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I woke up this morning feeling I could barely breathe. November 27th, today would have been Matt's 52nd birthday. I wish more than anything today was a celebration of another year of his life instead of feeling his absence.

Sadly, at the age of 45, he felt that life from that point forward would be downhill. I'm going to disclose a bit of his story and point out some of the behavior changes in the months prior to his death so that maybe, just maybe, I can help make others aware of potential red flags of someone who may be contemplating suicide.

Hindsight is 20/20, looking back there were warning signs but suicide was not even on the radar. Not a single soul would have ever expected Matt to be one to contemplate suicide. He was absolutely hilarious - could turn the grumpiest person into a laughing fool. He never ever met a stranger, literally everyone he met, even in passing, instantly loved him. Matt had a special way of making YOU feel special, valued, accepted and loved. He WAS the "cool club" and made everyone feel a part of it. His heart was made of pure gold - it genuinely brought him joy to be of service to others. He wasn't one who waited to be asked for help but eagerly took it upon himself to do so when he saw a need. He often did good deeds in secret, specifically so he wouldn't receive recognition. He loved animals: he'd be the one to rescue every turtle in the road way - even if it meant endangering himself. He loved nature and the environment: literally from the moment he got off work to the moment his head hit the pillow, he was outside gardening, playing with the dogs, or tending to the landscaping. As a kid, I even remember us stopping on side of the road when trash bags were visibly dumped in the ditch, to find the litter-er's address on mail to return their trash to their front yard Dress Affordable mother of the groom and bride collections in vintage style :) He loved bamboo and successfully grew a huge bamboo fence around our 6 acre property. Before he died, he even had interest in becoming licensed to grow and sell bamboo to the SETX area. He was never one to lounge around and waste time - he was always on-the-go with a happy-go-lucky attitude and had profound appreciation for the small things in life.

When we think of a suicidal individual, we often think of someone dark and depressed.... as evident in my dad's case, this is not always true. His death was completely unexpected. Do not put suicide past anyone, suicide has no face and it does not discriminate: it knows no age, no race, no gender, no social class and no personality type.

The months before his death consisted of him obsessing over growing older and feeling body pain due to aging. His routine habits changed: he became withdrawn from social media (a place he regularly shared his sense of humor. Friends were even commenting that they missed his postings.); he told me he loved me via phone (something we never said out loud - even though we both knew we meant the absolute world to one another, we were way "too cool" to be overly sentimental and only occasionally said/wrote love "ya", emphasis on the "ya" as to not be too sappy); he made very minor subtle comments like teaching others how to do things in case "one day" he wasn't around. (Note: Losing interest in things one used to care about, speaking any comments of a future without them in it and changes, even subtle, in behavior are warning signs of suicide.)

I visited a month prior to his death - literally every person he encountered over the age of 40, he drilled with questions about how they felt physically as they aged. He always took pride in his health (almost obsessively), worked out daily and ate healthy to stay in tip top shape, so it distressed him when he had recently changed a light-bulb and his shoulder hurt for days afterwards. He was beginning to feel he couldn't physically do the things he had always done. Matt had a pretty severe phobia to germs, doctors, hospitals and suffered from anxiety with topics related to health. He every so often said if he went to a doctor and they did full scans, he just knew they would find "something wrong". Looking back, these were all red flags of an unhealthy mind -- but these were Matt's normal "quirks", everyone knew it was just part of who "he" was and often joked about his germ issues and OCD tendencies.

From conversations, I knew aging was an issue that was emotionally affecting him, but I never ever would have imagined he'd think death to be a better alternative. Due to a minor fall, he was facing the possibility of a minor back surgery - this was absolutely terrifying for him with his phobias and anxiety. Days before his death, he extensively researched the surgery, spoke with others and tried to convince himself he could go through with it. May 12, the day of his death, he was anxious to receive news either confirming or denying he needed the surgery; on his lunch break, he called work saying he felt ill and was stopping home to "get some medicine". He called the doctor - even though my mom, who was at work, had previously specifically requested that they receive the news together to process it, knowing it would be stressful for him... and even though it's standard procedure to break health news in person - they confirmed he needed the surgery. Shortly after the phone call, he ended his life. The autopsy showed that other than the minor back issue which could have been easily corrected, he was in fact, physically in tip top health.

Despite it being 6 years and even though I now have more of an understanding on his skewed thought process, it doesn't get any easier. Suicide grief does not heal with time, it is not something you "get over" or move on from... you just learn to develop a new normal to coexist with the pain in order to survive. Thankfully I'm able to find peace in the fact that the pain exists because love was present. I was blessed with an incredible person in my life for so many years and have always said that if I had a choice - I would much rather have had Matt in my life and be forced to live with the pain of the tragedy than to have not had him in my life at all and not have the pain.

So on this day, I say to you what I wish I was able to say to him:
If you are having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to someone. There is help available and it is not weak to seek it. In fact, it's courageous. It takes incredible strength to bypass the intrusive convincing inner thoughts to recognize and admit you need help overcoming them. The mind is powerful and a sick one can easily deceive you. You do not need to believe everything you think and feel - you are not alone, even if it feels like you are. You are so loved, even if it feels like you aren't. You are not a burden and your loved ones are not better off without you. Your presence in the world, it matters. Life can and will get better.

You may feel hopeless and desperate to simply stop the excruciating and suffocating pain but death is not the answer. You do not have to continue to suffer and you do not have to die - suicide is not your only option for relief.

The pain, it doesn't end with suicide... it simply transfers it to all of your loved ones. It essentially drains the livelihood out of those left behind and "kills" them many times on the inside. You are someone's "Matt" and I beg of you to stay alive and seek out help, not only for yourself, but for that person.

Suicide doesn't end the chances of life getting worse, it eliminates the possibility of it ever getting any better. You have worth. You are needed. H.O.P.E. (hold on, pain ends). If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or just needs someone to talk to, please reach out. If you feel you have no one to reach out to, you may use the following free and confidential resources:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
- Chat with specialists at www.crisischat.org
- Text START to 741741, the crisis text hotline