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General

On a cold Tuesday morning in late January, you sit inside the campus museum for your hour of front desk duty with your coworker J.D.. In the far distance you hear the campus bell chime nine times. There are no visitors, only the sound of the ticking clock. You and J.D. pull out your laptops from your backpacks to escape boredom. As you check your campus e-mail, you notice a subject line that makes you stop in your tracks.

You click on the subject line, Roy Christiansen. Faintly the name rings a bell in your mind; he attended the same church as you off-campus. You knew of him but you didn't really know him. The only things you knew was secondhand information from some of your friends; according to them he was a kind and popular guy.

This e-mail was sent to all of the students and staff. You read that Roy Christiansen, a senior physics major, passed away over the weekend at his home. However, you see no indication as to how he passed away. Was it a fire or accident, you wonder, perhaps a medical condition?

You turn to your coworker and by the frown on his face, you could tell that he just read the e-mail too. “J.D., I wonder why the e-mail didn't mention how Roy died,” you murmured.

“It's obvious,”J.D. said somberly. “He died from suicide.”

Like an anchor sinks to the bottom of the sea, the word suicide carried a heavy weight in your mind. You heard of people dying by suicide in the news, but you didn't expect it to come to your little private liberal arts college campus. Your campus had posters in every building which stated where Counseling Services were located in the main Campus Center and their office hours. At your campus, your fellow students cared about each other and the professors enjoyed small class sizes to get to know students better. There were even three chaplains on the campus grounds that people could talk to about anything and everything. How did Roy Christiansen slip through the cracks?

After your shift ends at the museum, you head to your J-term class. As you walk though, you notice a stillness across the campus and not just the kind that comes from chilled air. By now word of Roy Christiansen's death spread across the campus like wildfire. No one really talked about it that you could see, but you could tell that it was in the back of their minds.

On Wednesday morning, a new e-mail shows up in your inbox; this time it was from the pastor of the church you and Roy Christiansen attended. It was an invitation to a memorial service for Roy that would take place on Thursday evening at the campus chapel. Even though you didn't know Roy personally, you decided to go. Not for yourself, but to be a support for your friends who were closer to Roy.

Later that same day, another e-mail went to all students and staff. This time it was Roy Christiansen's obituary and details for the funeral time and location in his hometown on Friday. You choose not to attend the funeral, but wonder how many of your friends decided to make the hour long drive on Friday.

In the days leading up to the memorial service, you find out more about Roy Christiansen. He was a little brother and a track and field athlete. Roy was part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. After his college graduation in May, he was going to get married in the summer. In fact, the pastor of the church that you and Roy attended was the marriage counselor for him and his fiancee. Clearly Roy was loved; what made him believe that the opposite was true?

With more answers came some questions that you knew better than to ask. Did Roy leave a note behind? How much time passed between when he was last seen alive and when he was found? Who found Roy first? Did someone try to bring him back to life with CPR? If Roy was a celebrity, the paparazzi would have relentlessly asked such questions and more without any hesitation until they received answers to broadcast to the world.

Thursday evening arrives and you arrive at the chapel for the memorial service. You notice the pastor from yours and Roy's church as well as the three campus chaplains at the entrance while they greet visitors, including you. They thank you for coming and encourage you to take a seat. Quietly you look around until you find a few of your friends towards the back of the chapel and sit next to them. The chapel lighting was only at half of its maximum capabilities, as if it matched the somber mood of the evening. One or two of your friends spoke briefly at the memorial service. Another friend sang the song “Praise You in This Storm” and although the weather was calm outside, it matched the feelings of many of your friend's souls that evening. After the service is over, you linger a bit and talk to a few of your friends. You give them words of sympathy, and hugs to a few as well. Eventually your return to your dorm in silence.

Time passes after Roy's body is laid to rest. Roy's name dissipates from conversations. One sunny spring day in early April, you receive a campus e-mail about Roy Christiansen. You read that in Roy's honor, a new bench was put near the outdoor track and field stadium on campus paid for by his friends and family. Further into the same e-mail, you find out that his parents would receive a posthumous degree on Commencement Day at the end of May.

A few days later when you arrive for your morning hour of front desk duty for the campus museum, you notice that the art changed to an exhibition of pieces made by the three senior art majors. Towards the front of the museum, you notice a series of three abstract paintings. They are splattered with dark colored paint in various hues; their titles are Denial, Anger, and Depression. You recognize the name of the artist; it's your friend Dee-Dee. Next to her work is a description of her inspiration behind the paintings. You read that the series of paintings was inspired by the passing of Roy Christiansen. She knew him from church and considered him to be a good friend. Her titles of her paintings were based on three of the five stages of grief. Based on the fact you didn't see a painting by her named Acceptance, you did not think that Dee-Dee reached that stage of the grieving process yet.

So many things happened after Roy Christiansen's death and you wonder if your campus improved in its awareness of mental health so that no one else would share Roy's end. Unfortunately, part of you believes that the answer is no...

June 26, 2020 04:19

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4 comments

Adam Wright
23:32 Jul 02, 2020

Nice story. Issues of mental health are always a delicate balance when writing but you handled it very well here.

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Lisa Slaikeu
15:36 Jul 03, 2020

Thank you very much!

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Tessa Gray
21:20 Jul 01, 2020

This was really interesting. I didn’t expect the story to go in the direction it did. I liked how you made the narrator be someone who wasn’t close to Roy, but was still impacted by his death and were sensitive enough not to ask intrusive questions

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Lisa Slaikeu
22:26 Jul 01, 2020

Thank you!

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