Tag Archives: suicide

More About the Man Who Died

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On my last Saturday on the mountain, I was working at the parking lot when Mr. Jack, one of the sheriff’s department volunteers, pulled in. Mr. Jack is about eighty years old, has totally white hair, and likes to talk…a lot. I don’t exactly cultivate friendships with cops (even volunteer cops), but I try to stay on friendly terms with Mr. Jack.

We chatted for a few minutes about it being the end of the season before I asked him if he had heard anything else about the dead man I’d found in a pickup truck the week before. (Read about that experience here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/10/11/something-terrible/.) At first he said no, but then he said something, something, suicide.

I said something aloud, maybe oh, no! or maybe even damn!

Mr. Jack said, Oh, you didn’t know… I could tell he felt pretty bad about blurting the news out that way. Obviously, he thought I’d already heard.

He told me a note had been found in the truck. He didn’t say where. He didn’t tell me exactly what the note said, either (maybe he didn’t know), but whatever the note said, the sheriff’s department decided it meant the man had lit a charcoal fire in his tightly closed truck with the intent to kill himself. I suppose he succeeded, although I bet to his family, it felt like a failure.

Mr. Jack said the young man was only twenty-four.

I teared up. I couldn’t help it. I felt so sad for the young man and his family.

I’ve dealt with depression since I was a child. I’ve had suicidal thoughts at various times throughout my life. I know depression can be immobilizing. I know depression has kept me from achieving goals. I know times of suicidal thoughts are dark and scary times. So when I say I feel sad for the young man and his family, I don’t mean I feel sad in some abstract or theoretical way. I’ve felt like I couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t put one foot in front of the other, felt like I couldn’t go on. I’ve longed for oblivion. I don’t know what exactly this fellow was facing, but I have a pretty good idea of how he felt when he decided he just couldn’t make it through another day in this world.

To me, in most circumstances, folks who chooses suicide are not in their right mind. Barring terminal illness, I can’t see a mentally healthy person making such a choice. Many people have negative things to say about individuals who have ended their own lives. Because I’ve felt hopeless and useless and low myself, I have great compassion for people who’ve had suicidal thoughts, people who’ve attempted suicide, and people who’ve completed this desperate final task.

I keep thinking about IF I had crossed paths with the youmg man at some point before his death, would I have known he was in crisis? Would I have been able to say or do anything to help? Could I have stopped him from killing himself or at least helped him live one more day, maybe one day long enough to get over being suicidal? What could I have possibly done or said?

I wonder why I was the one who found the dead man. I know someone had to find him, and I was the logical person, since no one had been staying in that campground and I was the camp host on patrol. But was the Universe sending me a message? I know we humans tend to want to find meaning even where there is none, or maybe we simply overlay our own meaning where none was intended.

I’ve found a meaning in this experience. Whether the Universe sent the man to me to teach me this lesson, I don’t know. But if the Universe is saying something to me here, this is what I think it is: Don’t do that suicide shit, because someone is going to have to find you, and why would you wish that on anyone?

Point taken, Universe. Point taken.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline’s website (http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/#) says,

The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, [as well as] prevention and crisis resources…

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

On the website, folks can click on the phone number in blue to Skype or on the word “CHAT” on the top left of the page to instant message with someone. I added the phone number to the contacts in my phone.

 

 

 

Tourists and the Crisis Hotline Call Boxes

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Within the last year, the DOT installed crisis hotline call boxes on the Bridge. It was a long time coming. Every time someone committed suicide by jumping from the Bridge, there was an outcry that something needed to be done. One idea offered was to install nets to catch anyone who jumped. Another idea offered was to install phones to connect people with suicidal thoughts to the suicide prevention hotline.

I think people who truly want to end their lives will find a way to do so. However, I also think we (as a society) should do whatever we can to help people who are thinking about committing suicide. Many people having suicidal thoughts need counseling or other assistance, but don’t truly want to die. I’m not opposed to the crisis hotline phones, although I’m not sure they will actually keep anybody from jumping. Until statistics on how many lives were saved through the use of the phones are published in the local paper, we’ll probably never know if they are successful.

In any case, I am glad the phones provide an immediate way for folks who are considering jumping from the Bridge to get counseling from someone with training.

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This call box is out on the Bridge. In addition to the message “YOU ARE LOVED,” someone has also written on it, “Somewhere in the world someone is drinking coffee and smiling.”

When I left the Bridge over a year ago, the phones were in the process of being installed. Since I’ve been back, I’ve watched tourists notice and react to the phones.

Some people are confused by the phones, probably because they don’t much look like telephones. There’s no receiver and no keypad. There’s simply a button to push to connect to a counselor, and a series of holes which make up the speaker. I see people noticed the phone across from the vending area, do a double take, then stop and exam the phone while trying to figure out its purpose before moving on. I guess “call box” is a more accurate term for this equipment, but most of us vendors still call them “phones.”

