Out of the darkness

Published 4:18 pm Friday, June 15, 2018

By now you are almost certainly aware of the two high profile suicides that occurred this past week.  Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were both well known in their respective fields.  Both were relatively young.  Both had young children. 

Statistically, half of those reading this column know someone that has died by suicide.  I am one of those people.  Like most, I tend to keep thoughts about suicide to myself.  I wonder how much pain they must have been in.  I wonder why I could not see their inner turmoil.  I wonder if there are others in my circle of friends that I could help.  How do I help?

My wife’s nephew, Joe, is married to a wonderful young lady.  I guess that makes Lindsay my niece by marriage.  Lindsay’s father, Roger, was an amazing man.  I only met him once, at their wedding.  He was full of laughter, the life of the party, and a wonderful host to my own family.  Roger died by suicide less than twelve hours after talking with Lindsay.   Everything appeared to be fine when they talked.  They even made plans for lunch the next day.

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Lindsay turned her grief into action.  She has become an advocate for mental health awareness through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.   Joe and Lindsay are particularly active in their support of Orlando’s annual Out of the Darkness Walk which raises funds for the AFSP. 

More important than the money that Lindsay helps raise is the way she talks frankly about her father’s suicide.  She is focused on shining a light on all who feel the darkness of depression in their lives.   Lindsay works to stop the stigma associated with both suicide and mental health.

When you share your own story, you make others more comfortable to share their own.   It is tough to do, but the courage of people like Lindsay makes it easier for others to share their pain or personal issues.

My great-grandfather, Alexander Hamilton Ponder, died 95 years ago in Richland, Georgia.  He had recently discovered that he had cancer.   I discovered his death certificate three years ago which indicated the cause of death was a pistol shot into his chest.   He was 45 years old.

My grandfather and his sister were both teenagers when their father died.   According to family lore, my great-aunt heard the gunshot from the schoolhouse.   She realized it was her Dad that had died after overhearing conversations at the school before she was officially notified.   46 years later, my great-aunt lost her own daughter, Edna, to suicide.   Edna was 45.

I was an adult with children before I first learned of how Alex Ponder died.   I was 60 years old before I had clear evidence of how he died.   Like most of those living in the 20th century, suicide was kept in the dark.

An alarming statistic that has come to light this past week is that since 1999 suicide rates have increased in every single state except Nevada.  Nevada was already the leading state in suicide rates.

I never knew Alex Ponder.  His son, my grandfather, died when I was two years old.  I only met Lindsay’s father, Roger, once.  However, I have known others that have lost loved ones by suicide.  I have known many others that struggle with mental illness issues that are still rarely discussed.

Lindsay is a very brave young woman.  Her own courage has given me the strength to tell how suicide has touched my own family even though I never knew those that died. 

Follow Lindsay’s lead.  Talk to your friends frankly when they seem depressed or even different.  Ask them how they are doing.  Ask yourself the same thing.  It is good to slow down and focus on yourself sometimes. 

Tell your own story.  In doing so you enable others to know they are not alone.  Who knows?  Maybe you will be the one that helps them walk out of the darkness.