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A recent article in The Columbus Dispatch by Rita Price
To make sense of her world and to find a way to trudge along with a smile, Sarah Lee Jefferson had to reject her father’s last words.
“My dad didn’t leave a note,” she said. “He just called my mom and left a message, saying, ‘It is what it is.’ ”
No, Jefferson still thinks every time she hears the phrase. It is what you make it.
That view fuels the Ohio State University student’s efforts to help understand and prevent suicide. Jefferson, 26, is the founder and chairwoman of the new central Ohio chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Until she took on the project, the national organization, which joins others this week to mark National Suicide Prevention Week, didn’t have a presence in the area.
“People think it’s all about pamphlets,” Jefferson said. “We just had a family who had a loss, and we went and delivered food to them. We do what’s needed.”
Lisa Brattain, the foundation’s Ohio- and Indiana-area director, expects the new chapter to be busy. Many people affected by suicide discover that they don’t want to be alone in their pain.
“The sitting with it, and the coulda-shoulda-
wouldas, can get ugly real fast,” said Brattain, whose son took his life in 2006. “This is my way of being able to go after the illness that went after my child.”
Chapter members work to raise awareness, dispel myths and educate people about the complex mental-health issues that lead to suicide. About 38,000 people die by suicide each year, making it the nation’s 10th most common cause of death.
People ages 45 to 64 years old — not teens — have the highest rates of suicide, according federal statistics. Men are far more likely than women to die by suicide, and whites have higher rates than other races.
In some ways, Jefferson said, her dad was typical.
Mark Lee Jefferson owned a successful car dealership in the Richmond, Va., area. He was a past grand master of the Masons, supported other charities and didn’t want his daughter to be spoiled.
“We were wealthy, and I was lucky to grow up the way I did,” Sarah Jefferson said. “He used to say that if I wanted those American Girl dolls, I had to work for ’em.”
But when his business fell apart, Mr. Jefferson couldn’t cope. “He couldn’t bring himself to go work for anyone else,” she said. “It was pride more than anything. He had lost his company, and that’s when he couldn’t get off the couch.”
Mr. Jefferson struggled to even talk about his depression. He fled to Mexico, where he took his life in a hotel room on Sept. 5, 2006, at age 49. His family learned of his death two days later.
“It’s called a flashbulb memory. I can tell you every single thing about that day,” his daughter said, wiping tears.
Most of the people who volunteer with the foundation are survivors, having lost a loved one to suicide or wrestled with it themselves. Sarah Jefferson said the new chapter will work to send the right help to those in need.
“We dispatch ourselves,” she said. “We can tell you what maybe a psychologist can’t: This sucks."