By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist
While the nation begins the season of giving thanks, many are struggling to deal with deep personal loss. Last week’s national news reported the killing of three young men at the University of Virginia, four university students killed in Idaho, and five killed in a shooting rampage at a nightclub in Colorado. All these tragic losses of human life were at the hands of others. Our range of emotional reaction fluctuates from anger and sadness to shock and fear for the safety of others.
Among other mourners this week is a young mother who will have her first holiday without her husband due to an accident. Another family will gather after the loss of their patriarch due to a medical condition, and a young couple will struggle with the sudden loss of their toddler. Every such loss brings heartbreak for those who loved them in life. The love doesn’t stop with death but is now accompanied by pain and grieving.
Also in this season of Thanksgiving, other families join the quiet legion of mourners of loved ones who took their own lives. Last week, a Wyoming family lost a 14-year-old girl who I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing, but understand she was rambunctious and quirky, and a mastercrafter with a hot glue gun. My deepest condolences to her family and other loved ones for their great loss.
Today I’ll join other mourners at a memorial service for a 30-year-old cowboy known for his wide grin that lit up a room, his giving and helpful nature, and his rodeo antics. I’d known him since he was a child, and I grieve that such a shining light was extinguished by his own hand.
Oh that if only those who make the decision to leave this life could see themselves through our eyes, to feel comforted by understanding how deeply we cherish their very beings. But we cannot see or fully understand the burden carried by our loved ones, their inner turmoil, their seemingly unbearable pain, or anguish.
We know that people hide the extent of their depressive illness. Its victims often respond by seeking escape, without recognizing it as an illness that can be treated. We don’t talk about suicide in our social circles, and when we do, it’s in hushed tones. But untreated depression can become a deadly illness, and Wyoming has the highest suicide rate in the nation. We can’t simply “cowboy up” to conquer depression any more than we can cowboy up to beat cancer or heart disease.
What we can do is check in on others, listen to them, and let them know we care. We can talk about how mental health is a critical part of our overall health, and we can learn about dangerous warning signs. Acting recklessly, becoming withdrawn, increasing alcohol or drug use, and isolating from others are all warning signs, as are expressions of feeling trapped or hopeless or being a burden, or showing rage or aggression.
Suicide prevention begins with caring conversations that can be difficult to start. Consider, “I’ve been thinking about you, and I wonder how you are doing,” or “You haven’t seemed yourself lately, and I wanted to check in with you about how you’re doing.” Listen and learn how to help. Check in on each other.
It’s important to know if you or a loved one need to talk with someone, there is support available by calling or texting 9-8-8. You don’t have to be suicidal to call, but if you are in emotional distress, or you are worried about someone who may need crisis support, please make the call – someone is always there on the other end of the line. The call is confidential and free and available around the clock.
Today I am thankful for having crossed paths with a cowboy I now mourn, and I grieve for the losses of others, while hoping that in holding the memories of these dear lives, their loved ones will find comfort and healing. This Thanksgiving, consider lighting a candle in honor of those who have passed, and offer a prayer for the grieving to find healing. May your sorrows surrender to the joys of treasured memories.
Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.s