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Commentary: No Man Is An Island

By William Holston

Dallas, TX –

The loss of a friend or relative is troubling enough. But the circumstances made a recent passing even more difficult for commentator William Hoslton.

I lost a friend recently. He was married, had two children, and was a very talented artist. We met 25 years ago, when we were both single. There were many long lunches and passionate philosophical conversations. We always laughed. He moved out of state, but we had recently reconnected.

My friend took his own life. As news spread about his death, friends began posting messages on his Facebook page. Dozens of entries from all over the country celebrated his talent, his intellect, and especially his wicked sense of humor. One writer observed several hundred people stood in line at the funeral home.

But his death left me with many questions. Didn't he realize just how loved and respected he was? Did he reflect on the impact his death would have on so many people? How many of those people posting on Facebook told my friend when he was alive just how much they respected him? When was the last time I did? Would an encouraging word have eased his despair? Would it have reminded him of just how much he had to live for?

In our last conversation he said that things were not going well and he was struggling financially. I didn't follow up to see how he was doing. I wish I had. In hindsight, I wonder if I was being insensitive to a subtle cry for help. Or perhaps he didn't want to be clear. Either way, I didn't know how much he was in despair.

Suicide is sadly not uncommon. According to the American Association of Suicidology, an estimated 4.6 million living Americans have attempted suicide. Suicide claims the lives of more than 32,000 people annually in the United States. An average of one person every 16 minutes dies by suicide. One, of course is too many. We can't stop someone from taking their life, but there are things we can do.

We can be aware of warning signs. According to the Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas, there are verbal cues, such as the statements "I want to go to sleep and never wake up." There also behavioral cues such as moodiness, loss of energy, and withdrawal, and changes of sleeping habits. Finally, there are situational cues, such as loss of a loved one, a job or financial difficulties.

If someone displays signs that they might be thinking of suicide, we shouldn't avoid the topic, but should discuss things openly. We should take the time to be available. We need to be non judgmental listeners. We should get the advice of professionals. We should emphasize that there is help that offers solutions other than the desperate end of life. There are always other options.

My friend's death has me reflecting that I shouldn't wait for a memorial service to tell my friends what I value about them. I should take the time to know how they are doing. I want to be the kind of friend that communicates openly and candidly. I vow to press my friends for how they are really doing, and not to take "just fine" as an answer. Next time, a friend tells me he's struggling, I will follow up.

My friend's death still saddens me. It probably always will. John Donne wrote, "No man is an island entire unto itself. Each man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

William Holston is an attorney in Dallas.

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