Dealing with suicide

Published 11:11 pm Saturday, August 29, 2009

Russell Neblett was a well-respected man in the Suffolk’s Bethlehem community.

A deacon and Sunday School teacher at Bethlehem Christian Church, he had led a youth group with his wife, Therese for several years. He was a member and past president of the Bethlehem Ruritan Club.

He was a devoted father, encouraging his two sons and one daughter through years of baseball, piano, band, field hockey and soccer.

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“We had a love that most couples don’t have these days,” Therese recalls. Her husband, always a bit of a joker, would send her flowers each Groundhog Day, just to be different from all the other husbands who would be sending their wives flowers on Valentine’s Day.

Somehow, shockingly, everything fell apart on May 10, 2008.

That was the day that Neblett’s wife came home and found him dead by his own hand in a recliner.

For Therese and her children, the months that have followed have been a struggle. They’ve tried to understand what was going on in Russell Neblett’s mind when he shot himself. They’ve tried to overcome feelings of anger and guilt.

The wounds left on the survivors have often been kept fresh by the constant picking of “What if … ?” in the backs of their minds, especially for the woman he left widowed after 31 years of marriage.

“If it had not been for good my Christian friends, my family and my faith in God, I don’t think I could have made it through this,” Therese said last week while sitting across from her counselor and Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Chris Gilchrist.

Gilchrist, she added, has also been instrumental in the healing process, encouraging her, among other things, to share her story with a newspaper reporter and to participate in the annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk.

The walk is a national event intended to help the survivors of suicide victims reach a place of healing and to promote awareness of the dangers of undiagnosed depression.

“Suicide is a major health issue in America,” Gilchrist said. It is the 11th leading cause of death, taking the lives of 32,000 victims a year. People die of suicide at twice the rate of homicide, she added. And in Hampton Roads, where the military has such a large presence, one in four suicide victims was a member of the military.

“Suicide is a medical, not a moral, matter,” she said. “Depressed thinking … undermines your strongest human instinct of all, that of survival.”

The Out of the Darkness Walk, set for Sept. 12 at Mt. Trashmore in Virginia Beach will include opportunities for survivors and friends to meet with mental health professionals, picnic and fellowship together, celebrate the lives that took place before the suicides took them and pursue healing.

“Even in a tragedy like this, you can find hope,” Gilchrist said.

Last year, members of Bethlehem Christian Church took a bus to Virginia Beach to participate in the event. They also continued Russell’s Groundhog Day tradition, sending his wife flowers.

The support has proved invaluable, Therese said.

“There were times when I thought, ‘Well, God, why can’t you just take me, too?’”

Recognizing her own ability to provide similar support to those who have lost loved ones to suicide, Therese said she is looking forward to this year’s Community Walk.

“If I can help somebody else know about this and keep them from going through the same thing, if I can make a difference for one person and their family … then it helps me,” she said.

For more information about the event, visit www.OutOfTheDarkness.org or call Chris Gilchrist at 483-3511.

For more information about symptoms of depression, the major warning signs of suicide or what to do when someone you know may be suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.