A Life Interrupted

                Three years ago this month, I held a Continuing Legal Education seminar in Raleigh at the N.C. State University Club.  In attendance that day was a young paralegal from a small city in eastern North Carolina. She was one of the first to arrive, and we made some small talk, and then she walked over to a table where I had put out some of my books for sale and said she wanted to buy one.  She was there for the whole day, seemed attentive, interested, and was exceedingly gracious.


                A few days later, I got an email from her, asking if we could have lunch one day and just talk. I wrote her back and agreed to do so. A week went by, and I had not heard anything further from her, so I wrote a second time, and this time, she emailed back to say that she had been out sick and would get with me soon.


                I never heard from her again. Over the years, I have tried to find out where she was and how she was doing. A little more than a week ago in Rocky Mount, I got my answer.  Several years ago, after a long time battling demons within her, she shot and killed herself.


                She is the second person who has heard me speak who has ended a life too soon. A goodly number of people who have attended my seminars have told me of friends or family members who have also done so.   Not too many years ago, one of my best friends killed himself when he could not deal with the fact that he had no more money.


                Several years ago, a prominent North Carolina lawyer who also teaches Professionalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Law School asked me to speak more directly on the issue of suicide. I told him I was reluctant to do so because not many people wanted to hear about such a down subject. He persisted and said “but that is what people need to hear…Jim, in your book, you write that you considered it yourself…twice…but you didn’t…people need to hear why not”.


                The latest edition of Newsweek magazine, a double issue dated May 24 and 31, has on its back page, titled “Backstory”, a listing of “What should you really be afraid of?” Topping the list are statistics that show that in 2008, in the United States, there were 14, 180 murders.  But in 2006, using the most recent U.S. data available, there were 33,289 suicides.  Suicide is now listed as the 11th ranked cause of death in this country, and it is estimated that 90% of these deaths are attributed to diagnosable mental disorders.


                All of which makes me very sad. I am sad about the vast number of deaths, but I am probably most sad just now for the death of my friend. 


                Late last year, I asked for and received permission from the State Bar in North Carolina to hold a one hour mental health course on the “Issue of Suicide and Living Your Life in Technicolor”.  I have only done this program once. I now want to hold it every chance I get.


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