Suicide Prevention starts with awareness, open communication

Posted By on September 11, 2013

Photo courtesy of the Suicide Prevention Network of Douglas County

Photo courtesy of the Suicide Prevention Network of Douglas County

by Joey Crandall, joey@carsonvalleytimes.com

I can still remember the phone ringing, there at the end of the hallway in my Reno apartment.

It was January of 2003, my final year at the University of Nevada, Reno. I had just finished my second year year working in the sports department at the Reno Gazette-Journal and things in life just seemed to be coming together.

The pensive voice on the other end of the line was hesitant.

“It this … Joey?”

“Yes?”

“Joey Crandall? That goes to UNR?”
Multiple red flags began flying in my mind.

“Yes.”

“You’re going to think this is weird …”

I didn’t say anything.

He began speaking, telling me of how he’d been in Getchell Library on campus picking through the internet. He ran across a Web page I’d built for an internet journalism class.

He talked about something I’d written that he’d read – about my Christian faith. He wanted to know more.

He said a friend told him to call someone. Anyone. He said the friend wanted him to talk with someone.

Because he was contemplating suicide.

So he looked me up in the phone book.

“Would you please come talk with me?”

It’s June, 1998.

I’m a week away from graduating high school, teaching private music lessons to a middle-schooler I’d been working with since January.

His mother broke in at the beginning of our lesson – it was to be our last – and said we shouldn’t worry about the music this time. Maybe we could just play video games. Or talk. Just hang out for a bit, you know?

I was 18. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the depth of the moment. We talked, played something on his gaming system, just had an all-around good time. It was nice.

I am still so thankful for that afternoon.

I agreed to meet the stranger from the phone call. I jumped in my car, still wearing my shirt and tie from an assignment for the paper earlier that morning and drove over to campus.

I had no clue what to expect. He hadn’t volunteered his name. It was a Saturday on a near-empty campus in Reno.

He sat at an outdoor picnic table. Middle-aged. Tattered green workman’s jacket. Head down.

Time has long since whittled away many of his other features, but his face – ruddy and worn – will forever remain etched in my mind.
Piercing, steely eyes as he talked about his upbringing, about the circumstances that had brought him to that point in time.

He was without a home. Without a place to go. He couldn’t see much point in going on. I asked if I could take him to someone for help. He was reluctant.

I began to speak about God, about Jesus Christ. About how there was no such thing as a hopeless mess.

He cut me off.

“What would you know about it? You’re a kid who’s got everything going for you. You’ve never lost anything.”

He didn’t verbalize his next thought, but his eyes drove the point home.

“You’re spoiled.”

And he was right.

It’s Christmas of 1995. Opened presents were scattered across the floor at my feet. I don’t know what exactly I had expected, but I was discontent in that 15-year-old “the world owes me something more” sort of way.

One heavy, thick, unopened, rectangular box remained.

I peeled back the paper to discover a new Bible. Covered in hunter green (my favorite), pages tipped in gold and dedicated with words along the lines of “Within this book you’ll find all you’ll ever need.”

A gift of love from my parents.

And I was incredulous, pushed to the brink of that unmistakable teenage hormonal rage. A waste, I thought. How many Bibles were already in our home? Why waste a perfectly good Christmas gift on a new one?

I swallowed over a frustrated “thank you” and later pushed the book to the back of my bookshelf – a show a defiance for what I deemed to be an utterly absurd gift.

I won’t ever use this.

I still remember the last moment I ever saw him — my music student. I had just graduated from high school. My family threw a large celebration at our home and he came in to drop off a present.

He’d always been shy, much like myself, and he was visibly intimidated by the large crowd. I spotted him, hurriedly approached to greet him and had a brief conversation of which I couldn’t tell you a single detail about today.

Wasted words.

It’s that one moment, as he walked out the door — turning to wave, showing a slight smile — that has stuck with me ever since.

I was in a hurry to get back to my friends, I offered a wave in return and went on with my life without a second thought.

I’ve wished for that moment back, to do over again, more times than I could possibly count. Wished that I’d given him even 30 seconds more.

The things I could have said to him. The things I wished he could have heard from me …

“You’ve never lost anything,” The stranger dared me to defy his statement.

He needed help. He had a job opportunity across the country, he said, and he needed help getting there.

I again tried to press home the point that there is always hope.

“But how can you be so sure?”

I remember my mom walking into the room. That look.

I remember the feeling of my knees giving out, collapsing onto a chair.

The word in that moment was so hard to comprehend. Suicide.

So many things that I could’ve said to my music student – to my friend. I wanted him to know that there was hope. That he had value. That there was so much worth living for. That whatever seems so bad right now — it’ll get better.

He was smart.  And kind. When he didn’t get something right the first time, he kept trying. I saw growth in him as a musician, and growth in anything at that age shows the ability to adapt to a wide-array situations.

