November 21, 2017
My Story: Why a Suicide Survivor Chose Headquarters Counseling Center, By Nathan F.
Last summer, on a stifling and wet July afternoon, I learned that my cousin had killed himself. I had just completed my orientation for KU’s Master of Social Work program. My dad had been trying to call me all morning, but I had silenced my phone while I listened to faculty speak about the people we would serve, the lives we would save. I returned the call on the campus lawn; stopped frozen when my dad finally spit it out - “Sammy killed himself last night.” My classmates walked on. I had no idea what to say. I stuttered the first thing that came to mind: “how are you holding up?” My dad’s voice broke and we both cried.
I had grown up with my cousin Sam. Our family had always been close, but in recent years we had retreated into our private lives, never reached out to each other outside of the routine: Christmas, thanksgiving, the occasional birthday. For all of the love we had for each other, none of us in our family had dared to ask the other how they were doing - how they were really feeling; and we had certainly never let anyone know if we were suffering. One of my last memories of Sam was a subtle expression of dread over a new, thankless job. “Way to have a good attitude,” an uncle said. We all let it slide. After his suicide, we all agonized over how things could have been different. What if he had one less pull of gin? What if we had gone to visit him last month? What if he had called somebody? Heading into my training as a social worker, I couldn’t accept what-ifs. For the sake of my own mental health, I had to ask: what now? Those painful weeks following my cousin’s death pulled me to Headquarters Counseling Center.
For many people like Sam, HQCC and other call centers that answer the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline are the first and last line of defense against suicidal acts. Dangerously few people have the resources or support structures necessary for reaching out to someone who can respond to one of the most difficult possible statements anyone can make: “I want to kill myself.” Sometimes a loving family or supportive community isn’t enough - sometimes suicidal people need to reach out to trained, caring experts who can listen to their struggles and help them to stay safe.
Many HQCC phone counselors are suicide survivors like me. All counselors are passionate about suicide prevention, and all of us understand the importance of asking the question, “what now?” It is for that reason that I feel so grateful to be a part of the Headquarters community. The death of a loved one by suicide can leave the survivors in a state of confusion, despair, and powerlessness. But there is always a way out; always something that can be done to move forward from that terrible time. You can be a part of that movement. Whether you contribute indirectly by supporting organizations like Headquarters, or directly by reaching out to people feeling suicidal or who have been affected by suicide, you do not need to sit by while communities near you suffer. Any action or gesture of solidarity can help those impacted by suicide more than you could possibly know. For me, HQCC has offered that way forward - not just to its callers, but to me and other survivors who feel the need to act.
Nathan is pursuing his master’s degree in Social Welfare at the University of Kansas. He is a Headquarters Counseling Center Intern and volunteer counselor.
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