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Those we have lost: Sam

Published by Don Gilman on

Trigger warning: content about suicide.

Those that we have lost are not statistics, not numbers. They are real people.
This is the second in a series about people that we have lost to suicide. Some will be written by me, while others, hopefully, will be written by the friends or loved ones. Anyone is invited to add to this series. If you are interested, please email me at climbtothelight@gmail.com

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I wish I remembered more about Sam. He was my friend when I went to Aptos Junior High School in California. What I remember of him is his sense of humor and his sparkling personality. I remember really looking up to him, wishing I was as funny and engaging as he was. I vaguely remember him being tall (but this is coming from someone who didn’t break five feet until his sophomore year in high school, so I remember everyone being tall.) He was a handsome kid. Dark hair. Thinking back on this, and all the other friends I’ve lost to suicide, it is so striking to me how nearly all of them had such vivacious, engaging personalities. Just shows how good people are at hiding their pain. This is the thing we all have to work at, encouraging each other to be more open about our pain, loneliness and trauma.

Lady Gaga recently had this to say during the 2019 Grammy Awards: “And we gotta take care of each other. So if you see somebody that’s hurting, don’t look away. And if you’re hurting, even though it might be hard, try to find that bravery within yourself to dive deep and go tell somebody and take them up in your head with you.”

When I was 14, my family and I moved from Aptos to rural Oregon. I lost track of almost all my friends, except for my friend Nat, who was best friends with Sam. Actually, I didn’t talk to Nat for several years, until I was 16 and drove back down to California on my first road trip. I remember asking Nat about Sam.

“You don’t know?” he asked me. I knew immediately that something terrible had happened. He told me Sam had taken his own life. I went cold. I was shocked to my core. With Susan, it had been different. She had gone through a traumatic, life-changing event, so there was some painful reason for what she did. Now, with Sam, here was someone who’s life had barely gotten started, who seemingly had everything going well for him. Of course, I hadn’t had any contact with him for two years, so I really have no idea what had happened in that time.

In many ways, Sam’s death was the moment I realized that depression can affect anyone, even those who appear perfectly OK on the outside. Sam was not someone I would suspect was going to take his own life. None of the friends I’ve lost were.

I wasn’t there for the aftermath of Sam’s death. I didn’t see how his passing affected the community. But I saw in Nat’s face the pain it had caused him. We haven’t spoken in decades, but I’m sure he still thinks of it all the time. I’m sure many still do.

I believe in individualism. I love how unique each human is. I love how widely variable all our personalities are. But this idea of rugged individualism, of trying to deal with our emotions on our own, of never asking for help, is a toxic idea that we must work to change. We can still be tough while allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and ask for help.

So let’s make those changes in society. Let’s advocate for increased access for mental health. Let’s encourage each other to be open about our emotions, our struggles, our trauma. Be willing to help a friend in need. Be willing to be brave. This stuff is hard. It’s never easy to be there for someone who is depressed or suicidal. But we have to do it. I know for myself that every time I learned about a friend who has completed suicide, I wished I’d been able to be there for them. I know all of you have felt the same. So let’s remember that, and change the way we approach mental health. For Sam, for Susan. For all of those we’ve lost.

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If you are thinking about harming yourself or attempting suicide, tell someone who can help right away

Call your doctor’s office.
Call 911 for emergency services.
Go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
Call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to be connected to a trained counselor at a suicide crisis center nearest you.

Ask a family member or friend to help you make these calls or take you to the hospital.


Don Gilman

Don Gilman has been climbing mountains for 20 years, beginning with an ascent of Mt. Thielsen in Oregon in 1998. He has been dealing with severe depression and suicidal ideation since he was nine years old. He also deals with PTSD and anxiety on a daily basis, and uses climbing as a form of therapy. In 2014, he woke up to find his then-13-year-old son had hung himself. Fortunately, his son survived, but that event has become the motivating factor that has made suicide prevention the most important cause in his life.

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