Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.
“Do you have a few minutes to talk?” My son said when I picked up the phone.
Three months later, thinking about that conversation brings me to tears.
“Hello?” I said.
“Do you have a few minutes to talk?” My son said. He was crying.
“Of course. What’s wrong?”
There was a short pause and he said, “Dad, I am calling you… umm… because I promised you if I ever felt this way I would let you know.”
“Are you feeling suicidal?” I asked.
“Yes… I didn’t want to let you down,” he said.
“Son, can you please wait for me to come home so I can talk to you in person?”
“No, I am just calling because I promised you I would. I don’t want to let you down.”
I had so much fear. I wanted to say, “Son please don’t do this to me.” I wanted to call the police to my house — to make him safe. I was thinking, Is this the last time I will ever get to talk to my amazing son, whom I love? How do I help him? How do I not screw this up? Will I ever get to hug him again? Please God, help me. I felt a rush of insecurity. All these thoughts played in my head.
Then I started to think differently. I have more training than most people in this area, and I have my own lived experience from a suicide attempt. What would I want and need?
I decided to say, “Son, I am so sorry you are hurting. I can tell how upset you are, I wish I could take that pain away from you.”
“I know you do, Dad.”
“First, thank you so much for calling me, I love you so much,” I continued.
“I love you too,” he said.
“Can you tell me about what you are feeling?”
My son shared with me some things that brought him to the point that he felt like suicide was his only option. After, he said, “Dad, I am so sorry.”
“Son, you have nothing to be sorry for. Again, I wish I could take this pain away from you, but we both know I can’t. I can’t promise you any type of quick solution, but I can promise you, I will be with you while you go through this.”
“I know Dad, but I just can’t do it anymore,” he said.
“Have you decided how you would kill yourself?”
He said yes and told me the means and that he was going through with it as soon as we got off the phone.
“Can you do me a favor?” I asked.
“Can you please wait until I get home and we can talk face to face and then I can give you a hug? I am not saying you have to promise to never kill yourself, but can you please wait 90 minutes for me to come home and give you a hug?”
“I can do that,” he said.
“Thank you son, I love you.”
I sent a text his sister who lived close by and let her know briefly what was going on and asked to her to go to the house and talk to her brother about anything until I could get there.
My son called me and asked, “Did you tell my sister to come over here?”
“Yes, I didn’t want you to feel alone,” I replied.
“Will you wait for me to come home?” I asked.
We talked a few minutes, and I told him I would call when I got on the road, but I needed to let my work know I was leaving and I would call back in few minutes. I called about five minutes later and he answered. I told him I was on the way. We talked for about ten minutes, and he was also talking to his sister. I asked him if he would please call me if things changed and he didn’t think he could wait till I got home. He agreed. I texted his sister and she was also going to call me if for any reason he tried to leave.
I arrived home. I gave my son the longest and probably hardest hug of my life.
We spent some time talking about his suicidal thoughts and plans, and we talked about future goals/plans. My son, daughter and I went for a late lunch and we talked about past and future vacations and family activities and that night we had dinner with some friends.
The next day my son said, “When my Dad got home, we had a hug out and the reason I didn’t kill myself was because I could truly see that my family — including my sister — loved me. Kinda brought me back to reality, I guess.”
It has been almost three months since that call. Is there still a risk of suicide? The answer is yes. But having the open communication and respect for each other, I am very hopeful that that risk will continue to decrease. I know he knows I will always be there to talk to.
I learned many lessons from this experience. I am grateful I talked to my kids about suicide and other mental health topics, including my own suicide attempt. I am glad I have had training in what to do and how to do it. Otherwise, I would have panicked and may have said things that made the situation worse. I learned that being a suicide prevention advocate does not exempt me or my family from mental health crisis. I learned truly just being there with someone is the best thing you can do, letting them know you are there with them and not being judgmental. Not rushing to extremes is important. I was reminded I don’t know what the future holds for sure, but I believe that my son and I having this experience has brought us even closer together. When he says he will call me if he ever has a plan to kill himself, I trust he will call me. And I hope he knows when I say I will be there with him through the pain, that I really will.
In this situation, there really was not clinical skill needed (I wasn’t being a therapist). The intervention I did was listen, not panic and be there. I encourage everyone to get trainings such as Mental Health First Aid and/or ASIST.
This post originally appeared on Listening Saves Lives.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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