My turn: Breaking the code that covers up a suicide

Posted: Friday, October 28, 2005

I am just days away from the anniversary of the day my son committed suicide. He was only 23 years old. Fortunately, at that time, my husband of 25 years was in a coma and living the last two days of his life fighting cancer that possessed his frail body.

Sleep was hard to find. I never realized that I had been awake for five days straight. The doctors at the Cancer Treatment Center in Tulsa, Okla. wanted to put me on muscle relaxants and anti-depressants, but I had two obituaries to create and two speeches on the lives of my husband and son.

Looking in the Juneau Empire online archives and reading the obituaries I wrote, I never did say how my son died. I just wrote, "Juneau resident Ron D. Whitcraft II died Dec. 14, 1997, in Juneau." How quaint. Since then, I've read the code talkers of family members who creatively cushioned the news of their suicidal family member like, "he died in his home," or "he will be remembered by his friends." Those who have lost someone by suicide have their own little pact of having something in common. We live in a society that keeps you standing at the edge all the time, but it never has to end with suicide. Modern medicine has improved so much in the last eight years; organizations have opened their doors to help those who are depressed.

The president of Central Council Tlingit-Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Ed Thomas, saw the need for the new program "The Fatherhood Initiative." I have been approached to talk about suicide prevention. Fathers should be an example to their families, and seek out programs to help them along the way. An excerpt of my speech says, "The road to success is not always paved. In moments of self-doubt, you can always build logical arguments as to why you can't accomplish your goals. And even good friends will chime in with negative thoughts at times. However, remember, only you can empower yourself." This is my message to Alaska.

Eight years has passed since I lost my husband and son. Juneau and Southeast have always been a beacon of hope for me that I will survive this tragedy. Thoughtful phone calls have helped the holidays a little easier to handle. The cards of encouragement have eased the pain that still tugs at my heart.

As we approach the upcoming holidays, I will again ask for the shoulder that has always been offered. Unconditional love helps me heal in giving messages of my survival. There is a light at the end of the tunnel - one that I haven't seen in the longest time. And I can share with you, I've noticed to look at the signs. If someone is depressed, doesn't have an appetite, suffers from mood changes or even if they joke about suicide, don't keep it a secret. Suicide hurts. You may never know how many lives you affect, but think about the alternatives and seek counseling. A good friend is one that intervenes, one that helps you find those resources to get you back on your feet.

Alaska has the highest rate of suicide. I think we should change those numbers and be an example to each other. We are a caring and loving state. Let's expose our accomplishments of survival and not read another obituary in code.

• Barb "Eddy" Whitcraft is a Juneau resident.

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