World Suicide Prevention Day, a Personal Story

Don’t be afraid to talk

Don’t be afraid to talk

World Suicide Prevention Day, an event taking place today with the theme “Working Together to Prevent Suicide.” This effort was launched in 2003 by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO), the date of September 10 is annually used to raise awareness surrounding the conditions that lead to 800,000 deaths every year. They have a Community Engagement Toolkit for download.

A few thoughts on getting through, what happens after a suicide, when you are the one(s) that are left. What do you do, how do you cope and make sense of things? This is a personal story of my family.

My Aunt Beth has hosted a beautiful event for the past three years in the memory of my Uncle Dennis who committed suicide on January 25, 2014; he is my Mom’s brother. #wirgowskifootballcampforkids

Ron Earl  & Dick Horning at the 3rd annual football camp in honor of Beth’s late husband Dennis Wirgowski

Ron Earl & Dick Horning at the 3rd annual football camp in honor of Beth’s late husband Dennis Wirgowski

This is a terrific article on this year’s camp, Dennis Wirgowski Free Football Camp for Kids, Bay City, MI.

The camp is open at no cost to the first 200 kids in grades 3–6 who register. The noon-4 p.m. camp features the Bay City Central coaching staff and players as well as other area coaches. Participants receive a T-shirt and a light lunch. The day includes instruction at various stations, each with an emphasis on the Play Safe, Play Smart motto.

This year’s happened Sunday August 19th in Bay City, MI — this video shows the kids and volunteers in action.

My family is a bunch of proud Michiganders, the ones who show our hands as a mitten and point at it when we say where we are from. My Uncle lived in Michigan at the beach all of his adult life. My Aunt and Uncle’s home shows their love of Southern California, beach life and all of those surfing, hang ten, hang loose trappings. He would love where I live in Marina del Rey.

He was an icon in my life.

He used to take my cousin, my brother and me for ice creams in his sparkly purple convertible beach dune buggy in the middle of Michigan on hot Summer days. Our hair in our faces, Neapolitan goodness dripping down our arms, tons of giggles and letting us “drive” when we were in big parking lots.

He was the epitome 70’s super-fly cool when we were kids, with platform shoes, matching burgundy bell-bottomed pants and those wide collared shirts, disco moves, and that big mustache.

He also was our Bay City Michigan Football Star, one along with my Uncle Nigel, who will be inducted into the Bay City Sports Hall of Fame this October who also played for Purdue University. My Uncle Dennis was one of those in Bay City that folks considered one “who made it” and lived the glamorous life of a professional athlete in the early 70’s around the time when I was born. And was one who came back to Bay City after all of that and was a big presence in the local community.

Uncle Dennis was a defensive end. He played his college football at Purdue University and professionally was a ninth-round draft pick in the NFL for the Boston Patriots (later the New England Patriots) and also played for the Philadelphia Eagles. Six seasons in total for the NFL, chasing down the likes of Joe Namath, O.J. Simpson, and Bob Griese.

Wirgowski- Eagles.jpg

Later in life he retired and he and my Aunt Beth lived and played on the beach with their dogs and friends. For a while, he owned a local bar, worked for years at Stevens Worldwide Van Lines and went to the gym at the local YMCA every day. My Aunt Beth is a nurse, giving her time to helping patients get through the tough stuff.

My Uncle Dennis was 66 when he took his own life a few short years ago. As you can imagine our family’s world was rocked. This is the story of many NFL players (in an article from Bob Holher from The Boston Globe) Big Men With Broken Minds: The Largely Forgotten Faces of the Patriots Franchise who suffered from depression and other neurological diseases.

I loved my Uncle so and remember him fondly. The hero in this story is my Aunt and his wife Beth, the survivor of a tragic loss.

With suicide, there is the not knowing why — that is the thing, even if there is a note or signs. The survivors deal with the guilt of “why didn’t I see it,” “how could I not have known,” “Why didn’t I answer that phone call…” for each person and family its different and yet the same. Depression is so easily masked and hard to see.

There are people far smarter and trained than I that give good counsel on this subject so this is simply my perspective of how I’ve dealt with it and how my family has dealt with it.

I couldn’t be prouder of Beth by her taking action, using her voice and helping others who have and are going through this and providing a safer training for kids interested in playing football. She is amazing, and I know every day she is taking those good steps forward even when it’s tough. Everyone is different in how they deal with it, but this has been the path for our family. Along with talking about it with each other, trying not to make sense of it, but supporting each other with the loss.

Much love to my family, Aunt Beth, my Mom, my Dad, Aunt Mary and Uncle Nigel and Aunt Barb for all the hard work they put in on the event and all of our Wirgowski clan and dear friends who support Beth every day. In keeping his memory alive and moving your life forward Aunt Beth, I know he is always watching and seeing that beautiful dance and goodness that you are making in our world.

On this day and month and every day of suicide awareness, know that you are never alone and there are resources and hotlines world-wide that are open 24 hours a day and survivors groups that are there for support.

I feel the more we talk about suicide and relate our stories to each other; we heal, we know that we all aren’t alone in this world. Which is why I choose to write about my Uncle. Empathy makes us human, telling stories and our actions make us warriors in this fight.

Suicide Prevention Hotlines and Resources

United States — Call 1–800–273–8255, Available 24 hours everyday

Twitter: @800273TALK: 1–800–273–8255 — The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers free, confidential crisis counseling 24/7/365. You don’t have to be suicidal to call. Acct not monitored 24/7.

Twitter: @TrevorProject — The leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth. The Trevor Lifeline: 866.488.7386.

LGBTQ Hotline: 1–866–488–7386

Twitter: @TransLifeline: 1–877–565–8860 — Crisis support Hotline for #transfolks. USA: (877) 565–8860 / Canada: (877) 330–6366. Ask about our Microgrants for legal fees, name changes, & updated IDs.

Don’t like phones? Twitter: @CrisisTextLine: Text START to 741741 — Free support by text, 24/7. Text TWT to 741741 in the United States or 686868 in Canada.


Written by Head Maven & CEO, Heather (hedda) Newman, Creative Maven

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