Suicide: Getting to Resilient

Suicide: Getting to Resilient


Five percent. One out of twenty. That’s the reality of our community, our country. Within the last year, one out of twenty adults seriously considered ending their life.

Suicide. It is an epidemic, and we don’t talk about it much. Suicide talk is taboo. Don’t go there. But, we must.

Every person needs to be connected to at least one other person, and to be able to reach out, talk about depression, sadness, and hopelessness. We all need hope, an expectation that there is a tomorrow, there is opportunity for change, that our lives make a difference, and that life is worth living. Life’s problems can’t be only on our own shoulders.

Last week, I was part of a workshop, getting trained with skills to take on this intensely personal problem, to be a first responder in addressing suicide in our culture. Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) is a national movement to develop a first response model in our communities. Evidence based models and techniques gave us the tools and the confidence to reach out and connect with someone who is possibly contemplating ending their life.

Invite a conversation, and plunge into the “perfect storm” that is roaring through their lives, and make connection. When the signs are there, find the courage to “ask the question” and begin talking about suicide, and options for change, connecting them with you and connecting them with resources to be able to move ahead with their lives, and regain hope.

Suicidal thoughts have stormed through my own life, sometimes ending lives far too early, or paralyzing people with deep depression and isolation. Surviving family and friends are wracked with uncertainly and chaos, leaving profound questions unanswered and lives thrown off track.

Making connections is what changes lives and saves lives. What I’ve learned in life, and relearned at the ASIST training, is that you do connect. You do reach out, engage people, and show your genuine concern for them and their well-being. You connect with your own humanity and your fellows, and make that vital one to one connection.

Showing concern and empathy, and making that connection often saves lives and gives people a new sense of hope and possibility in their lives.

Help make them safe now, and help them develop their plan to be safe now.

When you have that conversation, make those connections, one to one. And, help them connect with others; not only with friends and family, but professional care givers and health care providers. Be the gatekeeper for them and help them find their way.

The National Suicide Prevention Hot Line, 1-800-243-8255(TALK) is a valuable resource. I’ve added it to my phone contacts. Other resources:, Youthline (1-877-YOUTH-911) and their text: TEEN2TEEN@839863.

Connect with your local mental health services provider. In my hometown, Tillamook, their crisis line is 800-962-2851.

All of these services operate 24 hours a day, because suicide is a 24 hour a day issue of community wide concern.

Help build a resilient, safe community.

—-Neal Lemery 9/1/2016

Precious and Painful

Life is precious and wonderful.

I learned that lesson again this week, a week of turmoil, grief, and new beginnings.

A good friend, suffering from a deadly, debilitating disease, moved on out of this world, taking charge of his life, and saying his good byes, and teaching us about life, its joys, and the wonderment of each day. His final days offered new lessons to me about courage, and what one person can achieve in their life, about relationships, and the sacredness of a simple act of kindness.

I never got to express everything I feel about him, but then, we never do. Life is like that, never having enough time to really fully communicate what another person means to us, how precious is our relationship with someone. Too often, we live in the moment, and dance around the profound, the universal truth of the gifts others bring into our lives.

A family member ended their life, leaving us with deep questions, and the pain of sudden grief, paradoxes, and the reopening of old wounds, and old questions about life. Pain wracked my heart, bringing me closer to family, and reminding me of the importance of how we all need to care for and parent the survivors. Two young children now don’t have a mother, but they do have our family, and we have a deeper appreciation of the time that we have with each other.

I helped a young man being released from prison. I walked with him out of the prison gate, having him hear that metal slam behind him, and I drove him into the rest of his life. Five years behind bars, ten years of foster care, two failed adoptions, the emptiness of no one visiting him these last five years.

We loaded up all of his worldly possessions into my car, and drove off into the early morning gloam, the heavy rain attempting to drown our joy of that moment, and the prospects of a bright life ahead for this young man.

We greeted the dawn at the beach, his first view of the ocean in five years, his first hour of only the sound of the wind and the waves, not sharing the dawn with twenty five other inmates in a prison dorm.

