The National Catholic Review

On a spectacularly fine day last week, I was taking my dog Sunny for her morning walk.  Down the hill and across Warburton Bridge we went so I could glory in the beautiful view of the Hudson River.  In the middle of the bridge on the opposite side an attractive young male also seemed raptly observing the river view.  Beyond the town’s parking lot below, the majestic Palisades soar over the water.  

After we crossed the street at the end of the block, we started back on the other side and saw the nicely dressed young man still standing there. Hmm? Was he perhaps waiting to meet someone? Or contemplating our town’s controversial landmark water tower? I decided I’d stop and say “It’s really gorgeous isn’t it?”

Yet on drawing near, Sunny’s usual tail wagging greeting received no response-- nor did he make friendly eye contact with me. Since everyone isn’t a dog person I just pulled Sunny on by. At the end of the bridge we paused (at the first tree) and I glanced back.  For some reason I had a fleeting impulse to go back and try to talk to him.

But what would I say to explain my return?  The thought popped into mind that I could jokingly ask “if he was standing there trying to decide whether to jump or not?”  But how stupid! I instantly rejected such a rude and intrusive remark. Did I want to come across as an eccentric village busybody?  Not on your life.  I turned away and proceeded home.  Ten minutes later the young man’s 21 year old body was found dead, crushed on the concrete below.  

When I heard the news I realized that I had failed to act on the knowledge I’ve gained from psychology and experience.  In public or group settings people hesitate to offer help, partly because they fear to incur embarrassment from having misread the situation.  Thus the rules: MYOB and don’t talk to strangers.

The second crucial findings I had forgotten are that gut intuitions, feelings, images or jokes suddenly appearing in consciousness can be bringing messages from our ever vigilant evolutionarily adapted non conscious mind.  (As in Blink)  If I had not so instantly lambasted my “irrational” feelings as ridiculous, I might have recalled that last winter a young woman had leaped off this same bridge at this identical spot.  Youthful suicides imitate one another, as our river towns’ tragic cases prove.

Lessons learned? Again I commit myself to my own rule. Whether or not you may make a difference, rush in, offer help and to hell with looking like a fool.   Secondly, never dismiss too fast your emotional and intuitive feelings.  As Henry James put it,  “Become a person upon whom nothing is lost.”      

Sidney Callahan

 

Comments

Michelle Russell | 9/6/2011 - 1:25pm
Sidney, thank you for this post.  It is in darkness and silence that hopelessness grows and thrives and leads toward suicide.  One of my siblings attempted suicide.  He survived, but the hole in the ceiling remained and was a reminder of his desperation, even after it was patched. His cry was covered up by silence - we never discussed it, it remained hidden in the darkness. I lived on the edge of that darkness myself for several years, but there were caring people who showed me there was much light on the other side of the dark. Not everyone can see that - no matter what is said to them, they still cannot see any hope. But there is hope, there is light, and the more we expose it, hopefully, the more others will be able to see it too. 
NORMA NUNAG | 9/5/2011 - 9:47pm
Thank you.   I am speechless.
Juan Lino | 9/5/2011 - 8:08pm
Thank you Sidney for your beautiful post and S. Harrison for your comment.  They are the best thing I read today!  
Sheila Harrison | 9/5/2011 - 7:40pm
Thank you for having the courage to share this message. If it had not been for the
wisdom of a young girl and the intuition of a mother , this would be my son. Thank
God it was not. To often we remain silent. I have learned do not be afraid to ask if
a person is suicidal. Often it is a relief for the person to know someone else is aware. Often, it is the stigma surrounding mental illness that prevents
 individuals from seeking help.
Mental illness ( brain disease) transcends all boundaries. It is one of the last
stigmas to be dismantled. Suicide has become an epidemic among young boys.
Why ? We have failed to validate the emotions of boys.
Please  consider participating in a local " Out of Darkness Walk "
It is time we remove the stigma surrounding mental illness.
 Members of the mental health community demonstrate incredible
courage in fighting their disease. To often no one stops by with a casserole.
My heart goes out to this family , because I to know the otherside of this story. My
father committed suicide @ age 78. Ill and worried about medical expense. Working
all his life to provide for his wife and family. He made sure  financial security
would continue. As a people  of faith it is our responsibilty to reach out to this community to provide support, love, and a place to belong. Faith is an important
componet in the spiritual healing of the mentally ill. There is no place for silence.


JANICE JOHNSON | 9/6/2011 - 5:20pm
Thank you, Sidney for sharing with us your experience and the lessons that you learned and that all of us need to learn.  Suicide and mental illness do remain stigmatized and the cause of great pain for individuals and families.  Thank you, S. Harrison and Michelle for your wise and eloquent words.  I've had experience with suicide and mental illness both in my job and my personal life.  Some years ago, while a volunteer therapist in a group for children who had been molested, in home, one girl, Rosa, expressed some suicidal thoughts.  I took her aside and made a contract with her that when/ if she ever felt suicidal, she would call me.  (I was in a social work job in which I was available 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week for emergencies). I also immediately notified the social worker who was in charge of her welfare.  Rosa did call me from school saying she had some of her aunt's meds with her and wanted to kill herself.  Thankfully she was calling from school and the principal was able to intervene.  I'll never forget that young girl who had every reason in the world to feel depressed and hopeles but who reached out for help.  How many do not see that bit of light as Michelle so beautifully described it and thus remain in silent agony?  

Not long after my son, who is now 45 yrs old, was diagnosed with schizophrenia, he tried to kill himself by walking on the freeway.  He was psychotic at the time and thought he was on the way to Heaven.  As I was searching all over for him and it was starting to get dark and time to call in the police, I found him on his way home.  He said he came back because "I know my Mom was worried about me."  He was hospitalized then and once again after he expressed thoughts about killing himself with a knife.  He is on proper meds now so there have been no repeats, but I am always vigilent.  

Recently, I talked with the diocese's director of social ministries who told me he thinks that our church is in the Middle Ages when it comes to mental illness. S. Harrison wrote so well what we as people of faith should be doing, but, tragically, in most instances not doing at all.