“Plant a tree even if it’s your last deed!” That is exactly what my Father did in 2006. Just two weeks after the birth of his first grandchild my father died by suicide. Unbeknownst to us all he planted a seed that day. A seed that would take nine years to germinate and sprout. The sprout struggled through those first few seasons. As it tried to grow and take root, it encountered the harness of the changing seasons. First finding rapid growth in the sun, only to soon be beaten back down by the cold harness of the winters of grief. One day in 2018 that seed realized it now had a strong root system and the time to grow was upon it, and from day, only two years later this tree is bearing fruit.
From the day my father passed it was nine long years of hiding in the dirt. It was my best friend’s death by suicide that was the water, which started the growth. My growing interest in prevention. My search for how I could prevent just ONE family from going through what I had been through now twice. My friend of forty years has lost a battle with me standing right there with him. A battle he fought in silence and never spoke of. I had missed all the signs and in turn had lost the only brother I ever had.
It was then I started looking for a way to get involved and I spent nearly three years trying to find my place. Then in early 2019 I was starting a new job and just happened to be working at a Behavioral Health Hospital on a construction project. I struck up a conversation with one of the Doctors and asked if there was a place I could help? It turned out there were several place I could get involved and to start with I began building the team for the upcoming “Out of the Darkness Walk.” It was at that walk I found purpose. Just before the walk through a strange series of events I met a Marine who was developing a suicide prevention app. After the walk I contacted him to get involved. We presented his work to the Hospital system I work for and soon formed a partnership with the hospital’s venture group to develop the app for our local community.
April 27th 2020 Dr. Lorna Breen, a Manhattan ED doctor dies by suicide. Within a few days a Doctor from our health system posts on Linked in about having gone to school with Dr. Breen. As I read the comments in his post I saw other physicians who were feeling the stresses of the new pandemic. Physicians who had very little if any hope for their own mental health if this new virus lasted very long. Right then I knew, we needed to change our direction, while we had been working to take an app previously used by Veterans and adapt it to our community we now needed to shift gears and develop a product to save our own Healthcare staff. The next morning I called the development team and pitched my change in direction and the team was 100% in. Over the next 8 weeks our team built WeCARE Empowered, a peer to peer support application for the healthcare worker. The app allows the user to create their own team and by creating a team with individuals you know and trust, you're creating a network of support for each member of your team. That way, when one of your teammates really stresses out, they simply open the app to be instantly connected and supported. This app brought a whole new meaning to our mission of “Being right there with you”. Now members of our staff could be with staff members 24/7 at the touch of a button. Not as Counselors or therapist but as trusted co-workers willing to listen and talk each other through the rough spots.
It has been three months now and I could not be happier with the results. In a small test group of fifty employees we have seen thirteen calls go out to teams. Data shows several new first contacts to the EACP group and we know through a distress call that went to the National hotline, we have saved 1 of our own. I have been able to be a part of something that saved that ONE family from the pain I know all too well.
Truth is my motto had changed from saving just one to saving just one more. During this same time frame, I took a step, well LEAP of Faith and wrote a book telling my story of being a survivor of Suicide Loss. Divine direction assured me what I thought to be an impossible task was quite possible and with purpose for at least ONE future reader. Soon with the support and help of many friends I published the book Three Seventeen: A Suicide Loss survivor’s story. It was less than 24 hours when I received the first email from a man stating he had a plan, his decision was made, and reading my book out of curiosity made him change his mind. “After reading your book, I realized I could not do that to my family. I had no idea I would leave the pain you describe with my family. I just thought I would be ending my pain! I just wanted to say thank you and tell you in two days I start therapy and fully intend to turn my life around.”
Words cannot describe how that felt, but as you can see while a seed can lay dormant for many a year, eventually with the right care and right conditions the seed will grow into a new species of tree. You can make a difference and if you ever doubt that remember:
A Marine, An Engineer, and a Venture Capitalist walked into a hospital and saved a healthcare workers life!