I felt Powerless to #BeThere to “Protect my Ohana”

  • Published
  • By Machelle Terrell
  • 15th Wing Suicide Prevention

I will never forget the devastating shock.  I had no idea she wanted to die—she was smart, beautiful, and quite hilarious. She had expressed excitement about her spring break trip to California to see the Broadway play, Hamilton.  Our family was struggling, but what could have made her feel like this? 

You will be surprised by who and how many people are touched by the issue of suicide.  My young adult child who I admire, love, and respect sent me a message on February 21 stating, “I’m okay but I can’t talk for the next few days… Phone broke.”  I attempted to clarify but no response.

I never expected what happened next.  I received a text message around 9 p.m. on February 23 from my daughter’s college roommate.  She asked if I spoke with my daughter because nobody saw or heard from her in three days.  I immediately picked up the phone and called her roommate.  She explained, “Officer McKenna is here at our apartment to take a missing person’s report.”

I remained calmed and spoke with the officer to ask what I could do to assist with locating my daughter.  He requested information about her phone so they could ping it.  He relayed if she was found he could only share she was okay and could not reveal her location.

I thanked him and telephoned my husband to inform him of the situation.  He proceeded to contact our phone provider and gather necessary information while I called those close to me to pray. Again, I called my daughter’s roommate to gather more information.  She explained my daughter left a suicide note and the rent for the next 6 months.

I knew she was having a hard time because she told me she felt depressed and things were not going well.  Each day I called, sent an encouraging message and instructed her to make an appointment with her school counseling services.  She eventually responded via text that she had an appointment and she would be fine.

Now, I wondered where I went wrong.  I am the Suicide Prevention Program Manager who teaches Air Force military, civilian, and family members daily about suicide prevention. How could I miss the signs of suicide?  I felt so afraid, helpless, and powerless as I waited to hear from the officer after we provided him the information.  I felt like I could not breathe as I tried to block out the thought that I would never see her again. An hour felt like 20 hours as I prayed and pleaded with God.  I called the nice officer every thirty minutes for an update.  He explained they contacted the local hospitals, jails, etc. but no luck. 

Our phone provider sent my daughter’s incoming and outgoing call log for the days requested. She did not answer any incoming calls for the past three days and she only had two outgoing calls……Both to 911.  I was puzzled but my faith and hope were growing stronger.

Finally, I received a call from Officer McKenna.  He stated, my daughter was safe and would soon call me.  He explained how happy he was for me and my family.  I was no closer to knowing her whereabouts but I gave God a heartfelt praise and called those close to me to share the good news!

I later learned my daughter was on a bridge and was going to jump to her death.  But for whatever reason she changed her mind and called the local hospital and 911 to come and get her.  Turns out she completed a safety plan with the therapist which included these actions.  I truly believe the safety plan was essential in a time when it was difficult for her to think clearly. 

I always encouraged my children to ask for help but, I realize that I was not practicing what I preach.  During this season of my life I was dealing with family medical problems, financial obligations, marital problems, college recruitment challenges with my son, and now my daughter in the hospital for wanting to end her life.  Of course, I was very busy and committed to my work as I was hosting a DoD team to pilot a Suicide Prevention Program called Resources Exist Asking Can Help.

After hosting the R.E.A.C.H Team, I took leave to #BeThere for my daughter but never once gave my leaders a chance to support me and my family. We recently suffered a loss in the unit and I did not want to take their time away from the mission.  To be transparent, I was not connected enough with my leaders to be open and honest about my challenges.    

There are a few things I hope others will take from me sharing my story:  First, using supportive services and completing a safety plan with your provider can save a life.  All of our jobs are important but never forget to #BeThere for your family.  I did not feel included or connected with my leaders. If we are going to Protect Our Ohana then we all must make every effort to #ConnectToProtect.  Check in with neighbors, co-workers, and loved ones, educate yourself on the resources, follow-up with those who are struggling to make sure the support is working, and attend personal and life skills webinars.