Sui­cide preven­tion

What could drive a per­son to take their own life like that? Why would any­one in a place as beau­ti­ful as San Fran­cisco be un­able to find a rea­son to keep liv­ing?

The Covington News - - News -

Any­one whose life has been closely touched by sui­cide knows, all too well, the in­sid­i­ous na­ture of the as­so­ci­ated grief that in­vades your heart. Some­times it seems there’s no es­cape from think­ing about the event. You re­play ev­ery­thing that led up to it, go­ing back through the years, looking for signs that might have por­tended trou­ble on the hori­zon.

And some­times you just think that no day will ever be as pretty again, no sun will ever shine as brightly, no sky will ever be as blue, no mu­sic will ever sound as sweetly, no ful­fill­ment of any kind will ever be as en­joy­able as it once was, be­fore the sui­cide in­vaded and took away the in­no­cent joy and child­like rev­elry which comes from rel­ish­ing even the small­est and sim­plest of things that bring hap­pi­ness to one’s soul.

One sun-splashed af­ter­noon in July of 1991my­wife and I took our kids on a San Fran­cisco Bay cruise. The boat de­parted Fish­er­man’s Wharf and took us out be­neath the Golden Gate Bridge, at which point we came about and headed for Al­ca­traz Is­land to tour the old prison.

As our boat ap­proached the bridge, how­ever, tower fog horns be­gan blast­ing though there was no fog, and no seago­ing traf­fic en­ter­ing the nar­row pas­sage­way un­der the bridge.

Our cap­tain told us that all traf­fic was be­ing routed away from the south tower of the Golden Gate, as a per­son was threat­en­ing to jump off the bridge. A few tourists with binoc­u­lars and tele­photo lenses spot­ted the jumper, but our tour con­tin­ued without fur­ther in­ci­dent.

Theevening news­re­ported, how­ever, that not long af­ter our en­counter the in­di­vid­ual be­came the 200th per­son to com­mit sui­cide in 1991 by jump­ing from the Golden Gate Bridge. And it was only July. From time to time dur­ing the re­main­der of the sum­mer, one of the chil­dren would ask me about that sui­cide. What could drive a per­son to take their own life like that? Why would any­one in a place as beau­ti­ful as San Fran­cisco be un­able to find a rea­son to keep liv­ing?

I don’t know how other par­ents an­swer those unan­swer­able ques­tions. Don’t re­ally know if my way was a good one or not. But I told the kids about ask­ing my own par­ents, when I was young, about liv­ing through “The Great De­pres­sion” as teenagers. As photography in the 1920’swas­mostly­black-and-white, I asked if flow­ers still bloomed and if white fluffy clouds still made shapes that looked like an­i­mals and car­i­ca­tures of peo­ple against a blue sky. Did candy taste as sweet in those dark days? Did peo­ple ever laugh? Was there any joy? Or was it all gloom and de­spair?

My par­ents told me that joy still ex­isted. Peo­ple still fell in love. Ma­mas and dad­dies still loved their chil­dren. They had pets, birds still sang, and even if the pic­tures of those grim days of fi­nan­cial ruin and de­pri­va­tion were in black-and­white, the world was still col­or­ful and life still vi­brant as at any other time.

But some folks could ad­just to hard times, while oth­ers could not. And­whether­it­was true or not, some old folks main­tained that NewYork City sky­scrapers now have sealed win­dows be­cause so many sui­cides jumped out of open ones when the stock mar­ket crashed in 1929.

I talked about faith, and know­ing what you be­lieve. I talked of loving your­self, your fam­ily and your friends. I told them that no mat­ter how bad things might seem, no mat­ter how grim the sit­u­a­tion, that the sun would rise to­mor­row, and bring with it a brand new day and at least a chance for things to get bet­ter.

I was teach­ing so­cial stud­ies and coach­ing what­ever sport was in sea­son in those days. I drew on mo­ti­va­tional ax­ioms and clichés coaches use in most any sit­u­a­tion. When the wheels are off the wagon and you’re get­ting ham­mered, that’s when the coach — or the daddy — can make a vi­tal point which, at a later time, might make all the dif­fer­ence in the world.

So I talked a lit­tle, from per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, about be­ing in a sit­u­a­tion years be­fore which seemed out of con­trol. I didn’twant to scare them, so I avoided specifics; in the end I hoped and prayed that the bedrock faith our chil­dren de­vel­oped would carry them through any fu­ture or­deals of de­pres­sion or anx­i­ety.

I was re­minded of this last week, as my wife and I ate din­ner at a lo­cal es­tab­lish­ment. One of the wait­ers had been a stu­dent of mine in the 20th Cen­tury; dur­ing a lull he asked me to share with his friend why the an­swer to the first ques­tion on any of my tests was al­ways “Arby’s Beef n’ Ched­dar.”

I re­lated how I’d once felt trapped in a job I could no longer tol­er­ate, yet from which could not re­sign as there were bills to pay and kids to raise. I ex­pe­ri­enced sleep­less nights, “cold sweats” and cry­ing jags. The thought occurred that if I drove my lit­tle econ­omy car straight into a bridge abut­ment I’d never feel a thing; my wife would get the life in­sur­ance and could pay the bills. And in­stead of seek­ing pro­fes­sional help or go­ing to my preacher, I ac­tu­ally de­cided to hit a bridge.

The next day, sec­onds from a high speed im­pact, I glanced away and saw an Arby’s sign, and aborted the col­li­sion for just one more of my fa­vorite “beef ‘n ched­dar” sand­wiches.

When I got home, I told my wife the whole sorry saga, and with her sup­port quit that job. I be­gan shar­ing the story with my classes, in case they ever faced a seem­ingly in­escapable mess, be­cause the ironic thing was that I’d lost a friend to sui­cide, and for that very rea­son never thought I’d con­sider it my­self.

There are des­per­ate peo­ple in our world to­day who think there’s no way out of their sit­u­a­tion, ei­ther. There is, of course, but they just can’t see it. I was one of them, but luck­ily a sign changed my course. And the rea­son I’m shar­ing this with you to­day, friend, is be­cause it’s just pos­si­ble that you — as an an­gel un­aware — might be that very sign for some­one des­per­ately need­ing a rea­son not to jump from their own Golden Gate.

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