Those we have lost: Susan

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 first 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


Susan was someone I knew when I was a child. Our families both raised dairy goats together and she was good friends with my parents. But I was a sad, lonely kid, and Susan was incredibly kind to take me under her wing and become a mentor to me, at a time when I really needed it. I never was able to tell her how much that meant to me. I wish I remember more about her, and had more to tell, but this was over 30 years ago.

Her daughter Ty was a good friend of mine as well. She always teased me but in a good-natured way. We spent a lot of time together at goat shows. Her whole family was very kind to me.

She took me to the movies. I do remember it was at this really cool old theater in Monterey. I vaguely remember it was a Star Trek movie. Susan always had a kind word and took the time to treat me like a real person instead of some screwed-up kid with few friends. I’m sure she recognized how lost I was. But probably the most important thing she did for me was take me out on a personal field trip with a friend of hers who happened to be a marine biologist. I remember going to the beach (we used to live near Santa Cruz, Ca) and catching an octopus with a net. The biologist friend had brought a large glass container and we put the octopus in it for a while so I could get a good look at it. For a young kid (I was probably about ten at the time) it was a wonderful experience.

When I was 14 she took her own life. I won’t get into the details of what happened, but her personal life took a sudden, painful turn, and I can only assume the pain was too much. By this point (I think) we had moved to Oregon but came back for the memorial service. I remember being told I should go talk to Ty, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was overwhelmed and by then, I was dealing with depression and suicidal ideation of my own. But God, do I regret it.

In most cases, suicide is a solitary event and yet it has often far-reaching repercussions for many others. It is rather like throwing a stone into a pond; the ripples spread and spread.

Alison Wertheimer

I am amazed as I sit here writing this how painful this still is for me. I never really knew her as a person. She was this kind adult who showed compassion to a kid who badly needed it. But she was in my life a lot, I really adored her daughter and it was the first time someone I knew had chosen to end their life. It really effected me. Still does I guess.

I wish she knew how much she mattered. I wish all of my friends who have chosen to end their lives knew how much they mattered. I hope she found peace in the end.

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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