The Journal Gazette
Sunday, July 18, 2021 1:00 am

The searing pain of preventable loss

We need not be experts to initiate a lifesaving intervention

Elizabeth Kissinger

I woke up dreaming, as I often do, of my late husband. He has frequented my dreams over the past four years, usually appearing out of thin air and rescuing me from a violent, terrifying situation I had found myself in – my hero.

In life, my husband was a hero, a strong, brave firefighter who would risk his life, at a moment's notice, to save anyone in distress. And yet, he could not save himself.

Four years ago, as I left for work, I found my best friend, father of my three children, hanging lifeless in our garage.

Suicide used to be an abstract notion to me. Obviously, I knew it existed, but not in any tangible, realistic way.

It seemed celebrities tended to do it, along with brooding artists and bullied teens. But in August of 2017, I became an unwilling expert.

Not an expert, like I could spout off the suicide rates (this knowledge would come later), but I could tell you, intimately, the horror of walking in on a completed suicide of someone you love.

I could tell you what it felt like to have the most important human in your life decide to take their life without even a conversation or obligatory goodbye.

I became an expert on what it was like to build a life with someone and, without a moment's notice, have them decide they don't want to live that life anymore.

The weeks and months following my husband's suicide were the loneliest of my life. Logically, I knew other people had suffered the same brutality my family had experienced, but I was unaware of anyone else, personally, who had suffered the same fate.

I learned that, in fact, there are many “suicide experts” all around us. I had dozens of people reach out to me to tell me how their spouse, father, brother, sister, mother, daughter or best friend had tragically and unnecessarily ended their life. They shared their heartbreaking stories of how these suicides have haunted them and lingered with them, often decades later.

With an intimate emotional knowledge of the impact of suicide, I set out to learn the facts about suicide. The prevalence of suicide shocked and saddened me.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States has one of the highest suicide rates of any wealthy country in the world, with an average of 132 suicides every day.

This is a 33% increase over the past 25 years.

Middle-aged white men account for seven of 10 suicides; they most often complete suicide with a firearm and leave a note less than a third of the time. Knowing the horrific pain that accompanies each of these statistics makes the work of suicide prevention that much more urgent.

I have spent the past four years trying to heal myself enough to be able to share my story to discourage, dissuade or figuratively “shake” awake people who are contemplating killing themselves. I want to tell them that whatever lies they are telling themselves about their family and friends being better off without them, they are wrong.

Completing suicide does not end the pain; it simply changes the owner, like a morbid game of hot potato.

No one has the right to hand all their pain over to people who love them. But everyone has the obligation to hold up a white flag and ask for help when they need it.

Having had several bouts of clinical depression myself, I understand that some days just getting out of bed seems like a huge hurdle, let alone getting out of bed and asking for help. It is easier to roll over and pull the covers up higher.

But who wouldn't be at their loved one's door with warmth, love, and a casserole if we knew they weren't OK? (I would have to bring a bucket of chicken; I don't cook. But nonetheless ...)

Let's remind one another that we are not alone, we are all in this together and, most importantly, we matter.

Elizabeth Kissinger is a Fort Wayne nurse.

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