The Long Road

Hear Dan read this post.

Someone I knew ran off this road returning home late one night. He had been drinking and died in the accident that everyone knew wasn’t one. I heard about this a couple months ago just after it happened. I didn’t know him that well, but well enough to be really sorry. Those who knew him wondered if maybe they had been responsible. Anyone could have said more to him, asked better questions and listened. And the truth may be that if he knew he was going to die that night, he might have even fantasized about the regrets his death would cause others. A pattern with suicidal people is to imagine how others will feel after they are dead. It is a common way for disguised anger and self-pity to show themselves.


As a young man in training in my profession, I volunteered at a suicide prevention center, answering phones in the middle of the night. I still remember the two most important things I was taught to give the people who called: limits and support. Limits on doing harm: “Put the pills away. Think about how this will affect your kids for the rest of their lives.” Support for the person: “You are good and deserve to live and have a good life.” It was all about boundaries and care.

If the “someone I knew” had called me on his drive home across the desert, I would have said, “Get off the highway as soon as you can. Don’t let the long road get to you. You’ve done fine things in your life and have more to do. Other people care for you. Lean on them a little. You are trying to handle the despair in your life all alone. I’ll keep talking until you get to a motel.” It’s what survivors do: imagine what they could have said or could have said differently after the person is gone.

There was one other lesson I remember from suicide prevention training. You can’t feel guilty. If a person really wants to take their own life, they’ll find a way. You can’t stop them, no matter how good you are at connecting. This is what it means when a person has been wholly swallowed up by their own internal wounds and has lost contact with any guardian angels, inner or outer.

We have a responsibility to help each other not let it get so bad. Human love may not hold the perfection of what is divine within, but sometimes it’s still enough to help what is best in us remember itself and survive.

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One Comment

  • I’m struck by the interdependence and symmetry throughout your story, with respect to limits and support, projections and perceptions, self and others, past and future, life and death.

    It sounds like you learned to set limits for both the callers and yourself during your training, and to be supportive to the callers and called.

    I see a tragic irony in the tendency of suicidal people to project how others will feel in the future, and the tendency of survivors to look back on what they might have done … emphasizing the importance of living well, loving well, and perhaps, dying well.

    As happens when I read anything you write, poetry comes to mind, especially that of Rumi, and his notions of the broken-open place and sharp compassion, defects and and the manifestation of glory, and especially his poem Love Dogs (“Your pure sadness that wants help is the secret cup”).

    Thanks for sharing

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