Points of Interest

The silent death

Posted 11/17/20

One of my tasks here at the Powell Tribune is handling the obituaries. I type up handwritten copy for those who can’t use or don’t have access to computers. I track down photos when …

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Points of Interest

The silent death

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One of my tasks here at the Powell Tribune is handling the obituaries. I type up handwritten copy for those who can’t use or don’t have access to computers. I track down photos when families forget to attach them to the email, and I work with the families to make any changes or corrections before it goes to print. When you’re grieving, it’s not always easy to be organized.

Unless it’s a younger person, obituaries don’t usually mention the cause of death. There are many reasons why a family would keep the cause of death private, but if it’s a younger male, especially, often it’s because the deceased took his own life. In these obituaries for young, healthy males, the omission is hard not to notice.

There’s a privacy around suicide, and decorum demands we be respectful of that. While it’s understandable families want to keep such a detail private, it has the unintended consequence of sweeping a serious problem under the rug, especially here in Wyoming. Every year in the U.S., about 48,000 people take their own lives. About two-thirds of those are men. In Wyoming, it’s the seventh-leading cause of death and the second for people ages 10 to 44. Yet, there is such a silence that surrounds those who take their lives and those who have lost someone to suicide.

There’s a stubborn stigma attached to suicide and all its associated mental health problems, and it’s a contributing factor for why people who are thinking about suicide don’t seek help.

It’s something I understand all too well. In 1999, on the Friday before Thanksgiving, I pointed a loaded rifle at my head. I was in my 20s at the time. Problems that now seem quite surmountable — even trivial — were like looming shadows climbing up the wall and across the ceiling. I felt swallowed by a darkness so much larger than myself — and utterly alone.

I started to pull the trigger, and it started to move. I remember my palms became slick with sweat, and I hesitated a moment. Shaking, I rested the barrel on my shoulder as I tried to work up the nerve to continue. My resolve returned, and I again put the barrel against my forehead, preparing to end my pain. 

Ever since, I have puzzled over a little piece of fortune that came next. I didn’t get many visitors to my apartment back then, and certainly none that were unannounced. I wasn’t thinking straight, and it took me a while to process that there was someone knocking at the door. When I answered it, my neighbor Medley was standing there.

“Kevin, do you have a flashlight?” she asked.

I was in a dazed state, so I stared at her, trying to understand what she was asking.

“I locked myself out, and I need a flashlight,” she explained.

I snapped back to reality and went to get my flashlight. Despite the distress I was privately experiencing, I couldn’t leave my neighbor freezing in the cold. I would spend the next hour and a half helping her get back into her apartment. By the time it was done, I couldn’t bring myself to complete what I had started earlier that evening.

Medley is out there somewhere completely unaware she saved a life that night. Because of her well-timed interruption, I lived another day, and that day turned into a couple of months, when I finally told a friend what had nearly happened. That friend pushed me into counseling, and I found a wealth of resources to help me through it all.

It’s become a personal tradition on the anniversary of that Friday to spend some time contemplating everything that’s happened since. This year, I’ll go over in my mind 21 years of life — joys, sorrows, defeats and triumphs — that wouldn’t have happened if my neighbor hadn’t let the door close behind her when she took out the trash.

Suicides increase during the holidays, and my hope is that by telling this story maybe someone who has such thoughts might be encouraged to seek help. I know how incredibly hard it is to do that, but today, I’m much better equipped to cope with problems that are as tough as any I faced then. Those coping skills really do make a difference.

There are resources available, people who can help, and people who will listen without judgment. I hope, if you are struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide, you’ll take a moment to consider what a difference a day can make and that you’re not as alone as you might think.

A good place to start is the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Sometimes there’s a wait of up to 20 minutes to talk to someone, which is not ideal, but they do have caring people who can help. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center also has a number of other resources at www.sprc.org/states/wyoming.

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