Compassionate Listener May Help Someone Overcome Suicidal Thoughts


The happy holidays bring busy days, hard work, anticipation, preparation, planning, cooking and happy times full of love that brings back memories of years gone by. So why bring up the dark days of the past by talking suicide?

I remember that dark time when my first life ended abruptly and I first attempted suicide. I will now share my story with you.

We held a large New Year’s Eve celebration at our home with invited co-workers and friends. We had all worked hard getting a Rose Parade float decorated, costumes made and ready to roll in the morning.

My husband, the host and door greeter, mingled. I worked overseeing the food and drinks, keeping dishes full, and empties cleaned away. Our juke box, with a big selection of 45 records, played music which filled the air. People danced, laughed and shared enjoyable conversations.

As midnight approached, I went looking for my husband to share our New Year’s kiss. I finally opened our bedroom door and found him with my best friend, intimately joined on the bed. My known world died at that moment.

Our divorce and separation resulted in a two-year battle that had huge consequences for my son, 9, and my daughter, 13. At one point, my daughter — then 15 — ran away.

I filed a missing teenager report and found myself at the police department, reviewing pictures of dead girls, then went to the morgue to view actual bodies of young California girls, all with similar descriptions — white, blonde, blue-eyed, slender, 5’9” tall — and all unidentified.

I had also inherited my mother-in-law, after my father-in-law had committed suicide by sticking his head in a gas oven. He could no longer handle the daily turmoil with the addicted wife. A wonderful man, I loved him like the father I never had.

My mother-in-law hid her vodka everywhere, and used heavy doses of Seconal, Valium and Demerol and constantly overdosed. I checked on her every night, but never knew what I would find. Often I found her unconscious and spent many nights reviving her and getting her in bed.

I made a living as a workaholic dressmaker and dress designer.

Eventually, the darkness enveloped me. I did not want to go through another day. I had kept bottles of my mother-in-law’s pills to prevent her from accidentally overdosing. Now I took a handful of pills one evening. My son saved me by calling 911. At the hospital, they pumped my stomach — and sent me to a counselor.

I did visit with a psychologist a few times, but nothing had changed in my life — and so I tried it again. This time God intervened, made me vomit and said, “I am not ready for you yet. You have many doors to open.”

After that, my life took another direction. I continued working, enrolled in college and paid my own way through a five-year education in psychology.

A line of Baudelaire’s comes to my mind, “I have felt the wind of the wing of madness and overcame it.”

As you read this, another suicide is happening. Suicide now ranks as the third cause of youthful deaths and increases each year among older adults. A survey of schools by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 20 percent of students have seriously considered suicide, 13 percent have a plan to commit suicide, and 8 percent have attempted suicide in the past year.

Suicide remains hard to predict, according to The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). However, warning signs include sudden changes in mood and behavior, major depression, anxiety, eating disorders, drug use, self mutilation, changes in appearance, negative thinking, isolation, etc.

During my time in college, I volunteered three nights a week with the Suicide Prevention Hot Line, sitting at the desk with books of written information, resources and emergency rescue techniques. The phone rang. I answered. He said his name was John.

“Hello, John. I am Doris. I am here to help you, if you’ll let me. How are you doing?”


“Can you tell me why you feel so bad?”

“Nobody gives a damn about me.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“I’m a drunk. I’m high. I’m playing Russian Roulette with my gun now.”

“What kind of gun?”

“A .38”

“How long have you had it?” I asked, keeping him talking.

“A long time.”

“Where are you right now?”

“In my bedroom.”

“Is there anyone else in the house?”

“Yeah, my mom.”

“Who do you want to hurt?” I asked.

“What kind dumb question is that! I’m going to kill myself!!”

“Well, you’re going to leave a bloody mess behind for someone to clean up,” I observed.

“Who gives a damn!”

“My question to you is when you fire that gun, someone’s going to find you, have to clean up after and never forget that scene.”

“I guess it’s Mom,” he conceded.

“Did she cause your problem and that’s why you want to hurt her?”

“NO. Never. She loves me. I just got back from Nam and out of the Army.”

“Then why destroy her and ruin the rest of her life?”

“That’s a thing to say!!” he exploded.

“It’s the truth! Think about it, what’s your problem?”

“I don’t know, I don’t fit in anymore, I can’t get a job, I don’t have a life.”

“Did your mom create that?” I asked.

“Why did you bring my mom into this?”

“She’s there. She will find you.”

“*damn it!!

“Why should you take a cowardly way out and leave the mess for your mom?” I asked.

“*damn you! I’m no coward!! I’ve killed people. People tried to kill me. It’s no big deal,” he said.

“Yes it is. You mean everything to your mom and family.”

“Why in the hell do you keep saying that?”

“You called me for help. You’re going to kill yourself because you can’t find a solution for living. Isn’t that right?”

“Sort of, when you put it like that,” he said reluctantly.

“Good. Now put the gun away. Let’s really talk and see if we can find a better solution.”

John and I talked honestly for over 20 minutes. It helped him get through this immediate situation and to live another day. John called back several times and a few months later, just to thank me.

YOU must take some time to reach out, help and listen. Do not judge. Just talk honestly. Remember, they are not you, and often have no control about events occurring in their lives. They are struggling to find the will to live another day. A compassionate listener is more important than giving advice. Encourage the person to talk openly about his or her feelings and do not be shocked with what they say.

Suicidal thoughts cloud judgement and distort thinking. It’s like some terrible accident that leaves you with a broken mind and body in great pain, feeling like you’ll never heal, never feel better. So be there when they need someone to listen and care.

Remember my story — a person others believed to be strong, functioning who felt she had no one to talk to. My purpose in writing this was to help you understand suicidal thoughts better. If one person survives because you learned more about suicide, then I will have “Opened the door” and succeeded.


Ellen McCoy 4 years ago

I had a life-long friend who, on one occasion spoke strongly of suicide. I listened and I spoke to her of the family and friends, including myself that she would hurt in the process. Still, I worried seriously about whether or not she would carry through with what I thought was a preposterious idea. At the time, I was seeing a counselor to hopefully but uselessly "Save My Marriage". I told the counselor I could only talk/think about my friend and her mental state. WHAT SHOULD I DO? WHAT COULD I DO? WHAT IF SHE DID CARRY OUT HER THREAT? I WOULD HAVE FAILED HER! HOW WOULD I HANDLE THE GUILT THAT WOULD SURELY FOLLOW? This is what he said and it made good sense. Sometimes I must deal with a patient who is of a suicidal mind. I never lose sight of the fact that IF they do NOT follow through, it is not for me to take the 'credit' for saving their life. By the same token, if they DO follow through, it is not for me to take the 'blame'. Much like CPR, should 'fear of failure' keep me from administering it if I know how? I really appreciate the story Doris has dared to share with us. It is a kind of 'CPR' that could contribute to a form of thinking that just MIGHT add to a needy person's coping skills. If 'listening' gives HOPE that 'sombody cares', all is not lost. Thank you, Doris Grutzmacher


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