My letter to the editor

Friday afternoon I sat down and wrote emails and letters, including one to the editor. It didn't make it into Saturday's paper or Sunday's paper, but it's in today's:

Important Day for Suicide Prevention

I didn't choose the title, the newspaper always does.

There are already negative comments, 2 so far, but there are also 3 supportive ones.

Friday was such a big day, so emotional, and I don't think I have completely gotten back to "normal" just yet. Days like that always bring up issues connected to our loss and this day was no different.

My friend Marilee would be commenting on this, she took me under her wing after Henry died and was pretty much my only commenter for years. Unfortunately, she passed away a couple of years ago. And, yes, I still miss her and her kindness.
And, of course, I miss Henry. I wouldn't be doing any of this if it wasn't for him.


A bittersweet day for many of us

My husband and I just came back home from attending a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Golden Gate Bridge Authority. Today was all about approving a funding plan for the suicide barrier.
It's been over 6 years of being involved in all this for us, 6 years of talking, writing, signing petitions, visiting politicians' offices, arguing with opponents (more L than I, I don't have a thick enough skin for that), pestering friends and family for help with petitions.
The barrier, a marine grade steel net under the bridge, was approved in September of 2008, but there was no way to fund it. That's been an ongoing struggle.
Today's meeting was very emotional. There was a wonderful speech by California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who has been in favor of a barrier for a long time, there were emotional speeches by people who have lost loved ones to bridge suicides and speeches by at least two directors. All urging to board to vote in favor of the funding plan.
The vote was a unanimous "yes."
It will be at least 3-4 years before the net is in place. Bids will have to be submitted, the work will have to be done - safely - and, hopefully, then there will not be any more suicides from this bridge.


New suicide data

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has released new facts and figures about suicide:

Facts and Figures

The site also has links to plenty of other suicide related subjects, including warning signs, risk factors, suicide prevention and ways to get involved.


Not looking forward to this week

This week isn't one I'm looking forward to.
Not only do I have to fly solo again when handing out scholarships on Tuesday, but Thursday is the anniversary of Henry's death. And, yes, more scholarships that night. I can do it and I can do it alone, but, even after all these years, I still get nervous about getting up on stage and behind a microphone for my little speech.
Mostly, though, it's yet again not knowing how to deal with the anniversary. In previous years, we've gone to the bridge and tied flowers to the rail. Just a bit of a statement to bring awareness to what's going on there. I've even gone all by myself (and I don't drive highways if I can avoid it) because L was terribly sick with stomach flu one year and, at that time, I felt I HAD to go.
But we didn't go last year, my sister was dying and I couldn't do it. She did, in fact, die less than a month later. My in-laws went, they have met us there almost every year and offered to go for us.
I am also still struggling to find a way to remember him, celebrate his life and mourn his passing in a way that is right for me. The bridge visits in previous years were the right thing to do, but now, not so much.
We have had mass said for him for a few years, but that doesn't feel right any longer either.
I know how other people remember their lost loved ones and, while I love their ideas, they aren't right for me. So, I am a bit lost.
I have come to realize over the years that a lot people don't understand and don't want to talk about this, so I've learned to keep all this to myself - mostly. Many people seem to think one needs to move on and put this behind oneself. Easier said than done.
Henry is still a part of my life, maybe not daily, but thoughts of him come to me often. Not so much of the end of his life, just random thoughts. 
It just doesn't feel right to me not to do something, I just don't know what that something is.
So, it'll probably be me with my thoughts this week, not so happy with myself for still not knowing exactly how to balance things. Better keep busy with some project or other.


Why I am in favor of a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge

This morning, there was an email in my inbox with a comment on a link I had provided on Facebook about the proposed suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge. It was in line with far too many comments I have come across over the years, basically expressing the opinion that if people are prevented from taking their lives here, they would just go somewhere else.
That's an opinion, not a fact. And while we are all entitled to our own opinions, we are not entitled to our own facts.

So, I will revisit the facts I have learned over the last almost 7 years.

I will start with the bridge in general:
This Wikipedia entry has a longish section on suicide.
The original design for the bridge included a suicide barrier, but the chief engineer, Richard Strauss, was short and did not want his view obstructed. Gavin Newsom, mayor of San Francisco at the time, felt the same way: although originally he was completely against a barrier, he later reluctantly changed his mind in favor of the net. The original letter his commission submitted, unfortunately, is no longer available online, but here is a link to what I wrote about it previously. His commission, BTW, did not include a single mental health professional, only architects, engineers and artists.