There was ice cream with breakfast, and buying a new book by his favorite author, and a long drive through the forest, where each turn in the road offered yet another view of the world, without bars and fences.

We dealt with bureaucracy, mind-numbing forms and questionnaires, more waiting, and more interviews. Yet, in all that, I witnessed his courage, his determination to move ahead, and begin his new life. He knew where he was going, and he was prepared to forge ahead, on his own at last.

Through his eyes, I saw the world anew, and got a glimpse of what opportunity and hope can mean for one’s soul. When all things are possible, and when you now have freedom to move ahead, and to take your first steps into a new world, to create your life, and move towards your dreams, then life is sweet and amazing.

I walked with him, sitting in the dank waiting rooms of the probation office, transitional housing, the world of food stamps and public assistance. I felt the cold stares of the security guards and the bureaucrats, their unfeeling hands as they searched me, judging me as a suspicious troublemaker, labeling me without knowing me. This was just another day of institutional life for my young friend, and he flashed me a grin, letting me know that you can endure the labeling, the indifferent bureaucrats, and mind-numbing waiting, because today was his first day of freedom.

At dinner, we toasted his freedom, and the future that he now held in his hand. He chatted with the waitress about looking for work, about being young and moving to the big city. He laughed and grinned at the idea of a menu, and a linen table cloth, and a candle on the table, real silverware and real plates. And, when the giant piece of chocolate cake was too much for him to eat, he laughed at the idea of taking the rest home to his new room, a midnight snack just for him, to eat it all by himself, his first night sleeping alone in five long years.

This week offered me many lessons, and many voices on how life is precious, and wonderful, and not to be taken for granted. In all of this, I played many roles, and was called upon to be the best of friends, the best of uncles, and the best of the driver and companion of a young man whose world was opening up, his life ready to fully bloom in the glories of the coming spring.

Neal Lemery 3/30/2014

Struggling with Suicide and Grief and Everything Else

I don’t know what to say, or even think. A friend of mine has gone, at a time and place and manner of his own choosing. He left, not saying good bye, not asking for help with his pain, his choices. But, then again, maybe he did, and we did not listen, or did not respond to what he asked. At least, I did not hear him asking for a hand, or my ear, or even considering other choices. Or, maybe I did. And now, I do not know. I am, at the least, confused and lost, and stumbling around in my grief, my impotence.

Now, there is an emptiness, and a great unknowing. The “what ifs” keep multiplying, and I am left with wonder, with sadness, and guilt. “What if?” “What if?”

And, in the silence that follows my asking, there are no answers, only more questions.

Friends of mine, closer to him that I was, are left empty, unknowing, wandering in the wilderness of uncertainty, of deeper questions which have no answers today. My pain today is enough; I cannot imagine theirs.

I search for answers that are not there. I search for so much, for reasons, for explanations, for understandings, knowing that there is now only a cold wind blowing around my heart.

Raw craziness, that is what is running amuck in my life now. No answers, just more questions. Not much solace, yet knowing that my friend was, at least for a second, at peace with himself and what he was doing.
I was not on his road of life, and I did not know his journey. In his departing, there is even more uncertainty in my mind as to what I might have known, might have done, might have loved him deeper, had he shared his pain, his questions, his journey. But, he did not, and somehow I must accept that. Yet, in that, I find myself angry, and unknowing, and uncertain. I am confused, and enraged, yet what has been done was beyond what I could have done, and beyond what I am, and what I could have been to him.

Old pains, and other suicides, and those still unanswered questions come back now, again reminding me of old wounds, unresolved enigmas, old doubts and tears. I do not know. I didn’t know then, and I still don’t know. Old stuff, reopened, bleeding again, making new tears.

Part of me wants answers, but I know that answers won’t ever come. I move on, in life, yet I am left with wonderment, and enigma, and cold winds, ice in my heart that comes at unforeseen, strange times, dragging me back to old ghosts and old, unresolved times.

The poet writes of what I feel, and points me towards forgiveness. Yet, that word seems foreign to where I sit now, empty and alone, not knowing, not finding sanity in all of this. The poet’s wisdom circles about me, aflame, trying to warm my cold, lonely heart.