Some people think the call boxes are pretty funny. When these folks realize what the call boxes are for, I hear them laughing, see them pretend to press the call button. Some of these jokesters (usually older-than-middle-age, ostensibly white men) pose in front of the call box and have someone in his party take a photo.

I don’t think the call boxes are funny. I don’t think suicide or attempted suicide is funny. As someone who’s struggled with (lived with, fought against) depression and suicidal thoughts for over 30 years, I don’t think anything associated with jumping off the Bridge is funny. I’ve been at the Bridge in the hours after someone has jumped, and it’s awful—sad, depressing, demoralizing, sobering. There’s nothing silly or lighthearted or funny about it.

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This call box is the one closest to the vendors. Friends of someone who jumped wrote their words of love and grief on it.

One Sunday at the end of November, the call button on the phone directly across the highway from the vendors was pressed twice.

Business was excruciatingly slow that day. It was cold and overcast, with few tourists and fewer shoppers. I was still at the Bridge less because I actually hoped to sell anything and more because I wanted to spend time with my vendor friends.

Out of the quiet of the day, I heard what I thought was a cell phone set on speaker ringing. The sound was louder than it would have been if someone nearby had actually had their phone set on speaker and was waiting for the person called to answer. I looked around to try to find the source of the sound.

No one else seemed to notice it.

I continued to look for the source of the sound. I glanced across the road and saw an Asian tourist family—a mom with two kids under ten years old—hanging around the crisis hotline call box. The mom looked confused, but the kids were giggling. I realized the ringing was coming from the call box.

I began screeching, They dialed the suicide phone! They dialed the suicide phone!

Vendors turned to look at me. I was pointing at the tourist family and still screeching, They dialed the suicide phone!

The crisis counselor came on the line and asked how she could help. The tourist mom said, Wrong number! quite loudly, and we all had to wonder how one could dial the wrong number on a phone that only connects to one place.

Hours later, only three vendors were left, and two of us were packing to leave. As Tea helped me fold my tablecloths, the other vendor told us that some kids had pushed the call button on the crisis hotline call box as they walked by. Sure enough, I could hear the ringing, then the counselor’s voice. The other vendor said the cops would be sent out if no one responded to the counselor.

What a waste of time and money and human emotion it would be if first responders were dispatched to look for a potential jumper or a body that wasn’t even out there. So I hurried across the street to talk to the counselor on the other end of the line.

When I walked up to the phone, the counselor was saying, Are you there?

I explained I was a vendor and one of us had seen some kids press the call button, but everything was ok. She thanked me, and I went back to finish packing before the snow started.

Wouldn’t you know, the car full of kids (teenage boys) who’d pressed the call button stopped on the highway right in front of the call box. One young man got out of the car and stood next to the call box.

I started screeching, Don’t press that button! as I stalked across the road. The boy looked confused and a little frightened.

I forget what I look like to other people. Here I was, this short little woman with fleecy, black sweatpants peeking from beneath a light summer skirt that didn’t match my heavy, multicolored wool sweater, the hood of the jacket under the sweater pulled up over my handmade wool hat that didn’t match anything I was wearing. And not only was I wearing weird clothes, I was also yelling and walking toward the kid. No wonder the young man looked concerned.

As I was repeating, Don’t push that button! the young man said, They (his friends, I presume) wanted me to hear what it said.

By that time I was standing in the road in front of the car so the boys couldn’t drive away until I was finished with them.

Do you know what that it? I asked him as he climbed back into the passenger seat.

He said he didn’t know. I told him it was a suicide hotline phone and if someone pushed the button, the cops would come out.

About then, I saw a truck hauling wood approaching in the lane behind the car full of young men. Tea saw the truck too and started shrieking at me, Blaize! Get out of the road! Get out of the road!

I yelled across the street to her, I see it! It (meaning the truck) can stop!

Then I turned back to the car full of young men and said, Don’t fuck with it! (meaning the crisis hotline phone.) I stepped up on the sidewalk and let the car full of young men drive away, then waved at the confused people in the truck as they slowly went past me.

I don’t have a job description at the Bridge, but if I did, I guess I’d have to add “crisis hotline call box monitor” to it.

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This is the call box that was getting all the attention.

Happiness and Bighorn Sheep

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On the morning after the first suicide of the year, I walked out on the Bridge.

It was just after six o’clock in the morning. The air was cool enough for legwarmers under my long skirt and flannel over my tank top, and the sky was the fresh pink of daybreak.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted. I wanted to pray for the man who had jumped 18 hours before, but I feel silly when I pray because I don’t believe an old guy with a beard and a long robe sits in the sky listening to what I have to say. Maybe I wanted to meditate, but “contemplate” was probably closer to what was on my mind. I wanted to ask for rest for his soul. I wanted him to be at peace. I wanted my energy to touch his energy in a way we had missed in life, but thinking that made me feel too woo-woo and new age-y. I wanted some connection with the man, something I didn’t know how to express even to myself.

