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Suicide Lost

December 13, 2008

Several years ago, I was looking for my former Explorer Scout leader from my teen years.  I had heard he was going through a divorce and was running a side business out of an industrial park in Aloha.  I found him in his shop.  He smelled bad and he looked depressed.

Tom had been a significant part of my teen years.  Both as a personal influence and someone who steered me towards a career in emergency services.  I spent about 45 minutes with my friend and basically talked about “guy things.”  Years later, because we now worked with one another, he told me that my visit that Summer afternoon kept him from commiting suicide.  “You saved my life,” he said.

Recently, another old friend contacted me (not that he’s old, but we’ve been friends since back in the day). We got together to catch up.  At some point in the conversation, he aluded to some plans to kill himself.  Though this wasn’t a surprise, it did take my breath away.

I ramped up my silent prayers and we began to explore the reasons for his lack of hope.  We continued to talk…

As a paramedic, I responded to several suicides and attempted suicide.  Some of them continue to haunt me:

  • There is the guy who hung himself in the garage where his wife would be sure to find him when she came home and hit the garagedoor opener.
  • I remember the very pretty young blond girl who took an overdose.
  • One lady who after 40+ attempts, finally succeeded.  She died in the back of my ambulance on the way to the hospital.
  • We walked into one apartment where a young woman had taken an overdose. We found her unconscious on her couch with an open Bible.
  • The one that haunts me the most though is the father who walked into the next room and shot himself – his eight year old son found him.

When I was in the midst of the anguish of my divorce, I wanted to put a gun to my head.  Fortunately, I saw this as a permanent solution to a temporary problem and I never followed through.

The people who I saw, confused me.  Why would a young, pretty blond girl want to die?  From my perspective, she could have anything she wanted.  Why did so many people have Bibles nearby, or have religious overtones?  Why did that man hang himself in the garage – where his wife would be shocked when she came home?

Why do so many teens continue to kill themselves every year?  Why is the rate increasing?  What in our society and culture is lacking, that people are losing hope?

One of the common themes of people whose friends are suicidal is that we often feel like we don’t know what to say or do. But my friend yesterday gave me a clue.  He told me this story:

Stumbling home one night, a man tripped and fell into a hole in the street. Dazed and confused, he cried out for help. A priest answered.

“Do you need help, my son?”

“Can you get me out of this hole?”

“No, but let’s pray together for your safe escape.” The priest mumbled a brief prayer and walked away.

Next came a psychiatrist. “Tell me your problem, and I’ll try to help” he said. “I’m stuck in this hole and can’t get out. Can you do anything?”

“I think so. You sound depressed, so here’s a prescription. Take these as directed, and I’ll come back every week to discuss your feelings.”

A third man came along. Seeing him peering over the edge, the man cried out again. “Thank God! Can you help me?” “Do you want to get out of this hole?”

“Yes, yes. Please. Can you get me out of here?”

The man jumped down in the hole next to the first man.  He yelled “What the hell are you doing? Now we’re both stuck. We’ll never get out.”

“It’s okay, don’t worry,” replied the man. “I’ve been in this hole myself, and I know the way out. I’ll show you, too, if you’ll walk with me.”

That’s when I knew why we were talking together.  I’ve been in that hole and I found the way out – all I had to do was share my experience, strength, and hope with my friend.  And so I did. I jumped into the hole with him and we began the journey out.

It is fun to watch a life saved – but it wasn’t me.  I was just the messenger.  I just shared how I got out of the hole.

More and more, I find these words to be relavent to people’s issues:

Lord, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

The courage to change the things I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.

So often in my daily journey, the things that consume so much of my time don’t seem to have much relevance with the issues people face.  Yesterday, I had the most amazing peace.  It isn’t the first time I’ve faced life or death situations, and I doubt it will be the last.

I love being a lifesaver.

[UPDATE: Check out this link to TWLOHR]

  1. December 13, 2008 8:14 am

    Oh My God — that is the best story ever about depression.


  2. December 13, 2008 8:34 am

    @kmcdade Thanks! Why do you say that? Are you talking about the man in the hole story?


  3. December 13, 2008 9:33 am

    Excellent, excellent piece. It really hit home for me personally, from shadows of my distant past. Thanks for pulling such “real” thoughts together so concisely and honestly.

    Best to you,


  4. SharonG permalink
    December 16, 2008 11:19 pm

    How heart-touching Gary. I’ve had similar experiences.

    And all you can and hope to do, is just be there for people when they need you. Just be there, have enough empathy in your heart and experience under your belt to either know the path out, or know another path similarly.

    And my hope is that priests and psychiatrists would know this too.


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