I can now also answer the question why people jump facing the city, not the ocean: the western walkway is closed to pedestrians.
The average number of suicides from the bridge these days is 30 - 40 people per year, 46 last year, with over 100 prevented. I cannot find a total count of bridge suicides (last I heard, it was 1,600), but those of us involved in all this know that the official number is always too low. While there are bodies pulled out of the water, there also are people who completely disappear. There may be witness to a jump, a suicide note, a cell phone or a car left behind, if no body is found, this person is not included in the count.
 The notion that jumping to one's death from the bridge is romantic is utter rubbish. It takes 4 terrifying seconds to hit the water. And that feels like hitting at brick wall with a truck at about 70 mph. Painful and most often fatal.

Here are facts why a barrier would work:
First, and most importantly, the Richard Seiden study from the 1970's. He and his researchers identified 515 people who had been prevented from jumping and followed their lives. Of those 515, 6% went on to take their lives and only 6 people went back to the bridge. While there are people who think that study is not applicable any longer (thank you, former Facebook friend), that, again, is opinion and not fact.
Here is a link to the Richard Seiden study.
Next the British coal gas study: when Britain switched from coal gas to natural gas to heat homes, suicide rates went down. No more access to easy means = fewer suicides.
And then the Ellington Bridge: Once suicide barriers where erected on this bridge, people did not go to the adjacent Taft Bridge in great numbers.
Links to all of those can be found in this article. It's a bit lengthy, but a worthwhile read.
And then there is this link to various Harvard studies that talks about means reduction. Yes, the bridge is considered a means.
Other landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Buildings have suicide barriers now. I do not have any links to studies about those, but I am sure they exist.
So, yes, taking away the easy means will make it harder for people to take their lives. I realize that not every attempter will be dissuaded, but enough will be to make it worthwhile.
Several of the people who have jumped from the bridge and survived (less than 2% of all jumpers) and have talked about it afterward said that, as soon as their hands left the railing, they realized they did not want to die. In the 4 seconds it takes from top to bottom, they either managed to change their body position and thereby not die instantly or be fatally injured or were incredibly lucky.
One of them is Kevin Hines who has since become a very dedicated suicide awareness and prevention advocate.
Henry wasn't incredibly lucky. He did survive and was fished out of the water and taken to San Francisco General where doctors tried to save his life for several hours. Unlike many jumpers, he only had one broken bone, a rib, but his lungs were shredded and he essentially drowned in his own blood.

And here is a bit about suicide in general:
Suicide is not the same as euthanasia, it's not in informed decision. Suicide is not a fatal disease, neither is mental illness. Suicide more often than not is an impulsive act. The person attempting suicide is hurting, badly, maybe not physically, but definitely mentally. That hurt, also called "psychache" becomes so unbearable that it seems the only way out is to end one's life. While some people look for help, many do not. And one more thing: suicides do not just happen to to other people. I was surprised, when I mentioned that my son had died by suicide, how many people opened up and told me about their losses.

Our lives changed completely after Henry's death. My way of dealing with this was to read to try and educate myself not only about suicide in general, but about the Golden Gate Bridge in particular and to talk about it openly. I have been constantly amazed by the comments I have encountered all along, all opinions, none of them facts.

By now, I have started a new blog, that one more cheerful than this one which is now dedicated mostly to suicide awareness. There are lots more posts about suicide, the bridge barrier, links to articles in national newspapers and links to letters I wrote to my local paper. Not exactly fun reading, but possibly of interest to anybody with an open mind.


Hey Henry

Tomorrow would have been Henry's 25th birthday. The age experts say is when the brain is finally fully developed and people can (hopefully) foresee the consequences of their actions.
I wish he could have hung on, toughed it out, seen his way through what he obviously considered insurmountable problems. Looking back - and having spent close to 3 years trying to get answers to "why" - I can see why he felt overwhelmed but I also know that there were ways around it. If he had only talked to somebody, asked for help. And I don't mean his peers, 18 year olds really aren't in a position to help in this kind of situation.
I still don't have all the answers and I doubt they'll find me. I got close over a year ago when one of the people Henry spent time with contacted me, but he pulled back - several times - and so, no go. I'm okay with it. I don't even know whether I still want to talk about it in depth.
I have my memories, I have a good idea what happened and why. What I don't have is my son.
And I miss him, lots.


Maybe we should just let them?

Yesterday, I came across the comment above - Maybe we should just let them - from somebody I know and actually like quite a bit. Rather than being shocked, the way I used to be, I rolled out all the usual arguments: There are studies showing that people prevented from taking their lives, very often do not go on to find another venue or another means; only 6% of those prevented from jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge did go on to take their lives; it's an impulsive act and given time and a chance, people will more often than not change their minds; everybody who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge and survived and talked about it said that the instant they let go they decided they wanted to live; and it's not the same as euthanasia, it's not an informed decision.
But the short and, what I think perfect, answer didn't come to me until this morning:
Would you still feel this way if the person trying to take their life was your child, your spouse or somebody else very close to you?