It was at a collegiate Christian fellowship meeting back in the late 1970s when I first met the guy who would become my closest friend in my adult years. A tall, lanky, bespectacled fella born in …
It was at a collegiate Christian fellowship meeting back in the late 1970s when I first met the guy who would become my closest friend in my adult years. A tall, lanky, bespectacled fella born in Ames, Iowa, Dave was a friend of one of my old buddies from church camp.
We all became part of the same clique, and Dave was always a delight to be around. We shared the same name and almost shared the same birthday, his being Dec. 27, mine Dec. 28, although I was a day shy of being three years older. His enthusiasm for just about everything was contagious, his intellect was up to the challenge of intense discussions and debates, and he had a caring, sensitive soul. After Dave proposed to his future wife, he asked me to sing at their wedding, which I gladly did. After the wedding, our lives headed in different directions, and we fell out of touch for many years. We were good friends at that time – best friends would come later.
Two weeks after my wife, 1-1/2-year-old daughter, and I had moved to Dodge City, Kansas, in 1989, where I’d taken a job at the community college there, we were talking with some folks after church when I heard this booming voice call out, “Colburn, it IS you!” and there was Dave, rushing in to give me a big bear hug embrace. He and his wife and their 1-1/2-year-old son had moved to Dodge a month or two earlier, and we all rejoiced in the serendipitous reunion.
There couldn’t have been two more perfectly matched young families than ours. Everything clicked, and for two years we were so incredibly close we really should’ve just all moved in together.
When my wife and I bought a house our second year there, we’d decided to expand the kitchen by knocking out the front wall of the house and enclosing the porch to create a dining area. I’d never tackled such a task, and neither had Dave, but we decided that with the aid of a couple of do-it-yourself books we could figure it out, and “Dave Squared Construction” was born. We fretted together as we knocked out the front wall, heaved sighs of relief together when the roof didn’t collapse, and heartily patted each other on the back when the building inspector said it was one of the best remodeling jobs he’d ever seen. But the best thing we built out of that project was our friendship. Best friends, totally.
After two years in Dodge City, we moved on to Chicago, and a short time later Dave and his family moved to Nebraska. This time, however, we stayed in touch.
Dave and I had discovered that we could tell each other anything, and we continued to do so over the next two decades. There were visits, to be sure, but as the years passed ours became a relationship carried on mostly by long phone conversations and lengthy emails. We rejoiced together over personal and family milestones, helped each other through the inevitable rough spots, and solved the problems of the world a dozen times or more, although the world took no heed of our solutions.
When I talked with Dave in the spring of 2012, he seemed to be in a pretty good space. He was feeling good about the impending high school graduation of his daughter, his youngest child, his work as the finance director for a large church was going well, and he was exploring some consulting possibilities. Life in Dave’s world was good, it appeared.
But that August, I saw a disturbing post online from his wife – Dave was missing. He hadn’t been seen in a couple of days. The police had been alerted, people were searching, and it wasn’t too long before they discovered that my best friend had committed suicide.
Dave had spent most of his adult life battling depression, though he was awfully good about keeping that hidden among casual acquaintances and at work. To most everyone, he was the guy I described at the outset. I knew better. I’d seen some of the dark times when he felt wholly inadequate as a father, a husband, and a provider. He mostly did his best to find a necessary balance, and in the times he was ‘up’ he enjoyed life immensely. Life was a roller coaster of ups and downs for Dave, and I’d seen him manage it for two decades. I didn’t see any clues to suggest that killing himself would ever be an option. He had too much to live for.
To this day, I know none of the details of his death. I simply couldn’t bear to ask, and I never will. In the weeks and months after the news I was as much mad at him as I was sad. Mad that he’d done that to his wife, my friend, and his kids. Mad that he didn’t call me when he found himself in despair. Mad at myself for not calling more often. Mad that he left me without my best friend. And sad as hell to imagine what he must have gone through in those final moments, and to have our friendship come to an end.
I eventually got past the mad with the help of a support group, something I’d recommend to anyone who has had a loved one commit suicide. Time has helped with the sad, although there will always be moments of that.
Last week was National Suicide Prevention Week, and if there’s one thing I hate, it’s having my best friend come to mind any time I hear or read the word suicide. But if ever there were a place and time we should be talking about suicide prevention, it’s here and now.
A study of suicides released last year found that mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction occupations had suicide rates high above the general population. Construction was second on the list, and agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting was fourth. Welcome to the Iron Range and North Country. We all also know about higher suicide rates among our military veterans.
Equally troubling is the upward trend of suicide among young people. Overall suicide rates for those 10 to 24-years-old increased 57 percent over the last decade, according to the latest data. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10 to 18-year-olds.
And while suicide among adults is skewed heavily toward men, adolescent girls attempt suicide twice as often as their male counterparts. It’s also gotten worse during the pandemic – emergency room visits for girls for attempted suicide were up 51 percent in February and March of 2021 versus the same period in 2020.
I don’t want any of you reading this column to end up like Dave, and I don’t want any of you to end up like me, either, with a loved one who’s taken their own life. If you’re concerned about the mental health of a loved one, a friend, or a co-worker, go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/how-we-can-all-prevent-suicide/ to learn more about the risk factors and warning signs for suicide. Call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or 988 for 24/7 free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.
Please, be aware, be proactive, be a lifesaver. One more suicide is one too many.