Mountains and Valleys

Good morning! I went hiking yesterday with some friends. We started from Gardner Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains to the top of Mount Wrightston, at an elevation of 9456 feet. It is the tallest of the “sky islands” that surround Tucson. The elevation gain from the start of the hike to the top was 3300 feet. The view from the top was stunning! I loved hearing the birds sing, the smell of the oaks and pines and the beautiful Arizona ash and Arizona sycamore. Most of all, I loved visiting with the others in our group. They are wonderful people.

From Mount Wrightson, we could see Mount Graham in the Pinaleño’s, the Chiricahua’s, the Mule Mountains, the Whetstone’s, the Dragoon’s, the Huachuca’s, the Catalinas, others that I don’t know the names of, and even mountains into Mexico. What an amazing perspective! I was stuck by what seemed to be an optical illusion: in the Rincon Mountains, Mica Mountain is at a higher elevation than Rincon Peak. However, just eyeballing it, Rincon Peak SEEMS to be higher. Is that because Rincon Peak is more “pointed” and Mica Mountain is more “rounded”? Or is it because Mica Mountain is further away? I don’t know. The other thing that one of our hiking partners pointed out was how relatively “small” the Whetstone’s appeared to be when viewed from Mount Wrightston; they are about 2,000 feet lower. However, as we came down Mount Wrightston and as we drove back toward Benson, the Whetstone’s appeared to be larger again. 

Isn’t that like life? Perspective is SO important!

When I attended the suicidology conference in Denver a few weeks ago, one of the speakers mentioned Richard Nixon’s farewell speech when he resigned as president of the U.S in 1974. In this speech, Nixon quotes Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote the following in his journal after his young daughter’s death, “And when my heart’s dearest died — died, the light went from my life forever.”  Nixon then comments, “[Theodore Roosevelt] thought the light had gone from his life forever — but he went on. And he not only became President but, as an ex-President, he served his country always in the arena, tempestuous, strong, sometimes wrong, sometimes right, but he was a man.” In response to Theodore Roosevelt’s statement that the light had left his life forever, Nixon observes, “Not true. It’s only a beginning — always. The young must know it; the old must know it. It must always sustain us because the greatness comes not when things go always good for you, but the greatness comes when you are really tested, when you take some knocks, some disappointments, when sadness comes; because only if you’ve been in the deepest valley can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.”

As we hiked, the vegetation and birds changed, depending on the current elevation. Even in the same micro-environment, some birds eat insects in the air; others eat seeds on the ground; others drink nectar from flowers; yet others eat dead animals. Everything has its purpose and season. What is my current purpose and season?

One of my hiking companions shared the story of his father’s conversion to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. That was very tender. He also spoke of all those who mentored him when he was growing up who helped him before his father was ready to assume that role. It made me think of all those who have mentored me over the years; I hope I can “pay forward” their generosity as they loved me and taught me.

For me, hiking UP is difficult because it makes me huff and puff from the exertion. However, hiking DOWN is actually MORE difficult; my knees and quads were VERY fatigued by the end of the hike from putting the “brakes” on as we descended; my quads were so spent that they were quivering. One of my hiking companions and I were talking about that. I wondered aloud, “How does one train for hiking downhill?” At first, neither of us could think of anything, but then I said, “I guess by hiking downhill!” How do I “train” for the difficulties of life? There are several potential responses to this question, but one of the responses is by “[pressing] forward with steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and love of God and of all men.” Just keep moving, “continually holding fast to the rod of iron.”

As we returned home, I was exhausted, but exhilarated, knowing what I had accomplished. I want to repeat a similar exertion sometime in the near future so that I can build on the conditioning that I experienced yesterday.

We returned home in the afternoon. I then attended the baptism of a very courageous lady. She suffers from a severe medical condition and lives alone. I thought of how physically weak she is, but of how spiritually and emotionally strong she is. It occurred to me that part of the reason she is so spiritually and emotionally strong is BECAUSE of her medical condition and loneliness. If I choose to endure my trials with faith in God’s plan and in the Atonement of His Son, Jesus Christ, I can experience true joy and growth and strength.

