After Yet Another Suicide Too Close To Home, Today I Began To Fight Back

28 Mar

“No doubt, Jeff would regret what has happened, but his death was not in vain; his untimely passing has pushed us to act on this growing epidemic, it has induced an urgency in us to be scrupulously aware of and grateful for the relationships that nurture us and are nurtured by us, and reminds us not to take each other for granted.

Today we celebrate his life, and the lives of all those who have slipped from our grasp.  Today we learn to tighten our grip, to empathise, to be selfless and self aware.  Suicide is one of the main killers of our recent generations.  Too many of us out there have been affected by suicides and attempted suicides—too many of us have fleetingly toyed with the idea.  We will learn from days like those and days like these, and we will look out for each other and we will remind each other of the priorities in life, of the beauty that surrounds us, of the stupor of our existence.

Today is not a funeral, it is a birthday, and we shall treat it as such.”

–Tahsin Tarzan Ozan Gemikonakli, Facebook post, March 2, 2013

Yesterday, the body of a Widener University student, Ray Bailey, was found in a fraternity house right next to Drew’s.  He had hung himself.  Drew texted me immediately upon finding out, and I was very thankful that he was coming home today for Easter break so that I could give him an enormous hug.

Ray Bailey, a gorgeous young man, was found dead yesterday

Ray Bailey, a gorgeous young man, was found dead yesterday

At first, I felt paranoid that somehow suicide was literally chasing our family and taunting us.  First, we lost our precious son to it, then a young man around the corner from our home did it this February, and now a kid on Drew’s fraternity row had succumbed too.  But on the morning after finding out about this latest incident, it hit me that I was looking at this completely the wrong way.

Suicide is not chasing our family.  It is pleading with us to step up and do something tangible to fight back.  Just like Tarzan and Mo did.  Project Bald not only increased awareness around the world, but it also raised nearly $5,500 for AFSP to put to good use in this battle (I will be posting a report to donors in the near future about specifically what the funds will be used for).  Now it’s time for me to show some leadership in any little way possible.  I understand this now, and so here is one small step that I took today that I hope will serve as an impetus for others to follow suit.

As I recently posted on Facebook, on March 23rd Carey and I visited Drew at Widener, where his frat was hosting a barbecue for the brothers’ families.  It was an amazing day full of warmth (not the weather) and friendship.  During the barbecue, I had the opportunity to engage in a conversation with one of Drew’s frat brothers.  I have spoken to this young man on other occasions over the past couple of years when we’ve visited, and I’ve always been impressed by him.  And he has been amazing to Drew as a brother, including being there for him since learning of Jeff’s death.

Family day at Theta Chi

Family day at Theta Chi

As I listened to him talk, it struck me that he seemed a bit apprehensive about his future and sounded somewhat melancholy.  He confided that, as he pursues job opportunities, it really doesn’t matter where he ends up geographically, because family considerations would not be a factor in his decision.  I was sad to hear this.  When we said goodbye, I hugged him and told him I hoped to see him again when we returned in May to help Drew pack up to come home.

After hearing about the suicide that occurred right next to this young man’s frat at Widener, I realized that this handsome, bright, articulate kid fit the profile of someone at risk.  I have learned the hard way that good looks and intelligence don’t make one immune from bad thoughts.  I have similarly learned that being universally liked and respected, as Jeff was and as this kid is, often isn’t enough either.  Maybe my concern is way overblown, and he is perfectly well adjusted and at no risk at all.  But something told me that doing nothing was not an option and that this wonderful young man should know that there are people he can reach out to for advice when and if needed.

So what to do?  Well, I told Drew this morning to text this guy and tell him that nothing is wrong, but that I wanted him to call me at his convenience.  Within hours, he did, and we spoke this afternoon.  I simply told him that I enjoyed our conversation at the frat that day, that I was struck by the things he had said, that I value what a good friend he is to Drew, and lastly that I just wanted him to know that I want to be a resource for him to reach out to in the future for advice on anything at all, just in case he should ever want or need it.  I gave him my cell number and email address to put into his contacts and told him never to hesitate to get in touch.  The best part was that he was more than receptive to my contacting him.  He was clearly touched and very appreciative.  We will stay in touch.

