A man from around the corner walked to the end of the block and shot himself Friday night. Someone called the police and said an older man had a gun and was threatening to hurt himself, and boy did the police respond.
There were patrol cars and officers everywhere. When they entered the man’s apartment and found he wasn’t there, they fanned out in every direction.
They found him in the ivy in a small wooded grove that abuts the highway. They taped off the area, and neighbors gathered across the street to watch and wonder. His daughter arrived, wailing.
Back on the block someone brought out drinks and a little summer happy hour began. No one paid much attention to the suicide, other than a passing comment or even a wise crack about what had happened. The man was truly alone.
I spoke to the woman who lives next door. I made some sardonic comments and nonsequiturs. I wanted to talk about anything else. Since I attempted suicide myself in 2002 I haven’t been able to deal with the topic around others and have met it with black humor and withdrawal. But it’s not funny. I went back in the house.
My wife sat inside and cried. She knew firsthand, from living with me and from losing a friend to suicide, about the suffering and surrender a person can go through. She was upset that no one seemed to care, and she felt such pain for the man’s daughter left crying alone just down the street.
It hit me when I woke before dawn on Saturday. A dark depression and sorry empathy welled in me, and I took out the dogs and walked to the spot where he lay. The ivy was pressed down in paths from officers walking in it.
I half expected to find a ghost that I could embrace, but all that was there was a torn piece of police tape crumpled and dirty in the gutter. Later in the day when I passed the corner again on my way to see a friend, even that was gone.
Suicide rates have increased 33% since 1999. For adults aged 35-65 it is now the 4thleading cause of death. Much attention is paid to youth suicide, as it should be, with 1.7 girls and 3.3 boys per 100,000 aged 10-14 killing themselves.
Lost in the discussion about suicide is the increase in these deaths among adults aged 45-64. For women that rate stands at 9.7, and for men it has increased from 20.8 to 30.1.
What should be the prime years of life have, for many, turned into a stormy twilight with little hope and no bright days ahead to be imagined.
I was there and I understand. Years ago I sat in my living room and saw no sign of anything good ever happening to me, so I took every pill in the house. Bipolar disorder had taken everything. I thought I was evil and a loser and I had to put an end to it.
Fortunately, I failed even at killing myself.
Since then I’ve recovered, and I can’t imagine giving up my future or the people in my life. But the man around the corner will get no such chance.
Lost to the world are so many people, especially older people, who see no hope in the wonderful but conflicted culture we live in.
The next time you see someone and say, “how are you?,” mean it. Make connections where you can. People need you and you just may save a life.
We’re all responsible for each other, even for the lost souls locked out. Be prepared to help when you can and realize that everybody suffers. No one should enter a place where they see no way out but to end their own life.
If you know someone in that place, spend a little time with them and with them call this number:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255