Written by Carter

American Association of Suicidology

I thought I’d give an update for what has happened the last few weeks:
On April 23, I flew to Denver to attend the 52nd annual conference of the American Association of Suicidology (AAS). “Suicidology” is the scientific study of suicidal behavior, the causes of suicidalness and suicide prevention. I wanted to learn how to help those left behind by suicide and help those at risk of suicide. Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S., so it is a major public health problem that is very complex. AAS’s slogan is “Suicide Prevention is Everyone’s Business.” I believe that.
The conference was very good, but also hard for me…because of the emotions of being a survivor of Ashton’s suicide. I am grateful for all those who are looking for ways to reduce others’ suffering. I may have heard this before, but I was especially struck by the reminder by one of the speakers (this may be a quote by an ancient physician, but I can’t find it on google): physicians should always ask their patients two questions…and then listen closely for the answer, both in what they say, what they don’t say and in their body language. “Where does it hurt? How can I help?” That is profound! And I don’t think it just applies to physicians; every one of us is surrounded by others who are hurting. If we have eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to feel, we can reach out and lighten another’s load.
This same speaker said that one of the common elements in suicides is a loss of hope. He compared it to having to put your hand in a fire and not having the hope of ever being able to take it out. The weakness to this analogy is that, in reality, after a time, the nerves in your hand would be burned and you wouldn’t feel anything…but what if that DIDN’T happen and you continued to experience that pain…and you thought you might continue to feel that pain forever? The speaker said that a suicidal person’s past experiences is what “loads the gun”…and the future (loss of hope) is what “pulls the trigger.” So…the answer to the second question physicians (and others) should always ask (“How can I help?”) is often to help lighten the pain. You don’t have to take away the pain; that may not be even possible. But if you can lighten the pain…even a little bit…you may save a life.
For those who have an interest in the field of suicidology, I strongly recommend this conference. There is too much for me to share here, but I wanted to give my readers a glimpse of what I learned. I found out about the conference from Dr. Douglas Gray, a psychiatrist and suicidologist at the University of Utah.
On the last day of the conference, they held the 31st Annual Healing After Suicide Loss Conference. Faye attended that with me. The keynote speaker was Dr. Jennifer Ashton, an OBGYN who is Chief Medical Correspondent for ABC news. Her ex-husband took his own life in January of 2017. She has written and spoken extensively on the topic of suicide. She did a great job. Faye and I later attended a support group with other parents whose children had died from suicide (there were other groups for spouses, clinicians (etc) of suicide victims). That was a little awkward, but healing. We shared contact information with two other physicians whose children died from suicide. We emailed each other with words of encouragement and support again last week.
We came home from the conference on April 27. Ashton’s 27th birthday was April 30th. I appreciate all those who remembered him on that day. Then we attended a support group with about 20 other suicide survivors on May 2. It was held at a Methodist church in Tucson. It is facilitated by two women who lost their children to suicide many years ago. They are clear that this is not “counseling,” nor are we there to give advice. We are there to listen to each other. That was an amazingly (surprisingly) therapeutic experience for me. These people understand! They “get” what is going on in my life…because it is very similar to what is going on in theirs! I plan to go as often as I can, both to heal and to help others heal. Unfortunately, the statistics show that it takes an average of 4.5 years for survivors of suicide to find and start attending one of these support groups. It has been over 5 years for us since Ashton died; I wish we had known about this sooner! I hope that others of you who are suicide survivors will attend one of these groups as soon as you can. If you are reluctant, try one meeting, see how you feel. If it’s not helpful, you can always stop going.
So…the last few weeks have been somewhat emotionally-demanding for me. However, I’m trying to “…lean into the stiff wind of opportunity, rather than simply hunker down and do nothing.” It’s difficult in the moment at times, but I feel like I am experiencing some of what has been called “post-traumatic growth” as a result. I appreciate those who have checked on me, who have asked genuinely, “How are you doing?” and then listened sincerely for my response. I hope to emulate your example as I strive to lighten others’ loads, as well. I invite my readers to join me in this quest.
Written by Carter