The alarm went off at 6:10 this morning. On a normal Sunday, this would be an accident, a moment of simultaneous annoyance and joy as I resented the disturbance and relished the fact that I could go back to sleep, but not today. No, today was the walk for suicide prevention, Alive & Running.
Our team leader asked us to meet at the event at 7:00 a.m. I’m not a morning person, not really. I’m not a night person, either. More of a mid-afternoon type. But I had to appreciate the early call time. The calendar may say fall, but here in L.A., the thermometer still reads summer. I wouldn’t be running, but even walking over three miles gets to you when the mercury pushes up to 90.
Two thousand people showed up for the Alive & Running event, sponsored by the Didi Hirsch Mental Health Clinic. We had skin of all different colors, from too pale to be out in daylight to beautiful black that made the sweat glisten in contrast. Some of us had well-trained muscles, some of us hadn’t walked further than the refrigerator for some time. Some of us were tall, some short, some young, some old(er), but we all had one thing in common: we were all affected by suicide. Together, we raised over $350,000 to help people stay alive.
I’m lucky. The suicidal thoughts I’ve known about – my own and my friends’ – have stopped short of action. Most of the people at this event weren’t so fortunate.
My mind kept flitting back to a day several years back, when the friend I was having dinner with had too much to drink and said, “In a few days, I won’t be here anymore.” It took me a minute to understand what he meant. People like to tell me things, sometimes really personal things, but they don’t usually tell me that. I flailed in the darkness that suddenly surrounded us both for something to say, grasping on to the only thin branch of reason I could find: an article I read decades ago that said, “If someone tells you they’re going to kill themselves, ask them if they have a plan. If they do, the danger is immediate. If not, you have a little more time.”
He didn’t have a plan yet. We talked. For whatever reason, he decided not to go any further with the thought that night. No brilliant words of mine stopped him. Maybe just the presence of another human being to listen. I don’t know.
This bright, warm morning, people around me walked and talked, trading stories about their loved ones. After the race ended, the main speaker had teams come up to the podium and talk about the person they’d lost. “He had the greatest laugh,” I heard someone say. They talked about joking with him in a grocery store and having someone from two rows over recognize his laugh. People remembered their loved ones, with sadness but also with love for who they were, with thanks for the time they’d gotten to have the person in their lives. Most of all, they talked about how to stop anyone else from making the same choice.
Signs peppered the route we walked:
There it was, the thought that had come to me years ago: ask directly. I read it in a couple of places today. No, you will not give them ideas. If they think about suicide after you ask them, they had already had the idea.
Hopelessness. Feelings of failure or shame. Major depression. Lots of us – maybe even most of us – have been there. How do we help? What can we do to let people know they matter, and that the hole they leave in this world will never be filled? That even after the tears stop, their loved ones will still be changed forever? I don’t know, but I know that the Didi Hirsch Center and may other agencies are out there every day trying. They connect with people in jeopardy and people left behind. They talk on the phone, in person, via text and computer chat. Any way that you try to reach out, they try to help.
This is a topic no one wants to think about, much less read or talk about, but we can’t afford to give in to our discomfort. Print these numbers out and put them on your refrigerator. Even if you never need them yourself, you might need someone to guide you when someone tells you, “In a few days, I won’t be here anymore.”
Didi Hirsch – Suicide Prevention
Veteran Crisis Line
Specialists in helping at-risk vets
(800) 273-8255, press 1
For teens at risk
or text 839863
We’ve lost too many, but for everyone here, we still have hope. I saw 2,000 people today working together to spread the same message to everyone on the edge:
Please. You mean the world to us.
If you’d like to help, it’s not too late: you can donate at www.aliveandrunning.org.
Kimberly has had to ask for help a lot in her life. It’s never easy, but it’s necessary for everyone at some point. You get to do it sometimes, too.