Suicide Prevention Advocacy ~ Why? (Part 3)

In late 2011 or early 2012, beginning my first call as a pastor with a congregation brand new to me, and in the midst of breast cancer treatment, I was also starting to recognize that suicide was a matter which might be addressed as breast cancer was: with research, education, prevention, treatment.  I looked around for some ways in which I might participate and found a local organization and a national organization, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.  AFSP’s mission is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.  It provides funding for suicide prevention research as well as educational materials and strategies, and sponsors advocacy events in Washington, D.C, and all over the country.

Thanks to AFSP, I’ve had the opportunity to testify in support of Ohio legislation mandating suicide prevention education for public school educators and administrators, meet with legislators in Ohio and Washington, and make my voice heard on the need for mental health reform and funding.


I’m just back from our State Capitol Day in Columbus, on which 25 advocates met with more than 60 state representatives and senators.  Last year in Washington, we heard from legislators on both sides of the aisle that, despite their differences, the need for mental health legislation and funding was something on which they all agreed.  The unfolding debate over the ACA over the past several weeks has made it clear that that coalition of support is not guaranteed.  In Ohio, the Medicaid expansion ensures that many if our most vulnerable citizens receive treatment for the drug addictions and mental illnesses that threaten their lives, but that funding is not guaranteed either.  It is imperative that we continue to bring our stories to our legislators at both the federal and state levels and to press for mental health insurance coverage and funding for research and education.

I’m one small voice in a movement of many.  If you would like to add your voice as well, please check out the AFSP website.  We have chapters across the country and you can volunteer in many ways and at many levels of commitment.

Image: With Ohio United States Representative David Joyce and another Ohio advocate.


Suicide Prevention Advocacy ~ Why? (Part 2)


We didn’t know, not really, why our son had died and, despite being consumed by guilt,  I generally dismissed the idea that it night have been preventable.   I had begun to learn not to discuss either his life or death outside of our home and my blog.  It was clear that the good memories made others uncomfortable, and that the bad ones reminded them that we were living their worst nightmare.

Three years after our son’s death, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  It took about five seconds for me to discover that, whereas with a mention of suicide I could clear a room, my admission that I was being treated for breast cancer would be followed by offers of support, advice, and resources.  Women I barely knew would pull me into their offices to pull up their shirts and show me the results of their surgeries.


I began to remember my childhood and teen years, forty years earlier.  Breast cancer was discussed only in hushed tones behind closed doors.  Women died because they were too embarrassed and frightened to share their discoveries, even with their partners and doctors.  And I realized that in the decades since that time, strong and determined advocates had unlocked the doors to legislation and money, and had destroyed the stigma of a disease which attacks intimate parts of our anatomy and affects the most personal parts of our lives.  Today, breast cancer treatment has been revolutionized, people speak freely about breast cancer, and football players wear pink jerseys to raise awareness and assist in the efforts to further research, prevention, and treatment!

Could the same things be accomplished where suicide was concerned?  Might it indeed be possible to prevent suicide?

(To be continued)

Image: Post-cancer in Seattle.


Suicide Prevention Advocacy ~ Why? (Part I)

Josh out west

It was as if a train had run him down ~ that’s how my husband and I described our son’s death to one another.  We had just spent a week-end with him.  He had been despondent over his work situation and recent romantic break-up, but he and I had talked a lot, as we had for weeks, about these setbacks in life, not unusual in young adulthood.  Over the preceding month, I had suggested several times that he see a therapist, and had even found some names for him, but he had alternated between a willingness to seek help and a cheerful insistence that he was fine.    And then he was gone.  As if a train had run him down.

Occasionally we would hear about suicide prevention work, but we could not imagine its relevance.  How can you prevent something you have no idea looms ahead?  Even as we began to piece the puzzle together over the next couple of years, as we found journals and notes, talked to his girlfriend, and came to understand that he had suffered from undiagnosed and untreated depression, perhaps for years, we still did not think in terms of suicide as something preventable.

We may have even bought into that oft-repeated and erroneous statement, made several times to us (and frequently by people who should have known better) that if someone wants to end his life, you cannot stop him.  It was a shocking and sorrow-inducing statement, intended to be supportive but, in fact, conveying the horrific possibility that someone you loved more than seemed possible had reached a point of such interior torture that he had moved beyond recovery.  Not exactly comforting news, is it?

