Suicide strikes the human family

Cindy Price recalls March 25, 2009, as one of those funny kind of days.

The sun was out, and when her shift ended, she had that “I’m outta here” feeling.

That meant she was home when the sheriff’s office came to tell her that her son, Tim, 39, had shot himself to death.

“You don’t forget where you were when you got the phone call,” said Tim’s younger brother, Toby.

And for Toby’s wife, Jennifer Mansfield Price, well …

Her father’s brother killed himself. And after that, “my dad reacted to that and tried himself to take his life.”

Now, with four boys of her own, married into a family also touched by suicide, she began to panic over whether “one of my children might experience this with their brothers.”

Because of that, they founded the Excelsior Project, a 501C3 charity, and the Timothy Price Memorial Fund at the Springfield Foundation. Both organizations seek to make teachers, students, parents, the community aware of what can be done to prevent preventable deaths.

And their story suggests that people outside of the family might actually be in as good a position to help those suffering than those in a family.

As a nurse, “I worked in critical care for 20 years,” said Cindy. “He had every sign and symptom, and they were smacking me across the face.”

But as Toby said, “when it’s a family member” that can be more difficult.

It may be because it requires us to imagine what must seem unimaginable: that someone we know and love might try to kill themselves. And that puts us in a place where we have to do battle with the strange power exerted over us all by taboo, stigma and fear.

Greta Mayer of the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties captures the strangeness of that power when she says suicide is the only death that keeps people from showing up on the front porch with a casserole.

And it also thrusts us into an arena in which there would seem to be no etiquette or guidelines.

“If you do recognize it,” said Toby, “how do you handle it? You don’t go up to your big brother …”

To battle the power of stigma, Cindy developed a suicide parallel to CPR. She calls it QPR, for “question, persuade and react.”

If you wonder whether someone’s thinking about harming himself or herself, ask questions. If your questions determine suicide is on someone’s mind, persuade them to get help. And if persuasion fails, react by calling the police or fire division or taking them to get help.

Said Cindy, “I always say a mad friend is better than a dead friend.”

Having been struck by blunt force emotional trauma, she can be blunt.

Although she later acknowledges it as too harsh, Cindy expresses the depth of her hurt when she says: “The only person who isn’t affected by suicide is the person who loses their life. They don’t have to live with the hell” it creates.

Her daughter-in-law suggests there was enough suffering to go around.

And after his brother’s death, Toby found an eight-month-old receipt for the gun his brother bought and used and began thinking about his brother’s struggles: “He’d dealt with this for how long?”

“He was getting help,” his mother added. “We didn’t know that.”

Just as Toby holds an annual golf outing, Cindy and Jennifer speak to whomever they can about suicide. They also support an anti-bullying program at Roosevelt Middle School and the Springfield Peace Center, and have donated hundreds of books on the subject to school libraries.

At a recent presentation, Jennifer, noted that Excelsior, the name of the program, is the same word used to lift the troubled character in the movie “Silver Linings Playbook.”

To her, that seems apt.

“I don’t want to be haunted by the whys and the what-ifs that will never be answered. I want to be looking ever upward; to help others see that there is hope, a silver lining, that life is to be enjoyed, and that each one of us has a great deal to offer.”

A couple of comments now from a long-time journalist.

1. Whatever need we seem to have for answers to whys and what ifs, they are mileage signs on the road to hell.

2. We should have nothing but abiding respect for those who manage to convert the destructive power of soul-damaging events to constructive purpose.

3. Although the names may seem to change in reports from generation to generation, suicide and like events that make the news actually happen time and again in the same extended family: the human one.

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