Not a Number

This blog is not about suicide statistics.

I won’t talk about how suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US, or how somebody kills themselves once every 12.3 minutes. Let’s forget the fact that women in America attempt suicide three times more than males, while males are four times more likely to actually commit suicide.

This is not a post about gun control.

I’m not going to spend the next few minutes writing about how guns are the most lethal of all methods of suicide attempts or how people who kill themselves with guns more often than not decide to end their lives mere moments before. We won’t unpack how 32,288 people died from gunshot wounds in 2012 and how 64% of them were accounted as suicides.

Forget about how suicide is the second leading cause of death in California for ages 24-35. I’m not going to spend any more time on that or the rest of this:

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(Credit: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention https://afsp.org/about-suicide/state-fact-sheets/#California)

I won’t write a whole bunch on depression or drug use.

This blog isn’t about Dr. Thomas Joiner’s theory of suicide and the terrifying place where “I am alone,” “I am a burden,” and “I am not afraid to die” intersect with one another. The idea that drug abuse is one of the biggest risk factors for suicide will not be discussed here.

I could write about that stuff. It’s possible. I have the energy. I’m motivated. I want to, but I won’t.

On Thursday, February 18, 2016, at around 8pm, my brother-in-law Greg Marsh killed himself.

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Greg and my oldest daughter, his niece.

Greg Marsh was a space-enthusiast. When he bought his new telescope a couple of years ago the two of us spent hours in his parents’ backyard talking about the possibilities of alien life, government conspiracy theories, and how exciting it is that, someday, a human baby will likely be born on Mars.

Greg Marsh was an animal lover, like his sister. The two of them had bearded dragons. For a long while, when my wife and I were bouncing between homes, Greg kept our bearded dragon, Fredo, at his place. He never seemed to mind. He didn’t ask for anything in return. Fredo never had it better. Greg made sure both bearded dragons got plenty of food, sunshine, and playtime. He was much more attentive to their needs than I am.

Greg Marsh was an uncle. My daughters have lots of uncles. Ours is a busy household with folks constantly coming and going. Most of the people are very kind, some less so. I get it. Not everyone is a “kid person.” Greg, however, did something I always found remarkable: he made them feel important. He did not talk to them for my wife and I to overhear, as so many grown-ups often do, saying things that are obviously over the children’s heads but entertaining for the adults. Greg spoke to his nieces. He was genuine with them. When the three of them interacted he was theirs, completely.

Greg Marsh was a son and brother. He had a mom, a dad, an older brother, and a younger sister. From my (admittedly somewhat limited) perspective, his relationships with each of them were distinct. Greg respected the hell out of his brother. He enjoyed watching Wally start a family and felt included in that growth as brother and uncle. We spoke of this more than once. Greg was protective of his sister, a sentiment I can understand. He wanted only the best for her and it took me a few years to prove that I might – might – be worthy. With his father Greg shared political and religious beliefs, some of which I also share, others less so. I have found myself debating something with one only to end up debating both on more than one occasion. Held above all of these was the dynamic between Greg and his mother, his eternal champion. Mothers and sons have a special bond, but never have I seen something like what they had. Greg’s mother loved him with unending grace and support. Greg returned that affection in kind. If my daughters and I share a fraction of what they had, it’ll still be more than most.

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Greg and my youngest daughter, his niece.

Greg Marsh was human. He made mistakes, as do we all. Like myself and many others, Greg had a history with drugs. Greg also loved to laugh. It was a dry laugh that sounded as though it came from the place squarely between his gut and chest. As is the case with millions of people the world over, Greg suffered from wavering bouts of depression. He worked jobs. He traveled. He read. He cried. He loved. He lived.

Greg Marsh was not a number. He was not another death every 12.3 minutes. He was not like 1 of 20,664.32 people killed by guns in 2012. He was not another point in the center of Dr. Thomas Joiner’s Venn diagram.

Greg Marsh was a man who was loved, and is missed, by many.

This blog is not a memorial. If you knew Greg than you probably already know everything I’ve written (and more). If you did not know Greg, you likely don’t care about all of this the same way those who did know him do.

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Greg, his nephew, and his nieces.

But I bet you do know someone like him.

I wager you have a friend who loves to laugh. Chances are that you know someone battling depression. The odds are pretty strong that you know a gun owner. You know a brother, a sister, a daughter, a son, a mother, or a father. You know a space-enthusiast animal-lover who could use a shoulder.

And, like Greg, they aren’t a number.

Pick up the phone. Give them a call. I wish I had.

This blog is a suggestion: tell someone they are loved.

And if you’re on the other end and need to hear it, reach out. Here are a couple places to start.

 

(This blog was written with the permission of Greg’s family.)

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  • Asylum Comic

    As a one-time suicidal person and a regular fighter of depression, I can only say, you hit it, James. You got it. Well done.

  • Jessica Applegate

    I am so sorry for your loss, but I am grateful that you are speaking out and sharing! Talking about suicide reduces the stigma, helps us heal, and encourages others who are struggling to reach out. As someone who has lost my father to suicide in 2002, time does help, but education and actions have helped me much more. Thank you for being a voice! Thank you for your strength!