And so we plodded through our guilt-racked lives, knowing that we had failed our beloved child and yet also believing that he had sunk into a downward spiral from which there could have been no return.

(To be continued)

Image: Josh, out west on a trip with college friends.

Nevertheless, She Persisted (Retreat for Survivors of Third Sunday in Lent)

Samaritan Woman Roman Caracombs

The story of the Woman at the Well (name not recorded; how surprising) in the Gospel of John recounts an encounter between Jesus, an itinerant Jewish teacher, and a Samaritan woman, someone with whom, due to her gender, ethnicity, and religious beliefs, he is expected to avoid.  It’s the longest conversation he has with anyone in the Bible, a conversation in which he elicits from her an acknowledgement that she has been married five times and is now with number six, but swiftly moves on to a revelation of who he is, which in turn upends her entire life.

The Samaritan Woman and I have had a long relationship.  A decade or so ago, I spent several days meditating upon and praying with her story, and her movement from an encounter with Jesus at the well and out into the world to tell what she had heard was a pivotal factor in propelling me into seminary.

A few years later, my son gone, I often focused on her exhaustion and disappointment.  She has a history of negative characterizations due to those five husbands, but there is no indication in the story of anything untoward on her part.  (My father was widowed three times and divorced once, and I was once a family lawyer, so I am well acquainted with the disillusionment and heartache that follow the end of dashed hopes, whatever the reason.)

This year, I find that I am really, really liking the Samaritan Woman.  I mean, I always did, but this year, her persistence in leaving behind her water jar, the symbol of a life tangled in the expectations and promises of others and in the sadness and hardship which have come her way, and walking confidently into a new future ~ this year I am seeing not only the gift of water rushing from Jesus’ life into hers, but the gift of determination that she packs up and takes with her.

I don’t know where you are as you read this.  If you are in the early years, it may be all you can do to sit by your well, and that’s okay.  But if you can look ahead, even of only for a minute or two at a time, perhaps you can see a future.  Not the one you wanted or planned for, but the one that came your way due to the past being smashed to bits.

How might you respond, when you can?



A Fallow Season

field 2

Fallow, according to google’s dictionary: land plowed and harrowed but left unsown for a period in order to restore its fertility; from the Old English fealgian, to break up land for sowing.

Tomorrow, Sunday, it will be a month since I’ve been the pastor of a church.  The task of transitioning the congregation to a new outlook and a new permanent pastor is complete; the gifts have been given and the thank-you notes written; a loose end appears here and there, but is quickly addressed.

I’ve had a few possibilities for the future: one that turned out not to be, one from which I withdrew, a couple of which went to someone else.  Others are in process.  But on the whole, I am in a fallow season: ground plowed and harrowed, but, for the time being, devoid of seedlings.

Friends have encouraged me to relax, to think of this as a sabbatical.  If I had another call lined up, if I could say that as of May 1 I will be thus and so, here or there, I would revel in this time.  I would take a trip, be more adventurous with my time and money.  But with income and health insurance uncertain, I am staying close to home and trying to guard resources.

I wonder, every day: Wait for a church?  Put my energies into more adjunct teaching, into more writing?  Fill my time with volunteer work?  I am doing a little of each (except for new volunteer work; while I have looked into it, I am unwilling to make a commitment I may not be able to keep).  Mostly, I am trying to pay attention ~ to what I am thinking and feeling, to what people ask of me or say to me.  In Ignatian terms, I am seeking to interpret the movement of spirits, of The Spirit.  I don’t have to act in haste, to jam a request into an already overloaded day; I can respond, or not, and consider whether I am being led in one direction or another.  If someone asks a favor of me, is that all it is, or is it a portent of deeper possibility?  Do the small jobs piling up as I struggle to find motivation with no real schedule or deadlines hide more expansive possibilities?

I am a girl who likes jobs and lists and charts and achievement.  A fallow field poses a direct challenge to the core of my being.  Perhaps therein lies the point.



What Do You Remember? (Retreat for Suicide Survivors ~ Third Friday in Lent)

starfish 0217

Nature has proven itself to be the greatest source of solace for me.  Not from the beginning ~ it was months, perhaps even more than a year, before I became of aware of my surroundings again.  I remember identifying a migrating sparrow on the sidewalk one day, surprised that the recesses of my mind had produced a name in response to a familiar annual sighting.  It seemed odd to me that such a sparrow still existed, and that it still had  a name.  My inner world was that altered.

