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Guest opinion: Reach out. You are loved more than you know

By Camille Heckmann - | Feb 28, 2024

Courtesy photo

Camille Heckmann

My brother took his life on Feb. 13, 2023. I received a distressed but slowly worded call from my mom around noon. Was it 1:30? I can’t remember. Adam left his house early that morning, leaving his wallet, two cellphones, his running shoes and any other telltale signs that he was either on an errand or a trail run. No, he had no intention of returning home.

“Adam is dead.”

That text came 30 minutes later. It stopped my breath, made my blood run cold and in reverse, time screeching to a halt as I frantically grasped an imaginary option where those words were not actual. Adam is not dead. He is 49, the most wonderful father and husband to Heidi, my supercapable, intelligent sister-in-law, and the brother I traveled the world with as teens to 20-somethings; he is alive. ALIVE. LIVING. ALIVE AND NOT DEAD. No, he is not. Adam is dead.

His funeral was by far the worst and most tragic weekend and week leading up to it. Do you know how to plan a funeral? Well, I didn’t do much. My sisters, the indomitable three forces of good on this planet, my family’s stay and spine, whisked into motion and created the swan song that heralded this fateful event into fruition.

Here’s how you plan a funeral after tragedy:

  • Stare at a wall for a good 30 minutes.
  • Sporadically burst into ugly sobs.
  • Look at the person next to you, seeing if they can reverse time and stop the actions that led to this moment. They can’t, so you both start crying.
  • Watch your sister-in-law as she goes through the various levels of realization: The life insurance policy was negated for suicide? How do I buy a burial plot? Did my car pass inspection yet, or do I have to repair the expensive car on top of a funeral this week? Have my kids had dinner? What do I do now?

I was still trying to figure out how to change back to my maiden name since my divorce, and now I was looking at her, my widowed SIL, thinking, HOW DID WE GET HERE?

We didn’t know. No one knew that Adam was suffering in silence.

In recent years, the prevalence of mental health problems has risen, giving evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated already existing social ills.

My whole life, I have been acutely aware of humanity’s intense desire for human connection. After my brother’s death, however, I now wonder what the total population of our society is that walks among us, crippled with the fear of expressing their vulnerability, depression and truth. We need help.

I polled friends on Facebook about it with this question, leaving it obtuse for a range of responses: “What is the most pressing social issue that we need to address and correct within society?” Out of 49 responses, 13 were directed toward a lack of openness regarding our mental health, vulnerabilities and sadness. The vast majority of respondents spoke of our societal mental health crisis.

One respondent wrote, “Conversations about vulnerability and shame. I genuinely believe so many social issues could be resolved if people could learn about and be receptive to developing an understanding of vulnerability and shame. Improved authentic communication would yield exponentially more productive conversations.”

Our national mental health crisis has broken a critical point and should be considered a national emergency.

Even with groups we connect with online via social media or other sharing platforms, technological connection pales compared to real life, which is necessary for overall wellness.

Identification with groups can elevate symptoms of depression and anxiety within vulnerable people and is also a better predictor of well-being than frequency of social contact. However, connection quality remains a crucial factor in authenticity manifested in people. You have to FEEL like it’s safe to say I’m not OK.

It is very possible to feel lonely on a crowded train. You can feel very alone in your family. Deep despair can sit in the heart, even in a sea of revelry. We need to talk about this openly.

Loneliness is more common among men. A recent survey found 63% of men consider themselves lonely, compared with 58% of women.

Social media use was also tied to loneliness, with 73% of very heavy social media users considered lonely, compared with 52% of light users.

However, feelings of isolation were prevalent across generations. Gen Z — people aged 18 to 22 when surveyed — had the highest average loneliness score on the 80-point scale (around 80), and boomers had the lowest (around 43). We might think of older people as the loneliest, but this pattern is consistent with results from other studies. Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at Brigham Young University, states: “We need to recognize that no one is immune.”

Men also report having less emotionally intimate friendships. Only 30% of men reported having a private conversation with a friend during which they shared a personal feeling in the last week, according to a 2021 survey by the Survey Center on American Life. For women, this number was 48%.

Plus, fewer men have sought professional help, according to data from Statista. In 2020, more than one-fifth, 22.2%, of women in the United States reported receiving mental health treatment or counseling in the past. Only 11.3% of men said the same.

Look at an emotional vibration analysis chart. We know that certain emotions expand our human experience while others contract. Of the highest, enlightenment, peace, joy and love are the emotions that vibrate at the highest frequencies. Love can transform lives — namely, your own, completely.

The lowest frequency? It’s not a surprise that the opposite of love is fear. From there, you can tumble if grief goes unchecked into apathy, guilt and shame.

The greatest act of self-love is to open space within yourself to be vulnerable and bravely authentic.

Although we all occasionally feel we aren’t good enough, persistent feelings of inadequacy aren’t something you should “learn to live with.” Unaddressed, these feelings will become a bigger problem for anyone who lets them spin and fester.

If you feel this has become a problem for you or someone you love, help and ways to change these feelings are there.

Help is available.

I can say, with total confidence, that if you tell someone — ANYONE — that you are struggling and having feelings of self-harm, they will hold you until you feel safe. Think of the most loved person in your life. What if they told you they were struggling? How would you respond?

People are there who will do the exact same thing for you.

Not one more person should feel that alone.

What can we do as a community to remedy this problem?

First off, check on your people. You know who I’m talking about.

Then — most importantly! — do the work on yourself. Love is a powerful emotion, energy and motivator. When you take the time and effort necessary to learn how to love yourself truly, bravery follows.

And never, ever, be afraid to ask for help.

We will come.

You are loved.

There is a lifeline available 24/7. You can text or call 988.

The 988 Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in the United States.

For my big brother Adam: We are so sorry. We didn’t know. We love you so much.

Born and raised under the shadow of Mount Timpanogos, Camille Heckmann is relieved to be back in Utah County. A grad school dropout, former Army wife, mother to four kids and 21 moves, all followed by divorce and tragedy during her adult life, have provided enough texture to observe and write about the human condition. You can follow her exploits and writing career on Instagram at @millie_writer.


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