Perhaps, I should reach out, and accept that warmth, on this cold winter’s night.

By Marion Waterston, January 31, 2005
I guess I’ll never know
All I want to know
Or understand
What can’t be understood
But I believe it’s time to forgive
Time to forgive you for leaving me
So abruptly and so painfully
And time to forgive myself
For talks we didn’t have
Laughs we didn’t share
Songs we didn’t sing
Foolishly I thought that time was on our side
Can it be that time now wishes to atone for this betrayal
For tears no longer flow like endless rivers
Anger seems a wasted emotion
And dreams those dreaded night-time visitors
Can come as friends
Once again I smile at the innocence of children
The unabashed warmth of lovers
The enthusiastic affection of dogs
And although I do not see you my precious love
You are with me
So I guess I’ll never know
All I want to know
Or understand
What can’t be understood
But here in this quiet moment
It’s time and I’m ready
To forgive.

Outside the Church Yard: Suicide and Me

We have a complicated relationship, and we go way back.

Suicide and the way to early death of young men and women have hit me hard in my life, and I still haven’t found a way to work through it very well, or to make much sense of it, either.

I’ve sat with a young man who was a son to me, when he was suicidal, spending the night holding him, and talking to him, and working through his pain and his hopelessness. When dawn finally came, he was better, and decided he wanted to live. That night took everything out of me, as I used every bit of love and compassion and reason and faith and hope to get him to decide to live, and to tell him that he mattered, that he was important and that life was sacred and good.

I’ve had long talks with a close friend in high school, as he raged about his father beating him, and neglecting him, and not loving him, and how angry he was about all that, and how he just wanted to end it all. Long talks by the camp fire, where truth was spoken and the meaning of life was discussed, and I thought we’d really gotten to the core of it all.

But, we didn’t. And, years later, he came out to me, telling me he was gay and that his sexuality was at the core of his rage with his father, and feeling unloved by his father just made life all the more unbearable.

I learned you never know how deep the wound is that people have to deal with, and struggle with, what the real reasons are that people finally decide that life may not be worth living.

I like to think that if I had known all of the worries, and all of the doubts, we’d been able to figure it all out and “fix” it, around that campfire when we were seventeen. But, probably not. I can’t seem to do that at sixty, and hopefully I’m a bit wiser and smarter now. I’m left with wondering, and not knowing. A lot of the not knowing.

Maybe if we’d been able to say “I don’t know, but walk with me a bit,” that would have been enough.

People ending their lives is not all that rare, but there is a code of silence. We have rarely honestly talked about this part of life, these holes that suddenly open up in our social fabric. Yet, we dance around it, not really speaking truth, not dealing with this subject. Perhaps there are no words to say. That silence is part of the craziness.

In our culture and not too long in the past, a person who ended their own life couldn’t be buried in the church cemetery, which was inside of the fenced in church yard. Their grave was outside of the fence, their lives literally rejected and separated from their spiritual community, and from God.

The code of silence, and shame, and guilt was there for all to see, those feelings literally fenced out of where we were supposed to experience God in our lives, where our pain and our humanity were respected, where we could be embraced by unconditional love.

That rule, that law of our culture is still there for all to see, the graves of the “saved” souls, the children of God, and then, outside of the fence, there are the graves of the suicides, the “eternally damned”.

Oh, we aren’t so explicit now, using the fence around the church yard to make our judgements. Yet, we do judge, and we express our adjudications of shame and guilt.

We follow this rule, this law in so many other ways. We stigmatize and shame, and often ignore depression, other mental illness, and addiction, and the impact of violence and not loving our kids enough, or soldiers trying to come back from war. We make sure people can self medicate with booze, and dope, and lots of prescription meds, and we judge those “solutions” as OK, but when people can’t seem to “get it together”, we put them outside of the fence, and get quiet about it all.

And, when a pop star or other public figure commits suicide, we are quick to pounce, looking for flaws and defects. We are quick to find the defining reason: drugs, love, or the microscope of public infatuation with their lives. We like the simple, quick, and not so very truthful answers. Real life is messier than that, but it doesn’t sell tabloids and it doesn’t draw a television audience. We also don”t have to look at our own doubts, our own actions, and how we as a culture still use that fence.

