The Ugly “S” Word

16 03 2010

About a week ago, I was contacted by an editor to do a youth ministry resource for her website. It was a bit of a last-minute thing, as someone else had planned to do the article but backed out at the eleventh hour. Still on a high after they published another piece of mine (check it out here), I eagerly agreed to the one-week deadline.

The topic? Suicide.

Oh.

Cue the heavy curtain of depression, crashing down on me.

Let’s be honest…no one wants to write about dark topics like that. At least, I don’t. I’d much rather write like Dave Barry, rambling on about random things like squirrels and the driving habits of illegal immigrants.

I’ve had a few personal connections to people who’ve committed suicide. The brother of a high school classmate and teammate of mine committed suicide when I was a senior in high school. That grief was raw at our school for a long time, as even my band instructor broke down and sobbed about how guilty he felt because he yelled at the boy and told him to stop messing around with the drums the day before he strangled himself.

A few years later, the father of one of my  high school classmates killed himself–after his wife had miraculously survived breast cancer, and his youngest daughter had just scored an incredible full-ride athletic scholarship.

In college, a girl a year older than me committed suicide in her dorm room during Easter break one year. As a Resident Assistant that summer, I was expected to go into rooms before the students arrived and make sure they were in good condition. Not a single person on our staff would go into that room alone; half our team crowded around and peered cautiously in the door. The indentation left by the rope marks were still visible.

My most nerve-wracking brush with suicide came that same year, my first year as an RA. We had an excellent resident assistant program at CUI, complete with hours of practice “crisis situations”. Our program director brought in actors who acted out all sorts of scenarios we could potentially face as RAs–everything from handling fires, drug and alcohol problems, fights, and threatening situations, to depression, homosexuality, and attempted suicide.

I handled all of those situations well, with the exception of the “fight room”, where I thoughtlessly charged in between two large seniors actually smacking each other–one of whom actually ended up in the emergency room later that night, due to their zeal for realistic fighting. But, the situation where we had to talk down a student from swallowing a bottle of pills was definitely the most stressful, to me.

Just a few months later, I was awoken in the middle of the night by a call from the campus security guard. He had just received a call from a student’s frantic mother, who was distraught because she thought her emotionally unstable daughter–a student on campus–was about to commit suicide. The guard dialed my number first, as I was the closest RA in the building to the girl. His next call was going to be to my boss, our assistant director.

 The one phrase he uttered, “This is, like, a serious emergency” rattled around in my brain. I stumbled out of bed, pulling on a sweatshirt and shoes, and ran down the hall, searching the building for this girl.

I finally found her, sitting silently in the student lounge. I sat down next to her and asked her what was going on–all the while, frantically scanning her body for signs of self-mutilation and sneaking glances around the room, looking for a hidden weapon. I didn’t really know how to bring up the topic, so I danced around it, asking her how school and life were going, and how she was handling the stress. My assistant director showed up a few minutes later, much to my relief. Together, we sat with this student and asked the tough questions–Are you suicidal? Do you have a plan for killing yourself? How long have you been feeling like this? Does anyone else know what you’re feeling?

We got her some help. And, to my knowledge, she’s fine to this day.

This memory was vivid as I considered how to write a resource that would help youth leaders dealing with this same issue. I threw myself into learning all about the facts of suicide–what mindset those are in when considering it, how to help students cope with it, how to handle it as a youth leader.

After I finished writing it, I shared it with several other people to get their opinions on it. After reading it, one of my friends confided to me how he had had a very real struggle with suicidal thoughts recently.

There’s nothing quite like being faced with the startling thought that the person sitting right in front of you–the friend or family member you love–very well might not have lived to see another day. That you could be attending their funeral. That they could be nothing more than a picture on your desk and a memory.

Suicide. An ugly word, and a depressing topic to think about–but a reality.

But, there’s always Hope.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

 “However, as it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’”. 1 Corinthians 2:9

 “’For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11

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