Tag Archives: suicide

Little Face in the Window

Window Sill with Hands

Last week, while we were driving to run some errands, we had left the loft and took our usual route through neighboring streets.  We live in a gritty part of New Bedford, with triple deckers, and houses in disrepair, in need of painting.  There’s little beauty, little green, to break up the neglected facades of the buildings.  It was a bright, sunny afternoon. I shielded my eyes and reached up to bring the visor down.  I glanced out my window and saw a face from the second floor of a yellow sided building,looking down.  It was a little boy’s face looking through the screen. He was staring out.  We drove past. His face somehow was etched in my mind.

He might have been five or six.  He had his hand pressed on the screen.  He was expressionless.  Maybe that is why it lives in my head.  It was two in the afternoon.  I thought he should be outside in the fresh air.  I thought, who is watching him, and who would watch him on the street to keep him safe.  I wondered what his surroundings look like and is he hungry.  Does he have a bed and does he have blankets and covers.  I worried about him.  Does he have toys.  Is the window his view of the world, his world and his life.

All week, as I looked at the faces of the students I talk to, I wondered if they had a younger sibling.  I looked at their faces and saw sadness, struggle and frustration.  I felt tired and a little burnt out.  I never mind hard work but sometimes the work is especially hard.  This morning I was reading an email at work and getting ready to respond when I was startled by a girl’s voice saying hi.  I turned and she smiled and said “did I scare you?” and I said that I was just deep in thought reading and invited her in.  I asked her what was going on and she said “I just wanted to see my best person” and invited herself in and took a seat.  I shut the door and smiled.  We had met within the first weeks of school.  She had been a reluctant visitor to my office since her sister, and another friend, had brought me some texts she had written the night before, or maybe it was early morning, that said she was planning on killing herself and that they shouldn’t tell anyone.  Gratefully, they told, she and I  talked, and somehow, from an angry demeanor and initial emotional barricade, she began to stop in  weekly, and talk a bit. We talk of families and disappointments and trust and nail salons.  We talk about banana splits and boyfriends and falling in love.  From sullen and disengaged, comes eye contact and laughter.

I drove home tonight in the darkness.  I don’t like the darkness.  The little boy’s face is still in my head.  Once kid at a time. One face at a time.

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Who’s your person?

Photo of Barbra STREISAND

You probably know the song with the lyrics  “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world…”.  It’s memorable and easy to hum and Barbra Streisand’s version is the only version we probably need.  This week those lyrics became more memorable and more meaningful in my line of work.

It was a back to school week after a relatively long spring break. With re-entry in school comes a period of adjustment, both for students and staff and the recognition that our students may have had a week off, but in a community that doesn’t have much, in terms of economics, many of our students may not have had a break from their daily lives and probably no vacations away, and for many their supports are those of us at school.  So, it was time to get to work.

Part of the work as a school social worker is prevention and education and talking about difficult topics, such as depression, anxiety and suicide.  No one wants to talk about that, but in the context of prevention, someone has to do it and make it real.  I was wrapping up a couple of weeks, prior to vacation and then doing the last class which was scheduled for this past Monday.  Essentially, my colleagues and I go into health classes and talk about what we do, how it works, and how to access help, for themselves or someone they care about, a friend or a family member.  I enjoy meeting the students in a more intimate setting of a classroom and to take their emotional pulse and listen to their thoughts and questions.  I told my youngest son, many years ago, that we have two ears to listen and one mouth to speak, so that listening is twice as important as hearing our own voice.  It bears itself out, if you are patient and open to hearing what is being said, between words.  Working with teenagers requires being up on the latest movies, Netflix shows and some books that are important to the kids.  Recent weeks brought some education for me on a new Netflix show that was based on a book, the name of which is 13 Reasons Why.  Essentially, it is about a high school senior who commits suicide but prior to her death she records 13 audio tapes which explain why she ended her life. It is focused on thirteen people who she came in contact with and how what might have been perceived as innocuous conflicts or interactions led to her belief that life was too hard.  The tapes were sent to the people to listen to and it is seen through the voice of one of those thirteen.  I was given the book to read, and I read it while on vacation.  It allowed me to dialog about depression and suicide and listen to the students.  Kids want to talk about their opinions and the show and the book. It was an easier entre’ into what they thought, and feel about the character because the conversation was not about them.  It is powerful to listen to and what they revealed.  It builds connections and bridges.  I always put my name and where my office is on the board and directions to how to get to me.  The way I wrap up the class is talking about the importance in school to identify someone who, on a really bad day, or on a really good day, who they can find and talk to. We discuss the need to connect with one another and that it may be a teacher, or counselor, or secretary but someone who they know will listen, not judge and help, just by being there.  I aske the students to think about who it would be, but don’t require identifying the person aloud.  There was a lot of positive energy in the room that day and we said our so longs and I headed back to my office.

When I got back, one of my colleagues said he had a girl in his office who had come to find me and insisted that she talk to me.  He brought her to me and she looked familiar and in a school of 2,000 students, I couldn’t place her immediately.  She was very emotional and her eyes were pleading and filled with tears.  She told me that she had been one of the students in the class I had just left. We talked and she revealed that she suffered from depression and although she had gotten help a few years back and had done well, she was now in a really bad place and scared of what she was feeling.  I evaluated her and we came up with a plan and after I determined that she was safe and able to leave the office, I asked her why now and why today, since she had felt this for quite a while.  She turned to me and smiled…..”You asked us to think about who was our person and I decided in that moment that you were my person. I knew you would help me”.  People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.  I’m always questioning who’s luckier, her or me.

Have a good weekend.  Listen to some good music.