Content Warning: Suicide
Another University student has taken her own life. I hadn’t intended to write this particular blog this week, but then I saw a news article about Sarah Shulze, a star runner on the women’s track and field and cross-country teams at the University of Wisconsin, who died this month at age 21.
“Sarah took her own life,” the statement said. “Balancing athletics, academics and the demands of everyday life overwhelmed her in a single, desperate moment.”
Her family said they had been left “shocked and grief-stricken” by Shulze’s death. “Above all other things, Sarah was a power for good in the world,” they said.
After reading these words, I just sat and stared at my computer screen. I tried to come up with words to express how I feel when this happens. Shock. Distress. Disbelief. Sorrow. Regret. All those feelings and I didn’t even know this young lady. I can’t imagine what her family is feeling…her friends…her classmates.
I’ve written a few blogs on suicide over the years, but it never hurts to revisit the issue. You never know who is reading your work at that moment in time. Maybe a couple of years ago the reader just skimmed the blog, but this time…this time it’s hitting home for one reason or another.
I’ve lost way too many to suicide. Way too many. I often think of all the contributions they would have made to this world had they stayed. The chance to be a father, the opportunity to minister to those in need, the ability to coach a sport they once excelled at in high school or college, the hand their mother wanted to hold as she took her last breath, the child that will never be born.
We often try and measure our “worth” in things like grades, titles, bank account balance, living in a “good” neighborhood, and the type of car we are able to purchase. We worry endlessly about not being good enough, not making our parents proud of us, and not realizing the goals that others set for us to reach.
How often do we sit back and think about our impact aside from all that is material in nature? The struggling mother at the grocery store who needed to hear “you’re doing great, mama!” come from your lips, the very words bringing tears to her eyes. She NEEDED you at that moment. She won’t forget your words for a long time to come.
The student you are mentoring because you noticed they aren’t understanding the assignments and you have faith in their potential. You understand that their entire career isn’t wrapped up in this one class, so you step in and encourage them. You give them the strength to muddle on, regardless of how it all turns out in the end. As they accept their diploma, I guarantee that you will cross their mind and they will whisper a silent, “thank you” in their heart.
How about your child, face streaked with tears, coming home from school and wailing, “nobody likes me!”. You meet them with unconditional love and support, assuring them that they are valued and loved. When the world is against you, having that one person at home to make things right again means everything.
As you walk down the long hallway of cages at the shelter, you spy that one little dog. You know the one. He has one tooth, so his tongue hangs out of his mouth, his hair is sticking out all over, and he’s 13 years old with arthritis and a heart condition. You take him home because you know that nobody else will. He lives another three years in the loving embrace of a human that gave him a second chance. He thinks you mattered. He thinks you hung the moon.
We so often overlook our ability to make a difference. Very few of us will become famous or invent something amazing. Most of us will make our mark by smiling at a stranger in the grocery store, defending someone who can’t defend themselves, mowing the elderly neighbor’s lawn, and returning someone’s wallet we find in the parking lot. All those things matter. A lot.
So if you find yourself thinking that the world would be better off without you in it, please stay. Stay, because you are already making a huge difference in someone’s life. They will miss you if you leave, regardless of the lies your brain is telling you. They will always blame themselves for not seeing through your smile to recognize the pain that you carried so deeply within your heart.
Stay because you are the only person who can do what you are here to do. There is no other you. You don’t have to “become” amazing. You already ARE amazing.
It’s hard to see these things clearly on that dark night. It feels like there is absolutely no reason to stick around. Life is just too hard. Too painful. Too demanding. You’re tired and you just want to rest…to sleep. I get it, and I’m still asking you to stay. Don’t give up.
There are people who can help you turn that corner and find pleasure in living again. Give them a chance to help you. Don’t allow a temporary situation to push you into making such a permanent decision. Stay.
As a community, we need to talk about this. In our colleges, our high schools, our churches, our coffee shops, our homes, and our circle of friends. Normalize talking about it.
Take away the embarrassment, the stigma, and the fear factor of people thinking they are weak if they are feeling like completing suicide. It’s not true, and until we normalize this topic, we will continue to lose people we love.
Talking about it won’t make it happen, but it could prevent it from happening.
If you, or someone you know, are thinking of completing suicide, don’t wait. Get help now, today. Go to your nearest ER. This is a life-threatening emergency.
National Suicide Prevention LifelineHours: Available 24 hours. Languages: English, Spanish.
That’s all I have for you this week, dear reader. I’ll see you back here next time to share another cup of coffee. Until then, be good to yourself and each other.