suicide.

      He said to Studs: "Your life is not yours. Part of your life is part of everyone else's life who loves you, who cares about you. And I thought: IF I KILL MYSELF, I WOULD KILL THAT PART OF HER [his wife] THAT SHE HAS INVESTED IN ME. And that's murder. Suicide is one thing, and murder is another. And I can't do that." [upper case emphasis is mine]

      A chill went through me when I read those lines. Because I realized that I felt exactly the same way. I could never do that my love and my life partner. I have never forgotten that passage over the years, and it resonates with me more and more as I my earthly time gets shorter and shorter.

      Another observation: The old saying is that "suicide is the coward's way out." I totally disagree...and I feel the exact opposite is true. The cowards go on living and struggling. They just keep on keeping on. I sincerely believe that in the end, it takes an great deal of courage to kill yourself. The type of guts I've never had.

    2. That’s BS about courage & cowardice. And I speak from experience. I survived a suicide attempt. There was nothing courageous about it. And in 12 1/2 years of program, individual therapy & group therapy I have never heard anyone say it’s courageous to attempt suicide or you’re a coward if you don’t. In that moment it’s not that you want to die, it’s that life is too painful to live. You do think of the people in your life, but think they will be better off without you. I could go on, but unless you’ve actually attempted suicide, don’t comment.


    3. Don't comment? Who died and made you king? You won't convert anybody because you have silenced them. And which Anonymous are you, anyway? I can't tell them apart, even with a scorecard. At least pick a username...then maybe I might be a little more impressed with your reply. And you might earn more respect Otherwise, it's just wasted keystrokes. But thanks anyway, for sharing.

  2. Thank you so much for this very informative and much-needed article My daughter-in-law lost her brother to suicide six years ago and it has been very hard for her and her family. I will share this with her.

  3. I've seen two suicides.
    One was a guy who hanged himself. Not a pretty sight!
    The other was an old man who I watched lay down in front of a Metra train. It even has its own name, "Metracide". In fact, the director of Metra killed himself in front of one of his own trains, because he had embezzled a few hundred thousand from the agency, due to the bizarre fact he was a bigamist, who had to pay for two entirely different families.
    His suicide then caused dozens of people doing it that way, which manages to inconvenience thousands of people, because Metra takes over 90 minutes to get the trains going again, because they insist on having the medical examiner come out & certify the dead person is really most sincerely dead!.
    In NYC, they just move a suicide's body out of the way & get the trains moving in 15 minutes.

    1. Those kinds of suicide also affects the train's engineer-who sees what is about to happen but cannot stop the train.Often they quit the job.

    2. My only thoughts are for the engineers. The arrogance of the suicides really disgust me, as they not only screw up the lives of thousands of Metra passengers, even worse at rush hour, but the poor engineer, has absolutely no chance of stopping the train. My uncle told me of a train trip he took that was stopped for a few hours because the train made hamburger out of a cow that wandered onto the tracks in the middle of the night.
      And for some really weird reason, drunks often fall asleep between the rails at night & get killed!

  4. Two people I know committed suicide in the last week . I have not been able to organize my thoughts . Thank you for yours

  5. The taking of one’s own life is unspeakably tragic - the loss reverberates through family and community. Final notes often reflect the belief that loved ones would be better off without them. Within this writing is the story of so many never forgotten, so deeply missed. Thanks for writing about a difficult subject, and a young man to whom so many would relate - had they known him. He represents many.

  6. Thanks for this. I had no idea older adults are at a higher risk - that's life-changing knowledge.

  7. Wonderful treatment of just about the most painful subject there is. I hope Rotary didn't chop it down too much, it's just right as is. Will be sending the link to several people right now.

  8. Thank you for this column. It is important to encourage these conversations with our loved-ones. And we need to keep talking about mental health until we fully recognize it as a real illness, not a character flaw that someone can choose to change by trying harder. My son battled depression his entire life and I have risked his anger and alienating him (my only child) by trying to non-judgmentally speak frankly about his behavior. When he decided to quit fighting and end his life, he asked me for help (thank you G-d and the angels). And I rallied for, and eventually with him, leading to, finally, an accurate diagnosis and medication. But, it is not a perfect science, and the struggles you point out here are real blocks: the stigma, the dismissiveness, (“just get over it”), horrible trials with the wrong medication, the cost of therapy even with insurance parity for mental health treatment, which still falls short, and lack of therapists. His /our therapist wishes he could put his clients in wheelchairs so the world will understand this as a “real” illness and stop blaming the victims of what he calls a brain dis-ease.

