Recently someone I love very much told me that she had attempted suicide a couple of times in the past year. This broke my heart because I had no idea she was suffering in silence. Having struggled with depression my whole life, I know what it’s like to want to throw off that thick blanket of despair, and I know that sometimes it seems like there is only one irreversible way to do so. But that’s the thing. Once you’ve made that choice, you can never make any other choices, ever. How can you be sure there aren’t better times just around the corner?
I can also speak with a little bit of authority on this subject because as a bridgetender I cross paths with people attempting suicide several times a year. I’ve never actually spoken to one of these people. Either the police rescue them before they jump or they make good on their attempt.
I’ve often thought about what I’d say if I came upon a jumper on my bridge and no one else was there. I’m not trained in any way so I’m probably the last person that should be thrust into that situation, and I’d avoid it if I could, but if I had no other choice, what would I do to try to convince them not to take that last irreversible step?
First I’d introduce myself and ask for his or her name. Then I would say, “I don’t know why you’re here, and I don’t know why you want to jump. I’m sure you have your reasons, and they’re none of my business. But I’d like to tell you that this is probably the most important conversation I’ve ever had in my life, because I think you are important in this world. I think you have value. I really believe that every day you impact and influence people and you probably don’t even realize it. Some day, a month, a year, a decade from now, someone will cross your path who will need your influence. If you’re not there to do so, that person may never have the future he or she deserves.”
“I also think that things can change on a dime. You never know what tomorrow will bring. But if you jump, you’ll never get to find out. One thing tomorrow can bring for you is help. Someone to talk to. People who will take you seriously. And they are out there. I promise. We’ll make sure you get a chance to talk to those people, if only you stick around to do so.
“The fact that you’re still listening to me means that you are having second thoughts. That’s good. That means you still have choices. You can still not jump, and then you have a whole world of possibilities. I can tell you this. Every single jumper, without exception, screams on the way down. That means they regret their decision the minute they step into thin air. But by then it’s too late. And that sentiment has been universally confirmed by the rare people who survive jumping off a bridge. They say they wish they had never done it. Can you imagine that feeling of terror? Wanting desperately to take something back but not being able to do so? Would you want that to be the last feeling you have? I don’t want that for you.
“I can also tell you that it’s not as easy a way to go as you might think. See that concrete and wooden fender system down there? I’ve heard jumpers hit that thing, and you can hear their bones break all the way up here. That sound will haunt me for the rest of my life, and now that I know your name, it would be even worse. But even if you miss the fender system it’s bad. Your organs are lighter than your skeleton, so when you hit the water, your skeleton rushes past your organs, forcing them all to move up into your chest cavity. I can’t imagine that type of pain. It’s a horrible, horrible way to go.
“I don’t have all the answers. In fact, my life is pretty messed up. But I really do believe there’s more out there for you than this. You wouldn’t be feeling so hurt or scared or depressed or angry about your situation if you didn’t believe you deserved more, too. Don’t take away your chance to find out what’s out there. Right now you can go in any direction you want. Left, right, forward, backward, up or down. If you jump, all you’ll be left with is down. If you feel like you have no hope now, imagine how you’ll feel when you’ve only got one direction left to go.”
I don’t know. Maybe that would be the wrong thing to say to a jumper. Maybe it would do no good. But that’s what I’d want to say.