Last year, one of Jeff’s Midd friends confided to me that they (don’t want to say whether it’s a he or she) had fought bouts of depression over time and continues to do so.  I told this young person to call me any time of day or night, and that they had everything to look forward to in life.  This was another attractive, extremely bright, and universally loved kid.  It has been awhile since I have been in direct touch with this person, and so I will remind them again today that I am just a phone call or an email away.

And so the big question is, have I really accomplished anything by telling a couple of young kids with everything to live for that I am there for them if they need advice, or if they just need an adult to talk to at any time?  I don’t know the answer, but doing so sure felt good and couldn’t have hurt.  I also am aware that suicide is not only a problem among the younger set and that it is pervasive among all age groups.  However, I have chosen to focus on the young, because that is where I personally am seeing the most damage being done and where I feel I can have the most impact.

I do know that, for me at least, doing nothing but blogging was no longer enough.  Everywhere I turn, suicide is staring me in the face.  In my own family.  Around the corner.  And in the frat next to Drew’s.  As I said earlier, I feel like it’s pleading with me to at least try to do something to stop it.  Or maybe it’s daring me to do so.

Thus, I will aggressively move to take as many young people under my wing as possible.  And I will encourage everyone, through this blog, to be proactive and contact me directly if you want to talk.  Furthermore, I will repeatedly tell the people I love and care about how I feel about them, even if they become tired of hearing it.  Expressing genuine love to those you care about is one weapon we can all use to try to fight back and reduce the risk of suicide.

Research shows that suicide is often the result of temporary surges of rage or despair.  People can be guided through those temporary bouts by their loved ones.  As Tarzan wrote on March 2nd, “Today we learn to tighten our grip…”  What powerful words written by this compassionate young man.  Just beautiful.  And we must follow his lead and do just that.

I am the last person who should preach to anyone, as I failed at preventing my own son from taking his life, and so please don’t take this as a sermon.  I just wanted to share my view that if each one of us—regardless of whether you’re a 20 something friend of Jeff’s or a peer in my age group—reaches out and lets at least one young person know that we care about them and are there for them at any time, we will reduce the global rate of suicide by some percentage, and collectively will save at least one life.  And hopefully more than one.  I believe this with all my heart.

Today is the day I have resolved to tighten my grip.  And I’m not letting go.  I will not let another life, among those within my contact universe, slip through my fingertips ever again.  The younger generation needs to understand that life is precious, regardless of the obstacles it sometimes presents.  Working together, I have no doubt that we can help them see the light and guide them toward achieving happy and productive lives.  Let’s do this.  Together.

-Rich Klein


4 Responses to “After Yet Another Suicide Too Close To Home, Today I Began To Fight Back”

  1. Tarzan March 31, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

    Yes, Rich – couldn’t be a more perfect attitude.
    You are an inspiration to us all.
    See you next week!

  2. Alex April 4, 2013 at 8:10 pm #

    Rich, thanks for sharing this.

  3. jazmin January 29, 2014 at 12:05 pm #

    Hi Rich,

    I am Ray Baileys sister. When you have a chance could you please contact me on my cell phone 856 571 4577

  4. Liz November 27, 2015 at 1:29 am #

    You’re absolutely amazing. The way you reached out to help drew get through one of the most horrific unforgettable moments of his life touches me.
    I’m sitting here with buddy’s (Ray) uncle, and he’s speechless. That’s the young man who committed suicide at widener university two/close to three years ago.
    It will always baffle us everyone who’s still alive. We wonder what we missed? How did we not notice something wrong? Were they really depressed and we just guarded ourselves too much to believe it could never happen?
    But the message you’re trying to put out there is amazing. Let drew know that uncle Jose (rays uncle/buddy) is always here to talk.
    My name is Liz Dempsey on fb

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