National Suicide Prevention Week

Ashley McDowell

As you may have known or not known, National Suicide Prevention Week was from September 5th to the 11th and World Suicide Prevention Day was September 10th. Whether you have been affected by suicide, know someone that has been affected by suicide, or neither, suicide is real and when it hits, it hits hard. I was exposed to suicide in the 7th grade when my friend took her own life. Here is the story that changed my life forever. Note: Some of the names have been changed for personal reasons.

On a Sunday morning, I was at church singing praises to my God and hearing the word. At the same time, a beautiful angel was taking her life away. Sandra was a friend. We weren’t close, but she was a friend. When I said hi she said hi. We had many conversions, none serious, but some funny. She always made me laugh. Everybody loved her. Basically, the whole town knew her. I remember sitting on the floor against some lockers with her just talking about life, school, and people in general. Just sitting there and talking to her made me picture an ocean, an ocean that flows on a calm day. There were a lot of teachers who didn’t like her and she was condemned for every little thing she did. Their problem was that they didn’t have an open mind, but her friends and I saw something in her that the teachers refused to see: a beautiful angel who made mistakes. I saw a beautiful angel who was still young and didn’t know everything. I saw a beautiful angel who loved life the way life should be. I walked in the hallways of our middle school and saw a smile all the time from her, but I didn’t know what was really going on inside.

May 21, 2004 at 2:00 p.m. on a school afternoon: it was almost time to leave school. I was walking to my locker when I saw Sandra and our other friend, Vanessa, walking towards me. Sandra left first and Vanessa noticed that she had Sandra’s CD player; so she gave it to me to put in my locker. I didn’t know that that day would be the last time I would ever see Sandra.

May 23, 2004 at 10:00 p.m.: I was watching television with my brothers when I got a phone call from my friend Kenny. My brother, Bruce, took the call. After talking to him for about a couple of minutes, Bruce said, “Sandra killed herself this morning!” I really didn’t take it too seriously. “You’re kidding, she would never do that.” I took the phone to talk to Kenny. We thought maybe she was faking it to prove a point, but we really didn’t know anything. At this point, I was getting scared. I called my friend Vanessa to see if she knew anything. Vanessa confirmed that it was true. Sandra took away her life for a reason that I will never know. We just burst into tears on the phone. “Why would she do this?” I kept asking myself this over and over again. My mom was at work so I called her and told her. She came home to be with us at this time. We were sitting in our family room crying, thinking, talking, and feeling our hearts breaking into a million pieces. “I don’t want to go to school tomorrow,” I told my mom, but she said that I had to be there. All of her loved ones would be there to comfort each other. We need to get through this together. I went to bed that night knowing in a couple of hours I would be facing the hardest day of my life.

May 24, 2004: I approach the school feeling sadness in the air. Some of the counselors were outside talking to the students. All morning I told myself that I wouldn’t break down. My mom walked with my brothers and me to my locker. I opened it and the first thing I saw was her CD player, making my heart sink. We walked to take it to the office. After, my mom hugged me and left. I walked to homeroom and sat at my desk. Our principal announced the tragic news during our homeroom period. There would also be counselors and social workers in the media center all day to talk and help people. I was fine at this time. The bell rang and I walked to my first period class, which was art. After sitting there for a couple of minutes, I finally broke down. I didn’t want to leave but my art teacher had another teacher help me to the library. When I walked to the media center, I thought the whole entire school was in there. People were crying on the floor and others were against the wall. Many were talking to counselors and hugging each other. A lot of us were there for hours. After crying, we finally started to laugh, because we were just talking about funny things that helped us remember the good times with Sandra. Then I walked with a bunch of friends back to seventh period. I felt a little better, but this was only the start.

It was time to say goodbye to a beautiful angel. I attended the wake knowing I couldn’t go to the funeral. The only thing going through my mind when I saw her lying in the casket was “Wake up angel, wake up!” I knew she would not wake up on this earth anymore. This was the last time I cried in front of everyone. This was real; she was gone. It had finally hit me and it hit hard.

It was a long journey for me to heal 100%. I leaned on God, my family, and friends more than anything. The two very valuable lessons I learned from this experience were to let pain run its course and to not be afraid to cry. These lessons are also great advice for others who might be in the same situation as I was. It hurts to lose someone who was so young and had so much potential. Now six years later, I think about what she would be like today. Every year on May 23, I remember Sandra as the beautiful angel that is now looking down on us from Heaven.

Since 2007, I have been an advocate for suicide prevention. I was not prepared emotionally or psychologically for such a tragedy at a young age. I did not see the warning signs and my friends didn’t either, because we did not know what these warning signs were. You can go through your whole life asking “What if I saw something or said something to prevent it,” but you will never find the answers to these questions.

Today, there are so many resources to help people considering suicide and the family and friends involved after a suicide. The non-profit organization “To Write Love on Her Arms” (TWLOHA) has helped in so many ways, including helping myself. TWLOHA has helped people find hope and freedom from thoughts of suicide and depression.

The purpose of writing this was not to make you feel sad, but to make you feel inspired, educated and encouraged to be a friend. If you see suicidal warning signs, don’t be afraid to tell someone and/or talk to this person. If you are the one who is going through isolation and depression, talk to someone you can trust and who will listen to you. The professionals at the Counseling Center here at UNH are one of the best group of people to go to. They are located in the lower level of Sheffield Hall. I can only give advice based on the experiences that I’ve had, but the Counseling Center can also give you valuable counseling and advice because they are trained to. It can prevent the same pain that Sandra’s family and friends had to go through.