I lost a dear friend to suicide this week

Photo by Levi XU on Unsplash

I lost a dear friend and colleague, Greg Eells, this week to suicide. I feel gutted and heartbroken.

The Eells family moved to Ithaca soon after we did. Like us, they joined St. Paul’s United Methodist Church and our families were in a small group together for several years. Our children played together and went to Sunday School and youth group together.

Greg came to Ithaca to direct Cornell’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) program. He was a compassionate and skillful leader, who expanded and strengthened Cornell’s mental health services and provided particular expertise in the year that six Cornell students took their own lives. While at Cornell, he served as president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, which gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 for his work on university healthcare systems.

Greg was a warm, enthusiastic person who exuded love and strength. When my own daughter needed psychological support in high school, I went to Greg for advice and he helped us connect to the resources we needed.

Six months ago Greg became director of the CAPS program at the University of Pennsylvania, which has faced 14 student suicides since 2013. Tragically, on Monday morning, he ended his own life.

This week is Suicide Awareness Week. As I confront my own grief and bewilderment, I am also becoming more aware of what suicide does and does not mean, and how to respond. I am learning to avoid judgment and not to seek simplistic explanations for Greg’s death. I am learning that it is important to talk openly about suicide.

Greg’s legacy makes me exquisitely grateful for people who work in mental health-related professions. I am grateful for Rick Eby, Jennifer Miller and Rachelle DeFrancisco who provide counseling services to our students, and to Oaklawn, who partners with us in these services.

I know that many of you have also been touched deeply by suicide. My heart goes out to you. I share with you this prayer that I have found meaningful during this week from Faith.Hope.Life, a campaign by an ecumenical organization that resources faith communities on issues of mental health, including suicide prevention and response.

God of all mercy, 

From whose love nothing can separate us, we pray this day for all persons dealing with mental illness and those who love and care for them.

Especially this day, we pray for all whose lives have been touched by suicide, for those who have died by suicide and those who have attempted it.

We pray for those who, because of mental health challenges such as depression, PTSD, or bipolar disorder, live with thoughts of suicide.

We pray for those who live in despair and without hope because of poverty or discrimination.

We pray for families and friends, colleagues and co-workers, who have been touched by the suicide of a loved one,

We pray for counselors and therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists, for pastors, rabbis, priests, and imams, and for all who seek to help.

And we pray, too, that you might give us the courage and wisdom to be there for others in distress, to offer your love and our care, to help break the silence and change the conversation about suicide, to be your listening ear, your hands, and your heart for others.

Amen. Contributed by Rev. Talitha Arnold, United Church of Christ, Santa Fe, NM

Note: If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, call the 24-7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text TALK to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

Rebecca Stoltzfus