I held a teenager in my arms one morning, in his bedroom, as he told me about shooting himself in the head, as his father held him, trying to talk him out of it. He showed me the scar on his cheek, and the three missing teeth, and the place on his skull where the bullet came out.

It was a miracle he lived, and it was a miracle we could talk about it in his bedroom, sitting on the bed where his dad had begged him not to do it, and couldn’t pry the rifle out of his hands, until he had pulled the trigger.

We gave voice to all those feelings, and all that pain that morning, dealt with the poison, and did some healing. We moved on, not forgetting, but dealing with the feelings he had; we had some honesty, and dealt with his pain and doubts. We went deep, talking about life and love and who we really are, and what really goes on when we are at the bottom and can’t see the light above us, or the hand reaching out to us.

A teenager close to me died, choosing a gun to deal with his worries, and his doubts. People close to him had a lot of theories and there were a lot of stories, a lot of explanations, and a bit of blaming others. There were the usual suspects: drugs, love, anger, rage of not being loved, not having a safe, respected place to be in, not getting enough love.

Those popular stories might be true, or several of them, or maybe there was something else, too. I’ll never know. He is gone and didn’t tell us why he left us. Perhaps it all hurt too much to talk about and to stay around and muck through it all.
We will never know his truth, and where he was at when he pulled the trigger.

Suicide takes away the answers and the conversations and just dealing with stuff, with family and with friends, and people who love you. We are left with just the questions, and the guilt and the wondering, the “coulda, woulda, shouldas”.

Two other teenaged boys, boys I was close to, and they so very close to their buddy who shot himself, lived in the same town. It came my job to be with them in the next week, and maybe keep them away from the guns and the drug dealers and killing themselves. I took them to the funeral home to see the body and to pray and say goodbyes. I held them and sat with them at night in the park, the park they’d played in with their buddy, where we shivered on a snowy bench talking about life and crying.

Some folks thought it was part of making sense of it all, but there was no sense to be made of any of it.

And, as some families do, no one talks about him anymore. It is like he disappeared forever, and wasn’t part of our lives. But he was and he is. A lot of people put him in the ground outside of the church yard.

I will always miss him and I will always think of the insanity of a sixteen year old boy kicked out of his house on a snowy night, and finding a gun and blowing his brains out, all alone and cold and feeling unloved.

I’ve stood on that same street corner, where he died, in the cold and the night, and the answers don’t come. Even after nearly thirty years, they don’t come, and the wind still blows cold, cold and lonely.


“His death was a single moment for him, but an endless, unforgiving moment for me, for us, for every encounter from then forward with others — and every encounter with myself.” (Kim Stafford, 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared, p 165).

I know of that loneliness, that pain, that unanswerable, unconsolable ache that fills one’s chest. And, all the questions and the not so good answers that people say. Suicide is craziness, about the biggest kind of craziness there is.

Suicide is just craziness, without any real answers and without any magic wand that makes all the crap of that go away.

I think I know, and yet I don’t. Not really.

We still bury people outside of the fence, at least mentally, separate and distant from the “rest of us”, away from community. Perhaps, in that distance, there is safety, there is the sense of not having to confront those painful, ugly questions about despair, and hopelessness, and death.

If we ignore it, it will go away.

But, it doesn’t. Life isn’t that simple, and when depression and suicide slam down on us, in its ugly suddenness, we don’t have good answers.

When I lose a friend, a relative, or anyone who has been a part of of my life, I need to grieve, too, for they have been in my life and then then they are gone. A person’s death and the grief I feel when someone near to me dies is part of the hole that I have in my heart. We all have holes, you know. We all struggle in life to figure out our holes, and to try to fill them up with goodness and love, and to find some sort of peace and meaning in our lives. Life is messy and awkward, and the work with our holes is sweaty, hard work.

We all have holes, we all have hard, dirty work we are doing to sort through things, to move ahead, and live our lives.

And we need to keep everyone we love inside of the church yard, so we can remember them and hold them close. And, they need to hold us close, too.