I wanted to give thanks for my own life too, to express gratitude that I haven’t succumbed to the darkness I sometimes feel near the Gorge, usually at night, when I’m alone in my van, wondering what I’ve really accomplished in my life, wondering why I do what I do day after day, wondering why I’m even walking the earth.

My new friend Zack was an angel to me two nights before, the night before the first suicide of the year. I was walking to the restroom to brush my teeth, and suddenly he was there, for no logical reason. I didn’t recognize him at first. The light was fading and he was skulking around looking for snipes. I walked into the restroom and heard footsteps following me. I was thinking oh shit when he spoke my name, and I realized I had met him and his lady the day before. We talked a bit, and just before we went our own ways, he said that happiness has to come from our hearts, that we have to decide to be happy.

Thank you for that, I said as I hugged him.

Maybe we fight the darkness by deciding to be happy. Deciding isn’t a magical antidote that guarantees everything will be happily ever after. Deciding won’t make all the negatives disappear. But deciding not to dwell, not to wallow, on the negatives seems like a step away from the darkness.

As I walked out on the Bridge, I let the beauty of the Gorge wash over me. I’m always surprised and delighted by that beauty, no matter how many times I see it. Seeing the Gorge never feels routine.

I felt a sense of peace slide over me as I walked. I hoped the man who jumped knew peace too.

As I neared the end of the Bridge, I looked across the street to the south and saw something my brain at first couldn’t understand. I could only make sense of what I saw by thinking someone had set out life-size, three dimensional target practice dummies that looked like rams in what had been a parking area before it was blocked off by the Department of Transportation. Then I realized the creatures looking up at me were moving, alive. Six bighorn sheep were right next to the road, watching me, wondering what I would do next.

I was afraid they would try to cross the road and one would get hit. I walked across the highway slowly and softly told the sheep they shouldn’t be so close to speeding cars. They moved back as I approached, but didn’t leave the empty lot. I perched on the barrier blocking vehicles from entering, and five of the sheep moved closer to the fence separating the empty lot from miles of the Pueblo’s sage. The one sheep that stayed in place kept eating from small patches of lush green grass that had shot up after the monsoon rains. Its mouth moved fast, as if film were being played at high speed. The sheep seemed to be goofing around, trying to make me laugh, but really, that’s just the way its mouth moved when it ate.

One by one, the other five sheep bounded gracefully over the low barbed wire fence and were back in the safety of the sage. Finally, the last one quit munching grass, walked to the fence, hesitated, then jumped across. I had barely breathed a sigh of relief when it hopped the fence again and moved back into the former parking lot to get more of the delicious grass. I continued to sit in silent awe, watching sheep on both sides of the fence, feeling blessed to witness their breakfast.

The sheep in the sage slowly made their way closer to the Gorge. The lone sheep in the parking lot seemed oblivious as the rest of the herd moved farther away. I could no longer see the other five sheep when number six decided it was time to get back to the group. It didn’t seem to want to jump the low fence, but looked for some other way to get to the other side. It approached the tall hurricane fence on the west side of the empty lot and trotted back and forth along it, getting visibly agitated and stamping its feet. It was cut off from its family and not sure how to join them.

I considered getting closer and trying to point the sheep in the right direction, but quickly realized the idea was ridiculous. This creature was not a Disney cutie or barnyard friend. This animal was wild, strong, and a least a little pissed. It might not realize I wanted to help, might instead feel cornered and attacked. While I wanted to have a magical, spiritual moment saving a wild beast, I was more likely to be kicked in the gut by a being living just fine before I can along. I stayed where I was.

The sheep walked over to the lower fence and hesitated, then sailed over into the sage. Go! Go! I silently cheered. There was another low barbed wire fence to clear before following the other sheep into Gorge, but a foot caught in the wire and the sheep crashed to the ground. I gasped, but there seemed to be no serious damage. The sheep was on its feet in moments, then disappeared under the Bridge and into the Gorge.

What connection do I make between these big horn sheep who travel in the Gorge and the man who gave up his life there the day before? I have just the vaguest idea, an idea I can barely grasp and can’t articulate. I feel like the answer is somehow connected to my understanding of my own state of grace.

Someone once told me that grace is a gift we don’t deserve, something given to us for no reason we can understand. I walked back to my van in a state of grace, blessed with a life I’m not sure I deserve, a life that on this day included a moment with bighorn sheep.

(The bulk of this post was written in late summer of 2013, edited in August 2015.)