Suicide Awareness for Everyone
By canoe, I was twenty miles into the Sylvania Wilderness area on the border of Michigan and Wisconsin. It had taken a day’s paddling and a half-mile portage to get to a secluded campground on Loon Lake. One evening I was out with my fly rod teasing hungry smallmouth. I paused for quite some time to watch a black bear work the shoreline for food about a quarter mile away. It was a fine summer evening and all was calm. I noted a kayaker headed straight at me some distance way. I said to myself, “Can’t this guy see I’m fishing? He’s probably going to paddle right into my target and ask me some dumb tourist question like, ‘catch anything?’”
As he got closer, I recognized the face of a young man from our church. “What on earth is he doing out here?” I said to myself. He was the bearer of very bad news, a good friend and church member had taken his own life. The tranquility shattered, the next day we broke camp for home. How could this happen? At the funeral I looked over a packed house, even his family doctor was there. None of us saw it coming and yet I know better. When I asked my friend how he was doing he would often dodge, “Tom, I don’t have time to tell you.” I never was able to get him to elaborate. If I could do it all over again, I would have cut to the chase and blurted it out, “Are you thinking about suicide?”
Last month HUMC hosted a SafeTalk training aimed at helping ordinary people recognize the signs of possible suicide in the people around us. Even in the most depressed people there is a part of us that always wants to live. That part of us always sends a signal. Suicide is not an impulsive act and most people really want help. So they send signals of their distress through their actions: moodiness, withdrawal, social isolation, empty feelings. These signals are often linked to life situations of either failure, rejection or grief such as the loss of a job, a marriage, or a loved one. The most important thing I learned at SafeTalk is this: If you suspect the possibility of suicide ask them directly. Never dismiss or avoid the hints they give. We need not worry about “giving them ideas” because people almost always want to talk about not wanting to live. When they talk, all we need to do is listen. We do not have to solve their problems, most just want to talk and will often talk themselves out of suicide. When we’re done listening, we can say this: This is important. Don’t promise them secrecy but do put them in touch with someone who can help. It’s not your job to save their life but to put them in touch with someone who can help them save their own life. It is their decision. There are two crisis lines you can use to share with others. For teens call OK2Say here in Oakland County 855-565-2729. For adults call the Common Ground crisis line 800-231-1127.
If you’d like to know more about SafeTalk visit their excellent website at www.livingworks.net.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted that the Gospel contains no prescription against taking one’s own life because Jesus knew that you don’t eliminate despair by law. You counter despair with the offer of life. The Gospel is an offer of life and hope. It is the announcement that human life ultimately has meaning only in the forgiveness of God. This is how the Gospel pushes back the darkness: by offering life.
Connect, Grow, Serve
Pastor Tom Anderson