When our children were small, we went to the Florida beach every spring.  I don’t know what these particular starfish are called, but they frequently appear along the Atlantic coast south of St. Augustine.  We used to occasionally  place one of our finds into a bucket of sand and saltwater and take it up to our porch to watch for awhile.  Eventually, satisfied by having enjoyed its companionable presence for a bit, we would return it to the waves.

Last month, we ventured to the beach again.  I felt very brave, returning to what had been the site of such joyful times for me.  It had taken more than a decade, and perhaps that would turn out not to have been long enough.

The starfish are still there.

What about you?  What creatures or sights in the natural world call out to you, saying, “Remember, and come home to yourself”?

Kedi (Film Review)


Confirmed feline lovers, my daughter and I went to the film Kedi last week-end.  Following the lives of a few of the cats who wander the streets of Istanbul and the humans with whom they interact, the portrayal is charming, filled with the small adventures of small creatures, brimming with human affection and concern.

I had been concerned about the drama of tragedy and loss which so often pervade animal films, but, with few exceptions, this one is filled with light and energy and humor.  Of course, there are difficult moments ~ street cat life is challenging and not always a successful venture ~ but they are usually  a motivation for human compassion.  As one man says, “most of us have a running tab at the vet’s.”

Toward the end, a tone of sadness begins to pervade the voice-overs.  The neighborhoods, with their crowded rows of small apartment buildings, vibrant markets, and street-front shops, are gradually being bulldozed to make way for skyscrapers, and the residents wonder what will become of the cats, who will have nowhere to go.  The same, of course, will be true for many of the people.

I was struck by how resilient, and yet how fragile, are the lives of street cats, and how much they and their human companions depend upon one another for sustenance, comfort, and friendship.  The skyscrapers are signs of the human will to isolate and barricade, to imagine security where none exists.  The cats are signs of fearlessness and creativity persisting against the dangers of hunger and rootlessness.

You can read about the film, and a Letter to the Audience, here.




On a day on which a time change has been somewhat confusing for at least some of us, I thought it might be nice to look at a beach sunrise.

Prayer in the Night (Second Sunday in Lent ~ Retreat for Survivors of Suicide)


Today in the Christian church we hear the familiar story of Nicodemus, the Jewish leader who slipped out to meet with Jesus late at night.  It’s the story which contains the famous verse, “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only son, so that all who believe in him might not perish, but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Suicide loss is unlike other loss.  Most of us, whether people of faith or not, have been at one time or another plagued by questions about the eternal destiny of our loved ones.  Or, perhaps worse, we have heard words of condemnation aimed at those we have lost.

I thought that I would write a prayer out of an encounter imagined to be like the one between Nicodemus and Jesus.  Perhaps you have your own idea of the same event, or of one that you yourself long to experience.

A Prayer

It is so dark.

Is there a God of darkness?  Are you the God of darkness?  Or is there no one?

The dark, wrapping itself around my coat, is somehow comforting.  The endless daily reminders of loss are not visible.  The people who chatter about so much that means so little are nowhere to be found

But in the dark I am so alone.  Inside and out, darkness.  My beloved died in the dark, and so then also died a part of everyone who were touched by that brief, shining life.

Where would I go, to find someone from whom to hear that we are gathered up in love?  Would I slip out of the house sometime after midnight, try to make myself invisible under the street lights, pull on a hat as I trudged down an alley, lean against an abandoned car in a darkened parking lot?

Whom would I hope to meet?  Would there be someone there, someone to say, “Tell me your story, and I will listen?”    Would there be a person, crouched down on the blacktop behind the abandoned car, drawing with a stick in the loose gravel, and saying,  “We are all on the same side, together, the living and the dead, because we all live, and the lost and the found, because we are all found.”  Would there?  Would there be such a person?

And what about that question of belief?  What does that mean, for whom, and when?  Would there be a person to uncurl himself from the position in which he crouches in the parking lot, to twirl a battered basketball on his fingertips, and to toss it into the crooked hoop with an easy arc?  And that person, recovering the ball, would say, “It means there is a love so wide that it cannot exclude anyone, that it draws and welcomes all to itself, that none might perish. A love so deep that it embraces all, melts all resistance, and revives into glory every broken person, this side and that side of death.”

In this vast sleepless night, , is there a light that the darkness does not overcome?


Image: Henry Ossawa Tanner, Study for Nicodemus Visiting Jesus




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