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Key to suicide prevention may lie in sharing, caring, according to speakers

Cathy Reynolds opens a presentation about suicide

By COLLIN BROOKS

Staff Writer

[email protected]

Septembers are hard for Daniel Boone Consumer and Science teacher Cathy Reynolds.

They didn’t used to be, but after May 16, 2013, nothing has been the same.

You wouldn’t have been able to tell this past Friday morning, just two days into fall, as the long-time teacher walked back and forth across the seats of a row of chairs in front of a group of kids inside the library at the high school where she teaches. Her spunkiness is something that her students and peers value.

That boldness and caring bleeds through Reynolds’ voice whenever she speaks about something that she is passionate about. That was the tone of her voice as she mentioned her daughter, Samantha, who took her own life when she was 24 years old.

Samantha graduated from Daniel Boone in 2006 and Reynolds describes her daughter as loving and compassionate. Samantha saw things in people that others maybe didn’t see, taking the extra time to examine situations and friends before she committed.

“She was always the kid that had it together and I never worried about her or what she was doing,” Reynolds said. “She graduated from ETSU and had a degree in public health and worked for a nursing home at the time. She was in a job transition and we thought everything was going okay, and then evidently it wasn’t.”

That day in May is rehashed for Reynolds every September during Suicide Awareness month, but she shares her message to make sure people are aware of the signs that she didn’t see. That way, they will hopefully never feel the pain that she and her family live with.

“On that day, my life was forever changed,” Reynolds told the onlooking students.

Reynolds said that her life has never returned to “normal,” but she now lives at a new normal, which includes her safe place in her classroom.

That is where Reynolds returned in August 2013, just months after she lost her daughter.

Her new normal also contains a message of hope and helping kids realize that life is so much bigger than the tough times that they might be going through.

“Hope is a big word for me, I love that word,” Reynolds said. “I feel like that is what everyone has given me. Because when I came back to school the following August, my kids were so good to me. They looked at me not with sad faces and they took care of me and allowed me to be who I was and who I am now.”

Reynolds said that she tells the 18 and under crowd she interacts with on a daily basis that they need to be kind to their classmates and other people. Be nice to people and if they are struggling, then talk to them — and if they don’t know what to do, then find somebody that does.

That was a message that Heatherly Sifford, a trauma injury prevention coordinator with the Northeast Suicide Prevention Network was delivering to that same crowd after Reynolds gave her speech last Friday.

“We need to take a stand, we need to be supportive of each other and we need to learn about the warning signs and how we can help someone that is in that moment of crisis,” Sifford said.

Sifford said that she never thought that she would be prepared to talk to someone about taking his or her own life. “It’s not an easy subject to talk about,” Sifford said.

It became more personal for her when one of her best friend’s sons decided to take his own life almost two years ago. His name was Jared Oler and he was a student at David Crockett.

“He was the light of the room,” Sifford said. “Everyone liked to be around him and he was support for a lot of his friends. So when I tell you that Jared’s death was very unexpected, that would be an understatement.”

Sifford said that 12 people between the ages of 10-24 commit suicide every day in the state of Tennessee and Tennessee currently ranks 18th in the nation in suicide rates. So parents, friends and students need to be prepared to intervene if they feel like someone is thinking about suicide.

“It’s not always going to be real simple or easy to notice…but we have to be able to sensitively talk to people who are seriously considering taking their life,” Sifford said. “We don’t want to put them on the defense, we just want to open up.

“Make sure you take it seriously and keep on eye on the warning signs. If you are not sure, ask. I think as a society there are too many times that we are scared to approach it because we feel like we might plant a seed in someone’s mind. So we want people to know, this isn’t what we are doing. We are opening up because we care.”

Reynolds said that while some may think that suicide will solve their problems, it doesn’t.

“It just transfers (them.) Whatever she was going through has transferred on to us and we deal with it on a different level because we don’t know what it was,” Reynolds said.  “But we have to deal with the fact that she is gone.”

Each Thursday during the month of September, Reynolds and Daniel Boone students wear yellow as a reminder of Suicide Prevention month and they also participate in other events including writing on Post-It notes with the answer to the question of why they stay alive.

Reynolds also believes strongly in programs like “To Write Love on Her Arms” and “Project Semicolon”, which uses the semicolon as a symbol to believe that this is not the end but a new beginning. She loves programs like those whose purpose is to make sure that no one makes the decision that her daughter did.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about her, or miss her, and wonder what could we have done,” Reynolds said. “There are always whys. But you have to come to a point that you aren’t ever going to know.”