I received an email from our church on Thursday around lunchtime, informing me that a friend of mine had died on Wednesday afternoon. My jaw dropped. What?!? He and I are about the same age! What could have happened? The email didn’t give any clues. He was overweight – heart attack? Car accident?
I spoke with a couple of mutual friends who had already heard about it Wednesday evening, since they are closer to the family, but they also didn’t know the cause of death.
On Thursday, a new email was sent, revealing that the cause of death was “severe depression”. Clearly, this was a euphemism for suicide. But I spoke to him on Sunday! I had no inkling that he was depressed. That big, social guy? The guy who was so good at making others feel welcome. No way! As one who has gone through a few severe bouts of depression myself over the years, including being hospitalized when I was a teenager for this, I am generally pretty good at reading others.
My mind raced. I wish I had known. I could have said something to prevent it. I can relate to this type of mental pain. I could have said the magic phrase that would have assuaged his anguish. I could have taken him to lunch and talked it out.
Then, suddenly, later, I feel angry with him. Why would he do this to his family? He was married (happily it seemed) with two small sons, one of them 4 years old and the other one about 18 months. Now they have to grow up without a dad. And what a loving dad he was – he truly enjoyed his children, that much was obvious to any casual observer. In fact, I admired his parenting skills. If you read my blog very often, you know that I am in love with my three children, so this is a high compliment: he was a great father.
What was he thinking?
Well, that’s just it. We don’t know now. Since he didn’t show sufficiently alarming signs that he was considering killing himself, he is gone. He was apparently in counseling, and he was meeting regularly with someone one-on-one who was helping him to work through his feelings, but this proved to be insufficient to prevent this tragedy.
My friend was recently laid off and lost his job, and that could have been enough to make him kill himself. It could have been something even more minor, though. This is often referred to as the “501st pound”, meaning that you can carry 500, but that last thing is simply too much. Whatever the case, he was clearly in a very dark place where he couldn’t see any light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.
As one who has talked two friends out of committing suicide (one of them multiple times), I know that many times suicide prevention is really about being a willing listener. It may mean investing a few hours, but it really doesn’t take as much as you might think to keep someone from dying IF THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT IT. The key in my friend’s case was that he didn’t reveal the depths of his despair.
If you have anyone in your life who has a history of depression or who is going through some tough life issues, why not reach out to him/her and see how things are going? Often it is the small gestures that make a big difference in helping someone to turn the corner. It may sound trite, but it is absolutely true. You might be surprised at the response you get. Believe me – it is better to make someone a little irritated by your concern that to lose them to suicide.
Everyone who knew him was affected in some way, especially since he chose to cut himself down in the prime of life. His funeral was Saturday, and the church was completely packed. His wife wrote an eloquent letter to all of us asking for us not to be angry at him, and that he had made a terrible mistake. She asked for forgiveness for him from his friends and family, as she had forgiven him. She also went on to say that she felt that somehow God would bring about good from this tragic event, although it was hard for her to see that in the short-term. I was impressed by her faith, since this was 72 hours after he died.
My mother, who runs the Suicide and Crisis Center in Dallas, has been a great help for me over the past few days, and she has some friends here in the Austin area who will likely be called upon to provide additional counseling and resources in the upcoming months.
A group of people from our church is trying to assess how to best provide support for my friend’s wife and their little boys. Some of the men also want to provide a stable male influence for these kids as they grow up. I hope I can do this for them, too. I think this is our responsibility now.
In a sense, all of us who knew him, even on a surface level, are now “survivors” of this act. Here is a terrific link to a brief piece written by Norman Vincent Peale on the topic of suicide:
If you or anyone you know is currently (or ever) struggling with severe depression, here is a phone number and a website that could help:
1-800-273-TALK (8255) – this is a national suicide hotline
Also, I know this might sound like I am opening myself up too much here, but if you EVER want to talk to ME about anything, my cell phone number is 512-796-7653. My schedule is generally flexible enough that I can make time to talk.