There is an invisible line in time that marks when something changes. We don’t see it coming, and there is really no way to prepare for it. One thing is for sure, once we pass this line, nothing and I mean nothing will ever be the same.
As a grief and trauma counselor, most of my work occurs on the after side of the line. So many times, I wish that I had the power like the comic book character Dr. Strange to use time warps to “undo” these terrible events. Anything to avoid the deep pain that crossing this one moment in time causes so many.
Last fall I witnessed a different side of the invisible line while doing my clinical hours for EMT training. During these grueling hours, I realized that the EMS world walks this fine invisible line every day. Literally, seconds lie between one side of the line and the other.
In order to protect our minds, we believe that tragedy is this awful thing that happens to other people and that somehow, we are insulated from these horrible events. However, the clients I work with every day and the patients I saw on EMS calls are people just like you and me going about their normal day. They were going to work, heading to school, or out to have some fun when suddenly the invisible moment in time happened.
These people had a “to do list” and plans that day which did not include having a heart attack or being involved in a life altering accident. Fortunately, many of these events are just inconveniences but some are unthinkable events that we just cannot comprehend.
Among the toughest to process… suicide. It is tragic, raw, and happens to more people than we can imagine.
Suicide is a serious public health issue and is the 10th leading cause of death is the United States. Each year almost 45,000 Americans die by suicide. It is an equal opportunity killer and there is no single cause to suicide. As stress exceeds the coping abilities of a person in distress or with mental health issues, suicide can be the result. Given the right circumstances, at some point in life, we can all be at risk.
In the winter of 2002 I was full of excitement and anticipation as my husband and I awaited the birth of our first child. After spending four years struggling through my grief over the loss of my father, I was finally opening myself up to the new joys in my life.
I have no idea what I was doing when the phone call came that day and it really doesn’t matter because everything just stops. Time freezes. Nothing else matters in that moment except what you just heard. My mother had attempted suicide and was being transported to the hospital.
“It doesn’t look good” were the words that echoed in my head as we began the three-hour ride to the hospital. I still remember that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach wondering if she would be dead before we could get there. What if we were too late?
As the miles ticked by, the flood of emotions was overwhelming. One minute I was so pissed off at her… “How could she do this to me? How could she not want to meet her new grandchild?” Then the shock, coupled with the fear of losing her, produced a flood of tears. My heart was pierced with a deep pain as I realized the hopelessness she must have felt to take her own life.
In January of 2015 Kelsey, like myself, was at a milestone in her life as she prepared to graduate from college in a few months. On a typical Thursday morning, she went to start her day at the local coffee shop where she worked. As her shift began she got the call that would forever change her life. She had crossed the invisible line; her father was dead. In his despair, he had taken his life and now her life was forever altered.
I met Kelsey during my “midlife crisis graduate school adventure”. She is one of those sparkly people that you are just naturally drawn to. She has that Miss America smile that radiates happiness. Even with all my counselor X-ray ability, I had no idea the pain that she had buried behind that million-dollar smile. I was completely shocked to learn from her one day that her father had committed suicide and that it was still so fresh.
Recently after the suicide of Anthony Bourdain, Kelsey poured her heart out to his young daughter on social media …survivor to survivor. I could type no words that would ever paint the picture of the heart of a survivor like this…
“I am so sorry You may not want to hear that but looking back on the past 3 and a half years of my life, I still remember the people that reached out to me in the simplest of ways after my dad died. I am now 25 and lost my dad 3 months before I graduated college. I was angry. I am still angry. I was sad. I am still sad. I was broken. I am still healing. I was holding my breath. I am still exhaling.”
“Just remember, it does get better. The pain does subside. The tears don’t run out, but they spread out over time. The memories and experiences will not go away. His death does not define his life. His legacy will continue, and his soul, spirit and love will be with you always. “
I absolutely love this statement… “His death does not define his life”. So often with suicide people are branded and that is where it ends. Rather than remembering the positives of the life of that individual, their legacy seems to always be tainted with the way their life ended.
I am one of the lucky ones. My invisible moment in time turned out with my mother surviving her attempt. I got to have the conversation with my Mom that every person who loses their loved one to suicide wants to have. I got the “Why?” answered. Though she lost her battle with mental illness six years later, she was able to hold all her grandchildren. A gift neither my sister nor I take for granted.
For my friend Kelsey and so many others, the invisible line leaves a mark that they continue to battle daily. Kelsey has channeled her grief into passionate work raising awareness and funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
September is suicide awareness month. Take this opportunity to educate yourself and help us start conversations about suicide prevention. Visit the AFSP website to read about warning signs and other helpful information. Support Kelsey and others by walking or donating to the Out of Darkness event in Raleigh, NC on September 30.
While suicide is difficult to comprehend, RISK is not. WE ARE ALL AT RISK and the life you save might just be yours or someone you love.
As always, until next time may you be well, may you be loved, and may you know true peace.
The purpose of this blog is to offer educational information related to mental wellness. Resiliency Counseling & Consulting, PLLC and Melissa Harrell do not offer diagnosis or treatment through this medium. If you feel that you or a family member needs to access mental health services, first contact your primary care physician for assessment and direction in your area. If you need immediate help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.