Zero Suicide

In April 2008, when I was 21 years old, my father took his own life.

My name is Marcus Ginn. I work for Canopy Children’s Solutions (Canopy) in the Development Department as the Donor Relations Manager. I serve as a member of Canopy’s Zero Suicide Task Force team. I want to use this opportunity to share my story and hopefully encourage others under the Canopy to do the same. My story is no more “important,” “worse,” “better” than anyone else. All of our stories matter because we all have experienced different challenges.

Two weeks’ prior, my father underwent open-heart surgery, and as the doctor would tell us, “It could not have gone better.” My father was the Vice President of a local bank. While he was recovering from the procedure, the bank was undergoing internal audits. I would later find out that the auditors were investigating improper practices managed by my father.

During this time, I was home from college helping my mother take care of my dad while he recovered. I will never forget when I arrived home from running errands and my dad’s car was not there. Knowing that the doctor had not cleared him to drive, I wondered why he was not home. I began calling my dad but didn’t get an answer. I then contacted my family and close friends of my dad to see if they had talked to him or had seen him. Again, nothing.

On May 18, 2008, approximately 35 days after my father went missing, two turkey hunters would begin their morning hunt. It was a beautiful Sunday morning without a cloud in the sky. The two hunters were going after a turkey they had been trying to harvest all season, but with no luck. This turkey was mature, intelligent, and almost always with a hen, reducing their odds of getting close. This particular day, that turkey would show up, and the hunters, eager with excitement, would follow his every step for over half a mile. They noticed a vehicle parked under a tree as they continued their trek. Now cautious, they continued to watch the turkey as it approached closer to the car. They quickly stopped their hunt and focused on that vehicle, becoming aware that something was wrong. That is when my father was found.

It is hard to describe the feeling of ambiguous loss. Living with the uncertainty and hope of finding out what happened to my dad would produce guilt, fear, regret, and anger stages. Did my father not love us? Did he need a month away to figure things out? Would he come back to harm us? Those are a few thoughts that went through my head. Through all of this, I never lost my faith in the Lord. I began to pray. The words from Jeremiah 29:11-12 would speak to me.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.” – Jeremiah 29:11-12

God did listen! Brigitte Nicole describes it perfectly – “Certain people enter our life at the perfect time, for the most beautiful reasons, and you know right away it’s a gift from God.”

There is a reason those two hunters were there that day. Our family now had the answer to all our questions. All our worry, fear, and the horrific unknown were lifted. I hesitate to use the word “closure” because, for me, it implies this is where it ends. After 22 years of memories with my father, then this traumatic situation in our lives, were we supposed to forget it all and just go back to living in Pleasantville? No, that’s not how it works. When we rob the present of its reality, it becomes easy to overlook the opportunities to make something positive of the present situation. For me, this was not the end. It was just the beginning.

The beginning of healing and a new perspective on life. My father’s death not only changed my life, but I soon realized it gave it meaning.

“If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.” ― Viktor Frankl

You see, until that moment, I thought my family was “perfect.” In a sense, we were like the family in the movie Pleasantville. The people of Pleasantville wanted everything “Pleasant” or “Perfect.” We were a “model” family. That sudden loss of my closest male figure would slowly but surely help me realize that perfection is the enemy of reality. My family did not share personal feelings very often. I never saw my father cry or be vulnerable. For the most part, I was unaware of how to express my feelings until following my father’s death.

As a result of our fear of being vulnerable, we kept everything built up inside to avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. How would we be judged if we were vulnerable? I do not blame my parents for this because I assume it was the same way in their household.

Listen to what Brene Brown says in her book Daring Greatly about vulnerability. I encourage you not just to read these words, but study them and implement this into your own life. “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.” This was hard for me and took time. I had to fundamentally change my attitude towards life. When I started to understand vulnerability and started sharing my feelings, it was as if God looked right at me with a smile and said, “I told you so.”

When my dad received the news that he would potentially be terminated from his position at the bank, negative thoughts took over. The future to him at that moment seemed hopeless. I assumed shame, embarrassment, and worthlessness were all he could think of. Through suffering, he lost hope. My father let his past make the present less real with all its horrors. He let his mind tell him that he would no longer be worthy or matter to anyone because of what he did.

He lost sight of the fact that he didn’t have to do anything to prove that he mattered or was worthy; it’s the same as earning God’s love. You don’t EARN God’s love; because God already loves you, you already matter. You are valuable, no matter your past, intellectual ability, present, or future circumstances. Understanding that God loves us, we are allowed to impact the world around us. Ultimately, this revelation is the beginning, not the end.

I learned to find hope in meaning.

Frankl describes this perfectly, “Human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have a meaning, and that this infinite meaning of life includes suffering. You must not lose hope but should keep the courage in the certainty that the hopelessness of our struggle did not detract from its dignity and its meaning. Someone looks down on each of us in difficult hours-a friend, a wife, somebody alive or dead, or a God.”

If my dad only knew that no matter what circumstances he was facing or how ashamed he felt, he would always be loved and supported. I often wonder, would my family look different today if there weren’t a stigma associated with mental health? Would my father still be here? What if someone had intervened before he took his life and helped him understand that his thoughts were not his reality? That his final action would affect more than just him, that it would have a ripple effect on our family, our friends, and even our family’s future generations. That he owed it to himself, his family, and his friends to explore every possible avenue before taking his final step. Call a psychologist. Talk to a therapist. Try medication. Keep busy. Try anything.

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”- Friedrich Nietzsche.

When I was asked to sit on the Zero Suicide Task Force, I had no hesitation and was honored to have the opportunity. I have forgiven my father, but I now feel obligated to help others and hopefully prevent this from happening to anyone else. There is so much stigma around taking care of our mental health and talking about suicide that I feel a responsibility to use my voice and my story to help others. Because of the Zero Suicide Task Force, I have an opportunity to shine a light on mental health.

We must acknowledge that Canopy sees its’ employees as human beings first and foremost, and care for us deeply. Our organization recognized the huge impact of suicide, thus creating a team of professionals, from different backgrounds and cultures, to implement a Zero Suicide plan. We want our organization to be a place where children and families can find the solutions they need to be wrapped in hope for their future as all children can be a success story.

Just like in our individual lives, the first thing the task force did, after introducing ourselves of course, was to set our Hope Goal. Our hope goal was the foundation for what we can build our Zero Suicide plan on.

Hope Goal – “We will develop confident and competent families and professionals who are obsessed with caring for others.”

Canopy is committed to equipping all staff with the tools to ensure all children receiving our solutions get the very best care. Together, the Task Force will develop resources to help employees identify individuals contemplating suicide, ways to communicate effectively with these individuals, as well as providing education of different therapies or treatments available. Our children and families deserve staff that are equipped to provide any tools necessary to ensure that every child can be a success story. After all, one death by suicide is too many.

I want to thank my fellow task force members for their willingness to commit their time to this critical task. However, as we move forward, your support is crucial for building a Zero Suicide plan that sets our organization up for success. The first step is participating in Zero Suicide Survey that will come out the end of February. Thank you for reading my story. I end with one of my all time favorite quotes. It’s from the basketball coach Jim Valvano.

“Don’t give up… don’t ever give up!” – Jimmy V