I had so many questions then that just didn’t have good answers.

It was then that I pulled that green Bible out, still in its box, and started searching.

I had a crazy idea.

I told the stranger to wait at that table, that I’d be back in a minute. I went and withdrew the money from a campus ATM to get him across the country to that job opportunity.

As I nervously punched in the numbers, unsure of whether or not I was making a monumental mistake, whether or not I was showing myself to be the naïve smalltown fool I can tend to be, I heard God’s voice impress so tangibly on my heart, I can liken it to few other experiences in my life.

That’s not all you’re going to give him.

I looked down at that green Bible, clutched in my hands – tattered and worn from years of searching its pages — and knew what I had to do.

I tucked the money deep within the Bible, folded the frayed cover back over the top and returned to the stranger.

I prayed with him.

Then I recited words I’d run through in my head – that I’d so desperately wanted to say – so many times since my music student was gone.

You are valuable.

You were put on the earth to do something specific that will affect many lives.

There is a God in Heaven that loves you with a depth so immeasurable, there are not words to describe it.

And there is always, always hope. You are worth too much to Him to ignore that fact.

I remember swallowing over the lump that had so unexpectedly gathered in my throat.

“I want to give you this,” I said, offering the Bible. “It’s the best gift I’ve ever been given and it will serve you well to read it. You’ll find hope here.”

My voice broke, recognizing the look of disappointment in his eyes as the same as when I’d first opened it that Christmas morning.

“Everything you’ll ever need, you’ll find in these pages.”

We shook hands and he walked away.

I don’t know the end of this story. I never saw him again. Never heard from him again. He never offered his name. I don’t know if there really was a job opportunity across the country. I don’t know if the Bible was ever opened, or if he ever found the money.

There are probably 100 different things I could have done better in that situation, but I know the truth of what I had the opportunity to say to him. It’s the same thing I’ve said to several others since, and its truth will never diminish.

My student, Eric Steven Marchant, died on June 22, 1998. He was 13 years old.
His parents, Larry and Cindy, founded the Suicide Prevention Network of Douglas County as a legacy.

It has always been intended to bring awareness to the workplace, schools, service clubs and homes so that when the time came, when confronted with the issue head one, we’d all have the words to say to those who needed to hear them.

The non-profit organization is currently without dedicated funding, keeping the doors open through volunteer hours and private donations.

This weekend, in conjunction with the Nevada Coalition for Suicide Prevention, the Network will host the two-mile Walk In Memory-Walk For Hope starting at the Carson Valley Museum & Cultural Center in Gardnerville. Registration for the event begins at 8 a.m., along with a fundraiser breakfast.

“Awareness is the key word,” network executive director Debbie Posnien said. “Talk about what is going on with your neighbors and friends. Know the signs that someone is contemplating suicide. Know what happens when someone is feeling very depressed.

“So much of it is education, just getting out and not being afraid to talk about it. Don’t be afraid to ask someone if they are thinking of killing themselves, because that is when they can actually start to open up about it and get help.

“What you find, when you can get people talking, is that they don’t want to die. They just don’t know how they can escape from what they are going through. You can’t even begin to deal with that until you start talking about it.”

And that was the lesson I learned over time.

Never short-change an opportunity to talk. Don’t miss a chance to let someone know their value to you. Compliments carry much greater weight than we can even imagine when we speak them.

And never discount hope. It’s in abundant demand, and in overwhelming supply.

For more information on the Suicide Prevention Network, on the fundraiser walk this weekend, or on the topic of suicide prevention, call 783-1510 or visit www.suicidepreventionawarenessofdouglascounty.org

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  1. Thanks Joey for sharing from your heart! We hope that those who may be struggling as your friend did that afternoon will come to our awareness walk and ask for help. We walk for awareness. Thank you for writing about a subject not too many want to talk about! But, we must. Suicide rates are up in Douglas County and we must come together and make a difference as we have learned suicide can be prevented if people ask for help. There is hope through help!

  2. Joey-
    Thank you for sharing your story. It brought tears to my eyes as I read it. I am so sorry for the loss you suffered and sorry for the Marchant’s having lost their son. I can’t even imagine the pain! It never ceases to amaze me how our God can take such a tragedy and use it for something good. I am so grateful Larry & Cindy founded the Suicide Prevention Network! Without it, Debbie Posnien and our loving God, our daughter probably wouldn’t be here today! It was 3 1/2 years ago when we realized our daughter was suicidal and we were able to get her help. Debbie and SPN were a huge part of that! I truly believe awareness about this tragic subject and letting people know that there are people out there who care, can have a dramatic impact on the suicide rate. There is always HOPE! My daughter is living proof!

  3. Dear Joey,
    So glad I am able to read this! Always know you were a bright shpot in Eric’s life and we will always remember you for the kindness you showed our son.

    Cindy Marchant