Remaining silent is not the answer for suicide

July 19, 2007 11:00 pm

By GUY and KATHY HOLMES

I want to thank the community of family, friends, neighbors, schoolmates, teachers, the recovery fellowship, and those family members who have lost children through suicide who attended the Celebration of Life that was held at the Sierra Bible Church on July 14 for their tremendous support.

The attendance estimates ranged from 800 to over 1,000 people. Every seat was taken, there was a ring of people standing around the wall, the vestibule was packed, and there were still people standing outside the church.

I was told that the police had to stop people who had to park at the ball park from crossing Tuolumne Road because of the traffic danger. After the Celebration Ceremony that started at 10 a.m. and lasted somewhere just over an hour and one half, the family stayed to accept condolences and hugs until nearly 1 p.m. Some may say that this outpouring of love was for the family left here to grieve. I believe it is a testament to the lives that our grandson Joshua James Sardella-Ditler touched.

Each person who knew him shared that with someone else. His life was a magnetism of love for anyone who shared time with him. This outpouring of love belies the way he died, yet the fact remains that Joshua took his own life.

After an addiction that began during the years of his time at Sonora High School and had escalated to legal problems, loss of drivers' license, trouble at home and on his job — basically, total loss of control — Joshua entered treatment for chemical dependency on Dec. 21 last year. The joy and hope he exuded during and after his treatment program was electrifying and contagious. He maintained sobriety and practiced his recovery program for almost five months before deciding to escape the frustration of paying for his past behavior, the struggle with never before experienced emotions brought on by a serious love relationship, and the painful realization that he could not change anyone other than himself. He remembered that he could at one time become free of all of this through drugs and alcohol. What he forgot was that, by the time he entered treatment last December, he had long since lost the ability to escape in this way.

After several days of heavy drinking, he returned to his recovery program. He told me on his first evening back in recovery, "Grandpa Guy: No matter how much I drank, I could not get enough to escape." I told him I was grateful that he had figured that out, because for those of us who are addicted, there never will be enough.

During the next several weeks, Joshua made efforts to get back into his recovery program in the way he had been prior to his relapse. He changed some of the things he had done before, tried to get more involved in the 12 Steps, but I believe he was unable to shake the depression that set in after his relapse, and the guilt he felt over believing that he had "let everyone down."

Suicide. How does one discuss this without offending the organizations and individuals who are doing everything they possibly can, based on the finances and manpower currently available? Without creating doubts, fear and unfounded beliefs that any talk about suicide will plant the seed? Without raising questions of "What could I have done differently?" Thoughts of "If I had only … ." And, the most unanswerable question of all – "WHY?"

This is not meant to condemn — and it is not about guilt, shame or self doubt. It is about hope and encouragement. Hope that someone will choose to live because another loving person read this and took the step of sharing that hope with a desperate, hopeless youth considering the most final act possible. It is to encourage our county agencies to continue to increase efforts at reducing the rising loss of our most valuable asset – our children.

I know that his family did everything they knew how to do to support him, and his younger brother tried to reach out to him. While he was still in the treatment program, both his father and mother became, and still are involved in, their own family 12 Step program.

His extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents were as supportive as they could be. When Joshua called his Grammy and I in December to ask for help, one of the things I asked him was, "Have you thought of or tried suicide?"

I needed that answer to know where to take him first. He assured me that he would not try that, and had not thought of it while clean and sober. However, sometimes while coming out of a hangover, he would think about ending it — but had never attempted it because he would always use alcohol again to get rid of that kind of thought process.

Over the course of his sobriety, and especially after his relapse, his mother talked to him about her fear that he might consider suicide. He again assured her that he could not do that. His Grammy spoke to him about addiction and one of its most common final choices being suicide. Again, Joshua assured her that he could not do that to his mom.

I believe — as do other family members who openly discussed addiction and suicide — that Joshua was being absolutely honest when he reassured us that he wanted to live. One of the end results of addiction is a state of hopelessness and depression that for some becomes insurmountable. Suicide becomes an immediate answer to the pain of a temporary problem.

Shortly after Joshua's death, I picked up a booklet from the sidewalk in front of a Sonora restaurant. I was about to put it into the trash when I noticed the title. It was the 4th Edition of the "Tuolumne County Youth Services Directory" printed in January 2007.

I looked through the pages to find something on Suicide Prevention. Nothing in the Table of Contents. Nothing in the "Quick Reference." Nothing under "Adult/Youth Mentoring." Nothing under Educational Services."

Is suicide even discussed in our schools?

There were a lot of "Life Skills" offered. What could be a more important life skill than suicide prevention?

Finally, in the "Leadership Development Opportunities" category, under the Tuolumne County YES Partnership, the word "suicide" shows up as part of "a broad-based, community collaborative addressing the problems of child abuse, substance abuse, violence, suicide, teen pregnancy and related issues affecting the health of children and youth in Tuolumne Counts."

The comment goes on to say that the "Partnership acts as an advisory council for these programs: Prevent Child Abuse Tuolumne County, Tobacco Control Coalition, Coordinated School Health Council, and the Mountain Women's Resource Center Domestic Violence Coalition." What happened to "SUICIDE PREVENTION?"

While I applaud the Yes Partnership for what they are doing — with everything on their plate, how much effort can they provide to an issue as important as Suicide Prevention? Especially regarding our youth. Nothing was written here to encourage someone to call for help. In fact, the way it reads it could easily be interpreted as something adult community planners discuss and have nothing to do with actually providing counsel to someone considering suicide, because the paragraph does not mention "SUICIDE PREVENTION."

Looking further through this booklet, I came to the "Support Services" section, and while this section lists many support and counseling services, it does not list anything about suicide prevention. There is a "Crisis Intervention" listing which refers the reader back to page 1 and the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency (ATCAA) section.

While this section discusses many different programs, once again there is NOTHING about suicide prevention. CRISIS INTERVENTION? If child and adolescent suicide ideation, and attempts do not qualify as a crisis, surely the programs shown should not be listed as such.

Suicide is finally listed as it should be on the inside of the back cover, as "Suicide Prevention Hotline, Tuolumne County."

Who is this booklet directed to? The cover would indicate that it is directed at the youth of our county and that one could believe there is information inside that is user friendly (youth oriented). For the most part, this may not be a problem. But for the young person seriously looking for an answer other than suicide, I suggest the answer needs to be spelled out plainly and often, under every program in this county that offers such counseling. God only knows how many more lives Joshua would have touched had he been able to ask for help that day. Is anyone to blame for his choice – I do not believe so. Joshua's death took me back to Vietnam where I knelt beside the bunk of a young soldier who was lying there with his M-16 under his chin. I talked with him for I don't know how long until I could remove his finger from the trigger.

Help came and the young man was evacuated to a hospital. I don't know what happened to him from that point, but the experience taught me that talking about what will be accomplished by such an act, and how it will affect those who remain, is always worth the effort. Over the years of working with people, I know that some have taken their own lives. How many I don't know. But I do know that by having always discussed this final act with each person I work with, that several have chosen to live.

My prayer today as a result of Joshua's final act is that, by the outpouring of love displayed last Saturday, one more person might come to believe that his or her life does matter, that one more mother or father will decide to overcome their fear of talking about this and discuss it with their children. That one young person will take the risk of rejection and ask for help, and that the person asked will recognize the future that is standing before him or her and asking.

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Thank you from very grateful grandparents for taking the time to read this. We are grateful for the wonderful little boy God put into our lives, and for all of the lives he has touched and we are hopeful that his last choice will touch many more in a positive way.

The Holmes' are Sonora residents.