This is not a typical post for me, but the recent death of a fellow karate instructor has been on my mind for a few weeks now, and I guess this is my way of dealing with it. I hope my readers will understand.
Suicide is an issue I have become much more attuned to over the last few years, especially since joining Veterans Referring Veterans and learning of the many private organizations that work to help prevent veteran suicides. The good news is that veteran suicide rates dropped from 22 per day in 2017 to 17 per day in 2021. Unfortunately, however, that is still far too many.
Of course, it is not just an issue for veterans.
We all know suicide is not an issue that exclusively affects veterans. And, anyone can reach a point in their lives where they are so desperate, so full of despair or pain, that suicide seems the only way out. And from my experience, it looks like the people who should know something is wrong, who might be in a position to reach out and help, are often shocked when someone they know commits suicide. Too often, you hear comments like, “I had no idea there was something so wrong,” or “Why didn’t he talk to me?” or “She seemed so … uh … normal.”
I am not sure why this is. Are these people just too busy to notice or did not care? I don’t think so. I know some of those people, and they do care … often they are teachers, close friends, or family members. It is more likely that people in that much pain get really good at hiding it … so they will “be left alone.” Of course, this “being alone” increases their isolation, pain, and despair.
Speaking from personal experience …
I have been affected by the suicide of someone I knew twice in my life. The second time was just a few weeks ago, so this has recently been cycling through my brain.
The first time was many years ago – in the mid-90s. Caleb was a high school student who joined my karate dojo, and he was a great kid. Several of his friends were already students of mine, and he seemed to really enjoy karate and clearly got along fine with his friends in the class. In addition, he was a personable young man, good-looking, a good student, and played in the high school marching band.
Then one day, his classmates came into the dojo and told me Caleb had just killed himself the previous day. They were in shock … and they had no idea …
I was shocked. Caleb had seemed fine, and maybe I could have done something … I am a karate sensei, for Pete’s sake! But the truth is, if you don’t know, there is nothing you can do. His parents stopped by the dojo to tell me they appreciated all I did for Caleb. It was incredibly kind of them under the circumstance, and all I could think was that … clearly … I did not do enough.
A fellow karate instructor located in Chicago took his own life more recently. I first heard that Patrick died when another instructor in Michigan posted the funeral arrangements in his dojo Facebook group. I had traveled to Chicago several times to attend karate seminars Patrick hosted. And while we were not close friends, I had talked to him on several occasions, sat in on one of his promotion tests, and had read a novel he’d written a few years ago. He always seemed friendly, he was an excellent karate instructor, and I think he was a teacher in one of the Chicago school systems, or at least was at one time.
When I read about the funeral arrangements, I contacted a mutual friend that following Saturday and asked him what had happened. Was Patrick sick? He was a good bit younger than me. Was it cancer? I was then told Patrick had taken his own life the previous Thursday.
I remember saying something like, “Oh no! Why? That is so sad.”
John’s reply was, “Yes, it is. I had no idea anything was wrong. And right now, I am more angry than sad. He should have talked to me.”
On a more personal note
I am about to share a personal story. And, it is not about me looking for anything. But, I just feel that if someone reads it, and it helps anyone, anytime, anywhere – or the reader takes away something positive from it, that is a good thing.
I grew up a stutterer. And, in my younger years, it was a much, much worse problem than it is for me now. During elementary and middle school, I pretty much hated myself. I mean, stuttering is kind of an invisible handicap, right? You look normal enough, all the way up until someone asks you your name – then the fun begins. The laughing, the questions … “Don’t you even know your own name?” Then there were all the fights! And if you need more proof you are not as good as everyone else … now you have to go to speech therapy!
This started to change for me as a junior in high school. That change was started by my best friend at the time, Chris Lemoine. Chris was a popular guy; he was fun to be around and well-liked by everyone; he had a Camaro and a great girlfriend! We became good friends as sophomores, and that friendship continued a little past graduation. Eventually, we went separate ways. Life sometimes does that.
We were headed somewhere in his Camaro one day, and he said something to me that blew me away. I don’t know what prompted the comment. Chris just turned to me and said something like, “Darren, I want you to know something. The fact that you stutter doesn’t matter one bit to me; you are one of the coolest guys I know. I am glad you are my friend.” That one statement began to work a change in me and has stuck with me my whole life.
Sometimes it just takes one statement …
Before this, one point in my life was very, very low. I must have been about fourteen or fifteen years old. Something had happened, but I really can’t remember what it was. Maybe my girlfriend broke up with me, I had a terrible stuttering situation that day in school, or perhaps I had an upcoming oral presentation. I hated those … and would break out into a cold sweat even at the thought of one. Or, maybe I just couldn’t borrow the car to go to the Rush concert. It doesn’t matter, really. It was probably a culmination of several things.
But my dad had noticed. I was up in my room with the door shut, hating life when he knocked and came in. He asked me what was wrong. I am sure it took a while to pry it out of me, but he did, and eventually, I said something along the lines of, “I hate my life, and I wish I had never been born. I just want it to end.” As an adult, I look back on that and understand that it was quite a hurtful thing to say to your dad. But I guess he understood. I do have an amazing dad.
I remember him saying something to me about how some people say suicide is the “coward’s way out,” but he did not believe that. He said it had to take a lot of guts and determination to actually go through with killing yourself. But then he said, “the real problem is that once you are dead, there are no more chances; no more opportunities to make things better, fix what was wrong, and make things right.” And that is another statement that has stuck with me my whole life.
So, if things are terrible for you, and you can see no way out, and you are thinking of ending it all, Please remember 1) that someone out there probably thinks you are pretty cool, and 2), once you take your life, there are no more chances to try again or make it right. And please, find someone to talk to!
On a lighter note, maybe growing up a stutterer is why I like to write so much. It just comes much easier to me!