My home office has a great view or our back yard.
Nine years ago this past May, I was sitting at my desk while gazing out the window and talking to someone on our home telephone. I have no recollection of who I was talking to or what we were talking about. During this unremarkable conversation, my cell phone started ringing in my pocket.
I reached into my pocket to see who it was. The caller ID on the cell phone showed me that my son Danny was calling. It was Wednesday, May 5 at 5:35 p.m. I wasn’t surprised. Danny often called while he was driving to his class at Wright State University. Dan would call and we would chat for about 30 minutes until he pulled into the parking lot at the college. That, or he would call on his was home and we’d talk until he pulled into his driveway. I loved those chats with Danny.
In the back of my mind, I knew Danny would call me after his class. He almost always did. So, I did not take his call. I continued a meaningless conversation with someone else. Danny didn’t call back that night.
The next morning, I arose early for the annual church-sponsored breakfast at the municipal building in recognition of the National Day of Prayer. At 7 a.m. on the first Thursday in May, many of our local elected officials and community leaders meet to pray.
There was no way I could have known that my beloved, youngest son, Danny, had committed suicide earlier that morning. While we joined our hearts in prayer, Danny’s heart had stopped beating while he lay on his garage floor beside his running car.
My son, Danny, committed suicide in the early morning hours of May 6, 2006.
I’ve never written about Danny’s suicide. I try never to even think about it.
The pain is as real today as it was nine years ago. Friends of ours who lost a daughter in a motor vehicle crash told us shortly after Danny died that, despite what people may say, the old saying “time heals all pain” is not true. There is some pain that time will never heal. That is so true.
I write about Danny’s death now because September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and I cannot bear the thought of another family going through the years of pain, loss, regret and guilt that results from the suicide of a beloved family member or friend.
Rarely is suicide a spontaneous act. Usually there are warning signs. A person will often talk to someone about suicide, before they actually do it. Friends and family will often see changes in their behavior, habits and daily activity before they actually take their own life.
Do not ignore or gloss over warning signs of suicidal thoughts or comments from someone.
If a friend or family member is going through a difficult marital problem, divorce, social problem, medical problem or any situation that brings stress, grief or anger into their lives, they may consider suicide as an option. They may reach out to you or a friend or family member to express their hurt. They may not mention suicide directly, but they may subtly hint at the possibility of taking their own life as a means of ending the pain, frustration or grief they are feeling.
Listen to them. Take their comments seriously.
Danny had been going through a very difficult time in his life.
A few weeks before he died, Danny called me. He just wanted to talk. During our conversation, he told me how much he was hurting — that he just couldn’t bear the emotional pain and grief he was going through. He told me that he had even thought of “ending it all.”
Immediately, I told him that our phone conversation was about to end and that we would be talking face-to-face within five minutes. The only question was whether he was coming to my house, or whether I was driving to his house. He came right over. We talked. We cried. He promised me he would never hurt himself. He said, “I could never do that to you and Debbie.”
In hindsight, I should have insisted that he move in with us until his divorce was final. We never should have allowed him to be alone at night, but I never imagined that he would really go through with it.
I was wrong. Danny didn’t call back that evening. Instead, he went to a bar and started drinking. As the night wore on, he drank more and more. At some point, in the wee hours of the morning, he gave up. He started his car. He lay down on the cement floor and ended his life.
Weeks later, the county coroner called to tell me that the autopsy showed that Dan had been perfectly healthy. He said, “Your son just got really drunk and did something really stupid.”
Like any parent, I have found a dozen ways to blame myself for Danny’s death. He is still mourned daily by his family and friends. His death has left a void in my heart and my life that cannot ever be filled.
Don’t let this happen to someone you love. Listen to them. Believe them. Get them professional help or provide them with the help they need until their crisis is over.
Most of all, provide them with hope. Assure them that tomorrow is worth living — tomorrow will be a better day.
Randy Riley is mayor of Wilmington.