I have never heard lighting strike as close as it did that 1972 spring night as I visited with college friends in East Lansing, Michigan. I was two doors down from the house I shared with four other roommates – all of whom except Frank had gone home at the end of a magic year we shared in our house on Division Street. The neighbor’s house shook – the flash and deafening clap made me think the bolt had hit our house.
Frank took his life that night – ending the life of a young man with more promise than any person I have ever met. Below his hanging body was the cryptic note – “My silence is both a sham and a revelation”. When I called my roommate David to tell him what had happened his initial response was brutally honest.
“That stupid son-of-a-bitch”.
I think the best description I have ever heard of this tragic life-ending decision is “suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
Frank was an only child, his father a stoic military officer. His devastated parents came to campus a couple of days later. Everyone else had gone home so I was tasked with spending the day with them – trying mightily to describe how incredibly talented their son was in the face of the decision David had so bluntly described. The only thing harder in my entire life than that day was my other appointed task as Frank’s last friend still on campus – identifying Frank’s lifeless form. These challenges paled in comparison to the poor young woman who found Frank.
I have never described that day in writing. I do so now with the hope someone may read this and it may help them make the decision to live. If you are tempted by the ultimate darkness, please talk with a friend, a suicide hot line – anyone. I firmly believe anyone who discusses this decision will never follow through with their final decision. Frank tried to end his life several times in his final month on the planet. Normally a gregarious man, he never talked about his only life decision which mattered. I grieve for him to this day – even more I grieve for his mother.
We are leaving May, Mental Health month. As a community we are faced with difficult decisions concerning the adequacy of how we care for each other. The excellent recent series in the Sky-Hi News accurately describes the dearth of mental health treatment resources in our county. Pending the all-but-certain end of temporary funding, mental health patient transfers will again be placed in handcuffs in the back of a sheriff’s patrol car if they need to be transferred to a treatment facility, all of which are at least 90 minutes away.
Progressive entities from our neighbors in Eagle County to Wayne County Sherriff (Detroit) Benny Napoleon are tying their criminal justice system closely to mental health services. It is no secret we have become a nation where individuals suffering from debilitating psychiatric conditions are more likely to end up in jail instead of receiving treatment.
Our County Commissioners are planning a new jail. Our county social services facilities are located in old houses. While running for Commissioner I toured one of these crowded buildings – looking into an attic stacked high with paperwork in full filing cabinets. It was hard to believe this mass of files did not break through the ceiling onto staff below.
I believe the Commissioners should tie the issues of inadequate buildings for both the jail and human services together and ask voters to fund a campus where we treat every citizen – no matter what their challenges are – with respect.
As a Fraser trustee I have voted to approve multiple liquor and marijuana licenses. I enjoy quaffing a beer or two at our two recently opened outstanding brew-pubs. I gave up on pot years ago – short-term-memory has never been my strong suite and I don’t want to sacrifice any more of my mental capacity than what is being taken by age – I just turned 68.
Pot has increased in strength 30 times from what it was in the “good-old-days”. While knocking on Fraser doors during my last election in 2018 I was astounded at how many dark, smoky dens I found as mid-afternoon “couch weed” (the only description I find appropriate) victims stumbled to the door.
Two of my best friends in life who did not get beyond booze, cigarettes and pot died within two days of each other last fall before reaching 70. Our county shares high stats with other rural areas – many of our friends and neighbors face real problems dealing with dope, booze, opioids and other self-destructive habits. Suicide in slow motion.
I would suggest we need to raise taxes on alcohol, marijuana and cigarettes and dedicate these funds to addressing the desperate need to improve our county’s social safety net. We need to raise the age for purchasing cigarettes to 21 and discuss the $4 a pack tax which Aspen will levy after a ratcheting up period over the next four years. Tobacco product taxes should first go to help nicotine addicts escape from this habit. Aspen applies a similar high tax to all products containing nicotine.
This tax and age change can also help address the vaping epidemic. Local governments have this regulatory authority. Some of these funds should help fund improved counseling services in our schools.
These taxes won’t fully meet the funding needed to build the facilities we need to help our neighbors; we also need to discuss raising property taxes. This investment will ensure all of us share in a better quality of life by addressing mental health problems in a constructive, rather than a punitive fashion.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255. Please reach out and remain with us friend.