    1. I’m very happy your son reached out to you & you have supported him. Everything you wrote about is true; the stigma, mental health insurance, lack of therapists & the big one, “get over it, it’s all in your head”. No s^*% Sherlock! I’ve been fortunate to have great health insurance including mental health coverage, excellent therapists , support groups & great love & support from my wife & teenage sons. Hopefully he has all the tools he needs, it’s obvious he knows you support him by the fact he reached out to you for help. God bless you & your son.

    2. Thank you for your comment, Arthur. As you probably know, we’re not out of the woods, but trying to stay between the ditches. I am so glad you have support from your loved ones (and good insurance). And I am very glad you are here to share your experience. Every bit helps.

  9. I had a friend who committed suicide. He was in his 50's and had a part-time job, but it wasn't enough to live on. He looked for full-time work for well over a year. He had to move out of our neighborhood that he absolutely loved and moved in with his parents. He then lost his part-time job. He was housesitting for his parents who were on vacation and caring for their dog; he had a dog himself. He had to kill the dogs first since he wouldn't be there to take care of them. For some reason, I find that particularly heart braking. How awful and difficult that must have been for him. It was all beyond awful.

    1. He could easily have surrendered those animals to a shelter or a kennel. Instead, he found it easier to just kill them. It's a beautiful day in my neighborhood. But I know I will not be able to stop thinking about those poor helpless dogs.

    2. Agree, but I doubt he was thinking real clearly at the moment.

  10. Thank you for sharing both your original piece and the final article. This one is more compelling, but in the current era of limited attention spans, the edited ones makes its point more vividly. Bravo to Rotary for taking this on.

  11. Excellent article, Neil. I got tearful reading it. I am going to share this widely, as I believe it will resonate with many. I'm retired from working in the mental health field. Anyone who is paying attention is alarmed by the increasing rate of suicide in the US. Rates have increased 16% in the past 10 years, and 2022 had the highest rates ever. I suspect when the data comes in, 2023 will break that record. Mayor Johnson plans to increase funding and access to mental health services in Chicago. I am relieved that the mental health crisis, particularly among Blacks, will finally be addressed. I remember when Michael Scott, prez of the Chicago Board of Ed, died by suicide in 2009, and no one would believe it. We're in a different place now - with people more willing to talk about suicide risks, but access to treatment is worse than its ever been. I'm so glad you wrote this article.

  12. Suicide is a great unknown. She drove her car off a mountain road, perhaps to beat the insurance company. She'd battled sudden onset depression but seemed to all to have everything to live for. He had suffered persistent guilt from a horrendous loss. He lived with it for years, before coming home from work one day, closing the garage door but not turning the car key. People could understand his pain, his death just the final phase of something that has killed many. But we can't know the why's, shouldn't assign blame, and best that we learn the lessons of the survivors.

    1. People can be driven to this final act of desperation by extreme circumstances, in which it appears to them that here is no other way out. Example: the Vietnam-era draft lottery in '69.

      I knew a guy who drew the highest number (366). On the other hoof, there was the gay poet I knew. He drew a TWO. He thought he was already doomed when he stole his brother's car, drove it to Colorado, and sailed off a cliff.

      We shared a mutual antipathy toward one another. Even so, I was horrified. Thought about him for many days, and asked myself what I would have done if I'd had to walk in his sandals, instead of drawing the number I shared with Bill Clinton (in the low 300s). Probably hot-footed it to Toronto, where they still have streetcars. I like streetcars.

    2. An undocumented victim of the Vietnam war. I'm certain that many parents and friends didn't survive the grief from their loss. When asked if I served in that war I would tell people that I fought on both sides. I take no comfort in knowing I was right, that it was a complete and total waste of human life.

  13. Thank you, Neil! This should be published in all the major newspapers and on Social Media! I also appreciated the heartfelt comments!

  14. Neil, thank you for this article, had there been a gun in our house I would not be here today. It’s so important to educate society about mental health issues, for only 10% of suicide attempts end in suicide, but 80% of people who die by suicide had made a previous attempt.

  15. Yes, thank you Neil for this column. I feel it will help many people understand, if only in some small way, why the heartbreaking decision to end one’s life can truly feel like one’s only option.


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