Maxine French knew she and her fianc/e, Robert, were having relationship problems, but she had no idea what the outcome would be.
It would end. Robert shot himself in the chest.
In Larimer County, one person commits suicide every nine days. In an attempt to lower this number, the county’s Suicide Resource Center held its fifth annual Taking Strides to Save Lives on Friday night, where French was the main speaker.
The group walked one mile and then gathered in Old Town Square for a candlelight vigil. The event began at 7:30 p.m. and, more than an hour and $15,000 later, the crowd of about 150 people tearfully dispersed.
“(The money raised) will support our suicide prevention services,” said Bev Thurber, the executive director of Suicide Resource Center. “That’s a number of things: our educational programs, our depression and bipolar support services and we have group support services.”
Megan Young, a freshman business administration major, attended the vigil in memory of two friends who committed suicide last summer.
“It’s always important to remember those that have been lost,” Young said. “It is such a preventable issue. It’s comforting to know that there are other people going through the same thing and there are people out there who want to help.”
The vigil included music, poetry and personal accounts of dealing with suicide. French has had three people close to her commit suicide – between the years 1988 and 1994.
“Each one was different,” French said. “With Robert, I felt a lot of guilt because we had spent four years together and I felt like I failed him somehow.”
In 1992, French’s close friend and supervisor at work, Sharon, killed herself with carbon monoxide poisoning by running her car with the garage door closed. French said she did not experience the same guilt with her friend as she had with her fianc/ because she felt like she had “offered everything (she) had.”
“She shared a lot of things with me about her personal life and a relationship problem, but I didn’t have any idea that she was considering suicide,” French said. “It was very much a shock to me.”
French’s cousin, Kevin, committed suicide in 1994. As one of four brothers, Kevin was the perfectionist of the family and was “really hard on himself,” French said.
“Apparently, for him there were things he just couldn’t get over,” she said. “My aunt and uncle and cousins were just extremely shocked that he ended his life. They just did not see it coming.”
After seeing an ad in the newspaper for volunteers wanted at the Suicide Resource Center, French decided she should offer her services to others who were dealing with the effects of suicide. As the outreach coordinator for grief support, she now leads support groups and contacts people who have recently had someone close to them commit suicide.
“Whenever there’s been a death by suicide in Larimer County, the coroner notifies me and then if we can identify people in our community who have been affected by it we sent them a packet of information about our support groups and what we have to offer,” French said.
The Suicide Resource Center is open to anyone who has felt a loss from suicide. The center welcomes people to their support groups, but also offers home visits and telephone conversations.
“It’s part of my healing to give back,” French said. “I think that’s part of the cycle that after people have done their own healing they reach out to others, and that kind of completes the circle for them.”
If a person is considering suicide, it is important to be a supportive listener and seek outside help.
“Don’t act shocked,” Thurber said. “Ask them if they’re thinking about suicide, and you want to take action by getting help. There are three steps: listen, ask and take action. If it’s an immediate crisis, go to the emergency room.”
Severe Depression symptoms include:
Inability to feel joy
Changes in eating, sleeping, appearance, behavior
Irritability or anger
Inability to concentrate
Loss of interest in usual activities
Physical pain (headaches, backaches, stomachaches)
Drug and alcohol abuse
Giving away possessions
Sudden unexplained mood improvement
Suicidal thinking: Statements about suicide, Suicide plan/access to means
National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)