A Suicide Attempt: The Story of a Friend

Category:  Opinions
Thursday, March 31st, 2016 at 10:49 AM

I called his house at least 50 times. Once, after I got home from school, every day at night for three weeks, and then, somedays even in the mornings.

I memorized the phone number, and to this day, I can still recite it without missing a beat. I knew the phone would ring 10 times before the answering machine would pick up, and I’d hear the familiar sound of his mom’s voice, saying she and her family weren’t home, but I should leave a message and they’d get back with me soon. I memorized that, too.

I left messages, not every time I called, but frequently. “I miss you.” “I’m worried.” “Why won’t you answer?”

I wished on shooting stars while staring out my window. I cried myself to sleep, praying for an answer.

Then, on Thursday, Dec. 6, just before the answering machine would have picked up, I heard a low, gruff voice on the other end of the line. It wasn’t Dan, but it was an answer. It was hope. It was a few short seconds of relief; a few short seconds that were quickly gone.

“Tracy,” the voice said. It was his dad. I’d never met him before, but I felt like I knew him from the stories Dan had told me. Apparently, he knew of me, too.

I didn’t like the tone of his voice though. It was the voice you hear when someone calls saying that a relative passed away; it was the voice that says, “You might want to sit down for this.”

Dan attempted suicide a few weeks ago, he told me. It wasn’t the first attempt either and now his parents felt they needed to do something. They had sent him to a mental health hospital.

I was speechless. Dan was my best friend. He told me I was his. How did I not know any of this?

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) provides a long list of suicide warning signs.

Someone considering suicide might talk about killing themselves or being a burden on others. They might isolate themselves from family and friends, become aggressive or act recklessly, according to AFSP. More so, someone might be at risk if they act depressed or lose interest in the activities they once enjoyed.

Dan maybe fit the description, but I hadn’t noticed. To be honest, we still called each other “best friends,” but we had drifted apart. In rushing from class to class and interview after interview for the school newspaper, I completely missed the signs.

I blamed myself because of my failure to notice.

It’s normal for close friends or even co-workers to wonder if they did something to contribute to the person’s death in a suicide. It’s normal for friends to wonder if they could’ve done something to prevent the occurrence, according to the Survivors of Bereavement website.

Moreover, many don’t receive help in the grieving process. According to an article titled “The Support Needs and Experiences of Suicidally Bereaved Family and Friends” by Anne Wilson and Amy Marshall, 76 percent of people in this situation in New York report receiving no assistance.

That was me. I didn’t receive help, and I didn’t want it.

I didn’t have a phone or a laptop at the time, but sometimes I would sneak into the living room to log onto the computer. I wanted to find ways to help Dan. I didn’t know when I’d see him again, but I wanted to be prepared.

After a few Google searches, I felt at least a little better. I read whatever I could find. Today, I don’t recall what articles I read but remember feeling relieved knowing I could help.

In “How to Help a Suicidal Person,” Kevin Caruso advises those with suicidal friends to listen, be comforting and show “deep concern.”

One patient in “The Healing Process Following a Suicide Attempt: Context and Intervening Conditions” talked about how her daughter helped her recover.

“Once, I was very sad and I couldn’t sleep. I called her at two o’clock in the morning and talked to her for over an hour,” the patient said. “She told me I can call her at anytime when I’m in a bad mood.”

I wanted to show Dan how much I cared, so I called his dad, asking if there was any way for me to keep in touch with him. He said I could write letters. Later, I was able to make phone calls, too.

My teachers might have thought I was scribbling notes as they lectured away, but if they had looked over my shoulder, they would have seen otherwise. I wrote a letter nearly every day but am ashamed to say, I sent only a few.

My research led to some other realizations, too, like the commonality of suicide attempts. In 2007, 14.5 percent of United States high school students, ninth through 12th grade, reported having suicidal thoughts, according to an article by Karen P. Reed, William Nugent and R. Lyle Cooper.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention listed suicide as the 10th leading cause of death in 2013, but it was the second leading cause for 15 to 24 year olds. Suicide was the reason 41,149 people died in 2013.

It frustrates me that despite the evidence suicide is so common, it seems almost taboo to talk about it and the reasoning behind it. It’s a topic people seem to be afraid of discussing.

In my younger sister’s school, there were two students who died during this school year. One died in a car accident, and the other took his own life. The one who died in a car accident has been remembered through tributes. Media even got involved when students wore superhero T-shirts in his honor. I was truly amazed by the student body and how they came together. When the other teenage boy died, I heard considerably less about it. Perhaps it is because one was more popular than the other, but I think it’s more than that.

It wasn’t until Oct. 30 of the following year that I would hear Dan’s voice again. That was our first phone call. It wasn’t until January, over a year later, that I would see him.

The night before he was coming back to high school, I had my outfit laid out across the bottom of my bed. I had rehearsed what I’d say in my mirror countless times.

Things weren’t the same again. His smile, his laugh seemed different. Everything I researched, I tried. Some days were better than others, but every day meant the past was a little further behind.

Looking back on it now, I hope I helped him. But if I am honest with myself, I know there was much more that I could have and should have done. My hope is that I can convince others to be supportive, to push fear aside, and to be the friend that someone needs in a hard time.

To this day, when I hear that someone is entertaining suicidal thoughts, it takes a tremendous amount of self-restraint to keep from grabbing them by the shoulders, shaking them, yelling. Yet, I restrain myself. Don’t they know all the people that will be affected? Don’t they know all the people who care?

If no one else cares, I care.

Editor’s Note: Dan’s real name has been changed for the sake of his privacy.

Tracy Geibel is the Executive Editor for The Spectator and she can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

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