We all know at least one person who has taken his or her own life. That person who, for whatever reason, just couldn’t deal with what philosopher Albert Camus refers to the absurdity that is life. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 42,773 Americans take their own lives each year. Recently someone I knew added himself to that number.
“Home – AFSP.” AFSP. Web. 02 June 2016.
I had worked with Eugene briefly and knew him only enough to refer to him as a “nice guy.” A year after our short crossing of paths I was volunteering in the news department of KBOO, a Portland radio station that focuses on activism and community. My second day there I was given a missing persons flyer. On it was the face of Eugene. His friends had not seen him in almost then days. After a couple of phone calls I was at his house conducting interviews with his friends, roommates and family. My goal was to get any information to the public so we could bring Eugene home. Two weeks later Eugene’s body was found floating under the Fremont Bridge. The coroner labeled it an accidental drowning which is a polite and professional way of saying he had committed suicide.
I continued to cover Eugene’s story for my podcast through a series of interviews with his peers and family, including collecting audio from his memorial. Everyone had nothing but positive experiences with Eugene. How could he be suicidal when according to his friends he was the most jovial caring person they knew? It made no sense. At his memorial we were told we could take any of Eugene’s belongings if we wanted. I took a book, a waterproof bag for my recording equipment and a notebook of gardening notes that Eugene had been writing. I later opened that notebook and found journal entries towards the back. Turns out Eugene was lonely. He was too busy giving love and focusing all his attention on everyone else that by the end of the day he left none for himself. “I recognize amazing in other people but need to start recognizing it in myself,” he wrote in his journal.
Surely he had to give off a sign or two to his peers that he was sad. How could they miss any signs that would give away that he was going to eventually take his life? How do almost forty-three thousand people slip through the cracks of the people around them and commit suicide? There are obvious signs like a drastic change in behavior or giving away personal possessions. But in Eugene’s case, the signs weren’t as obvious. Even in his diary entries, which were written three months prior, he never once mentioned death or suicide.
According to Eugene’s friends they simply didn’t give him the love and affection that he clearly needed. He was there for them at the drop of a hat and this wasn’t always reciprocated. “I think we were too busy holding him in such high regards as a caring person that we assumed that he was happy,” a close friend told me during an interview. “Basically, we were too busy thinking of ourselves.”
I’ve learned during my time of covering this story to open my eyes to other people. We get so wrapped up in our own lives that we tend to take others for granted. Take the time to look someone you know in the eye and genuinely inquire about them. You would be surprised how something as simple as that could reveal how that person is truly feeling even if they don’t say it outright.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a great website for anyone who wants to learn how to help begin a conversation about suicide. Awareness is their goal and in the day and age of self(ies) we don’t tend to be aware of the people around us as much.
This is another great website to get a better understanding of suicide. It gives you information on how to pay attention for suicidal tendencies. If you’re feeling depressed and considering suicide, it also gives you resources to get help.
A great article written by health educator Liza Barnes. Here she dishes out the facts and demystifies the myths around suicide. A lot of these myths I once thought to be true. Great read for anyone that is concerned about a loved one or wants to be mentally prepped for the future.