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A niece we never knew ... and a nephew we loved

They met in rehab.

In retrospect, given the significant difference in their ages, the chances of meeting anywhere else would appear fleeting.

The challenges they faced went beyond their individual battles with substance abuse.

She had fought cancer, multiple times. He had struggled since childhood with the anguish of bipolar disorder.

Doctors. Hospitals. Meds. Rehab.

Between them, somewhere in that cycle, something sparked.

His family had their doubts, wanting to intercede. He was a grown man now — tormented, but of age — and, he made clear, he was in love.

They rented a house on the edge of a questionable part of the city. After a while, she told him they should buy a gun, for protection.

He was apprehensive, but relented when she agreed to attend a weapons class.

They went to their first session — were told about safety procedures and shown how to shoot.

At the range, the instructor asked who wanted to practice first.

She took the gun, unlocked the safety ... and pulled the trigger.

*

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

As we enter the final third of the year, as our ritualistic internal clocks wind down and we head into the increasingly colder, darker months of reassessment, the need for empathy wells deep within the mind, the body, the soul.

This September, of this oppressively bleak year, has increased exponentially the need for outreach, for contact, for compassion.

Mental health experts have reported that increased bouts of loneliness, depression and anxiety have tripled during the pandemic.

The Disaster Distress Helpline, a government-funded service offering counseling and emotional support, has seen a 335% uptick in calls between March and July 2020 from just a year ago.

The impact on young adults has been frightening to consider. A CDC survey in August found that 75% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 admit to having psychological or behavior symptoms of depression.

Suicide, according to the World Health Organization,

is now the second-leading cause of death worldwide, of those between the ages of 15 and 29.

The exacerbating reasons are all around us — we spend too much time talking about them, comparatively little doing anything but talk — and they create an atmosphere of uncertainty that is as difficult to penetrate, to see through, as ... well, take a look out your own literal and figurative window.

“The running joke is, you know, we used to have Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,” Dean Buonomano, a UCLA professor of behavioral neuroscience, says with more than a little touch of dark humor. “Now we just have Day ... Day ... Day ... Day ... Day.”

*

The days after her death became a treadmill of sameness for him. What they had been through, what he had witnessed, the descent back into the anger and despair which marked his own familiar cycles.

Doctors — if he listened to them.

Hospitals — if he stayed.

Meds — if he took them.

Rehab — where he met her.

Tough love. Warm embrace. His family ... our family ... went down every avenue at his side.

Until he disappeared.

They found him in a hotel room on the edge of another questionable part of another city — the victim of a broken heart, a shattered mind, and an overdose.

*

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

It is a time, according to the website of the National Alliance on Mental Health, “to share resources and stories in an effort to shed light on this highly taboo and stigmatized topic.”

It had been the planned topic for this week before the Rogue Valley was filled with fire, and smoke, and anger, and despair.

His loss has hovered over the family, trapped in an inversion layer of its own, even as we have moved forward through the stages of grief and on with our lives — and it seemed time to share a story, to shed some light.

But out the literal and figurative windows, there was nothing but reminders of more recent tragedies, the view of the heavens obscured by the hellish aftermath of our lives in flames.

This is the moment for community, for volunteers and heroes, on scales all-encompassing or individual, to expand their hearts and minds beyond the trivial. A time for outreach, for contact, for compassion.

There will be a substantial cost to replace and repair the physical losses. But as that restoration takes place, it is also a time for empathy to increase exponentially — to look out for those who more heavily exhibit the weight of circumstance, even as they look out for us.

It is never too soon. It is never too late.

Until it is.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call The National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 800-273-TALK (8255), or call 911 immediately.

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