What Would You Do, If It Wasn’t Too Late?

Photo by Vincent Foret on Unsplash

Suicide horrifies me.

I know, people say “it’s my right to choose, etc,” but the reality is, there’s nothing dignified about killing yourself. As an EMT, I’ve been on a few calls where we were too late. Your heart breaks, because that life, every life, has value. If you commit suicide, we’ve failed you.

The cost of suicide isn’t just what happens to you. It’s who and what you leave behind, family, friends, community. People who liked to see you smile. People who meant to stop by and say hello, but they got busy. They forgot.

We’re all thoughtless sometimes, not realizing the cost. We forget to check in with the people we love, people in our community who’ve been left alone.

A month ago Dave, an elderly man who lived down the road, called our captain ahead of time and told them where they could find his body. The captain jumped into his car, yelling,

“Dave, I’ll be right there. Don’t do anything!” He was at the house within five minutes, but Dave hadn’t waited. The body was just where he said it would be. Half the squad was there within the next few minutes, but there was nothing we could do. The captain was on the phone to the coroner, tears running down his cheeks. Dave’s was the third suicide we’d seen this winter, just on this one rural road in our riverside hamlet.

He hung up the phone. “We should have seen this coming,” our captain mourned. We’d started checking on people in the past few years, as calls like this increased after Christmas.

Photo by Mat Reding on Unsplash

In the bitter, snowy months of January and February, winter seemed to stretch on forever, and the cold cut right through you. The town was quiet. It’s half-empty when the summer people are gone. Nothing to look forward to except the annual ice fishing contest, and most seniors didn’t want to risk the long trek onto Bodine Lake.

Why did Dave kill himself? He’d been in the military, served his country during the Second World War, worked as an electrician for many years and been active in the community. Lots of people knew him back then. But the kids grew up, left home and seldom called. Some friends also moved away, heading down to Florida or North Carolina. He missed them, but didn’t want to move south.

Both he and his wife got cancer, ten years ago. He recovered, but she didn’t. That was a huge blow. They’d been together for fifty years. He hardly knew who he was without her.

Photo by Nathan Gonthier on Unsplash

His arthritis was getting worse and something else didn’t feel right. Had the cancer returned? He didn’t want to be burden to anyone. He flunked his last eye test at the DMV and stopped driving to church. In this rural community, there aren’t any buses or taxis. Max, one of his old Army buddies would pick him up for VFW meetings and special events like the annual 9/11 memorial. Dave liked being a part of things, passing on traditions, re-telling the old stories to a new audience. But Max passed away last summer, and Dave didn’t want to bother people, asking for rides. There didn’t seem to be any purpose to his life. No one needed him, not really. He tidied up the house, put away the dishes and got out his gun. He’d always been a good marksman.

Is this how we want to go? Is this how we want our story to be told? “My life didn’t mean anything, and I didn’t care enough to stick around.” Most people don’t check out because they’re in pain. They leave because they think they don’t matter. It’s a cry for help, one we need to answer.

So, check on your neighbors, your siblings, your mom or dad - — especially anyone who lives alone. Tell them they matter. It’s like the Lord says, in the Beatitudes “those who show mercy will be shown mercy.” A simple phone call won’t stem the rising tide of suicide, but you could help one person. What if each one of us called someone? What a great blessing, not only to them, but to the rest of us.

If you like what you read, please, pass it on.

Writer, editor, coach, occasional organist/cantor. You can find me at barbaracarsontodd.com or email barbara@barbaracarsontodd.com for infrequent updates.

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