(Editor’s Note: Today marks the final installment in our month-long collaborative series with the Cottage Grove Sentinel, The Creswell Chronicle and Newport News-Times focusing on Oregon’s rising suicide rate. It was the first collaboration of this kind. And it won’t be the last. What follows is an editorial by Creswell Chronicle edior Erin Tierney, who reported on today’s final piece in our series. — Ned Hickson)
April 24, 2019 — I want to commend the subjects of the “Breaking the Silence” series for their bravery in coming forward about their experiences with suicide.
I sit in awe of their courage and candidness in telling their accounts, knowing it would be read by thousands. In this week’s piece, I am humbled by those I interviewed for trusting me to tell their story.
I always say that as a journalist, I am the vessel for which people can tell their stories. I am merely a transcriber; they are the ones who do all the work, the ones who make the story. It’s especially true in this case, and it was a pleasure to be part of their journey as Cora, Ashley, Eli and other loved ones learn to grow from the pain they have suffered.
The topic of suicide seems to bubble up in my career wherever I go. I was first introduced to the power of these conversations when I was serving as an editor in Pennsylvania in 2014.
It started with a woman by the name of Kathy Merrill, who came to the paper as she was trying to start an Out of the Darkness suicide survivor walk in our county.
She told me her experience with suicide; losing her husband, Carl. It was a heartbreaking story worth telling, and Kathy wanted to tell it.
Shortly thereafter, beloved comedian Robin Williams died by suicide. People couldn’t have been more shocked. The merit in expanding on the subject became clear.
And so began a series called “Stepping Out of the Shadows,” a series that, very similar to this one, recounted loss after loss of loved ones by suicide.
The series followed a woman who lost her husband; a man who lost his cousin; a daughter who lost her mom; a son who lost his mom; a mother who lost her son; a man who attempted suicide as a teen; and a woman who suffered from severe depression and anxiety — and how they grappled with the aftermath.
I remember them all so vividly. They’re the kind of interviews that stick with you, become part of you.
Just as the series titles suggest, it all starts with one story — one person to come out of the shadows, one person to break the silence.
That one story inspired another person to come forward, and another. And then another.
Kathy got her walk organized that year, and I attended as a reporter and as a supporter. People came out in droves to walk for their losses, and I felt so proud of Kathy and all she’d accomplished.
A memorial vigil was held in town next to a quaint gazebo after the series concluded. People lit candles, sang songs and I received the warmest embrace from one of my interviewees.
With tears in his eyes, he thanked me and said telling his story had helped him to heal. I couldn’t be more inspired, more touched by the whole experience.
And the same goes for this one.
We are proud to have partnered with The Cottage Grove Sentinel, Siuslaw News and Newport News-Times on this important subject this month. It’s a collaboration that rarely, if ever, occurs between community newspapers in Oregon, but is one that supports, strengthens and upholds local journalism, as well as its network of journalists.
It’s a collaboration that has enabled our newspapers to share resources and readership, to spread information far and wide for the betterment of all our communities. We’re thankful to have been a part of it.
Though the series has concluded, The Creswell Chronicle, The Cottage Grove Sentinel, Siuslaw News and Newport News-Times encourage people to keep talking; to let their stories be known; to continue to work toward healing; to watch for those who may be suffering silently; to try and help those in need.
Everybody is somebody’s loved one.
No one is immune to the pain of losing someone to suicide.