Monthly Archives

September 2021

Talking About Suicide Loss With Tim McNeil

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When I began volunteering with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in 2015, I discovered purpose in life. Suffering from burnout and depression, I felt more accomplished passing out information materials at various events than I did seeing my name in the credits of whatever tv show I was working on. I told the director of the AFSP chapter I joined that “working in suicide makes me happy.”  It’s a line I heard her quote more than once.

While my mother’s suicide when I was 19 led to much grief and struggle in my life, when I learned to use my experiences to help others who suffered the same way I had, things came together in wonderful ways for me.  Meeting other suicide loss survivors has been the most impactful as there is always an instant connection, typically followed by a meaningful conversation.  Being a resource for the newly bereaved, or those who are still silent consistently touches my heart.

For the fifth year, I’m brining the AFSP’s resource materials to a very special event, A Light In Dark Places,  a collection of short plays about suicide and hope at The Stella Adler Academy of Acting theater, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, September 10-19.   The organization’s founder, Kelly O’Malley began producing the series in honor of her father, who died by suicide, after discovering the importance of conversation and community while studying acting at the school.

Every year has been completely different in terms of storytelling, as the plays are picked from nationwide submissions, but the dedication, compassion and care the cast and crew – both new and old – bring to the project are always outstanding.  I give an AFSP Talk Saves Lives presentation to them at the beginning of production to share the basics of suicide, risk factors, warning signs, and how to approach someone in crisis.  We also talk about how to safely discuss this important subject in a public forum.  Many came to the project because of their own losses or personal struggles and all have been incredibly open to these conversations and welcoming to me and all I have to say.

One of the first Talking About Suicide Loss With… short interviews I did for my YouTube channel was with Kelly.  This year I wanted to feature some of the cast and crew of A Light In Dark Places… to share their experiences with loss, the silence that followed and how eventually being open with their stories has changed their relationship to their grief and trauma.

This week, I present Timothy McNeil.  He is a writer, director and actor.  Tim recently directed his first feature film Anything, starring John Carroll Lynch, Matt Bomer, and Maura Tierney, currently available on Amazon , etc.  He will be directing his next film Purplish, which he wrote, soon.  He has had over 30 of his plays produced, including the play version of Anything (Best Production of 2008 by LADCC), Isaac Babel And The Black Sea, Machu Picchu, Tx., Supernova, Los Muertos, Crane, Ms., and Margaret, among others.  He has also directed over 30 plays including Hamlet, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, Isaac Babel And The Black Sea, and many others.  Tim is also an actor and has done over 50 film and television shows including Forrest Gump, Contact, Starship Troopers, Seinfeld, and others, and over 75 plays.  He will be seen in Daniel Adam’s The Walk, coming later this year.  Tim is also a proud member of The Lab Theater and The Elephant Theater Company. He has been on the faculty of the Stella Adler Academy of Acting Los Angeles since 1999.

Little Things Can Mean So Much

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A big factor in the difficulty of grieving a suicide loss is the isolation it brings, whether families publicly acknowledge the cause of death or not.  If it is known, people not wanting to say the wrong thing or avoid the topic stay away, while those suffering don’t share their grief, to spare others the discomfort of discussing or thinking about suicide.

As I’ve been editing The Silent Goldens, I’ve been pulling some clips that identify ways to open and normalize conversations so those left behind don’t have to suffering in silence. When I first spoke to my sister, Leah, I learned that she told her friends my mom died from the cancer she was being treated for, not suicide. 

While I was in shock about being brought back to school the day after my mom’s funeral and found myself unable to follow my dad’s instructions to just “move forward,” Leah was happy to be at college.  She loved her life there, was able to focus on her studies as a distraction from her grief, and felt supported by her friends and the campus community.

As this clip details, she was especially moved by the simple gestures, the type of things people do for the bereaved when death comes in “socially acceptable” ways – disease, accident, or war.  Though reaching out to people in grief in any circumstance can be difficult, triggering, and awkward, knowing the circumstances helps people process the death and empathize accordingly, whether it is an elderly person who has led a good and full life succumbing to a debilitating illness vs. a child struck by a car or losing someone to war or murder.

Understandably, when suicide is involved no one knows what to say or do.  And there really is nothing to do other than to say “I’m so sorry for your loss” and asking if you can help in any way. You listen without judgement if they want to talk about it. You don’t need to get the answers to all your questions or try to answer the questions they might pose of “why.”  “I don’t know” is a valid answer. You treat it as a death, a tragic, unexpected and traumatic loss. You focus on the survivor.

 Although my sister had to deal with the questions and emotions arising from our mom’s death being from suicide without the help of her friends, her grief simply being acknowledge meant the world to her, which touched me deeply, primarily because it took me 30 years before I figured out that I hadn’t really grieved at all.

I share this clip to confirm that little things can mean a lot, especially to someone in pain. In suicide prevention talks I give we tell people to ask someone directly if they are ok if you are concerned about them, assuming you might be the only one who will.  I think that advice can be used in comforting suicide loss survivors – reach out and treat them like they suddenly lost a loved one. Touch the part of them that isn’t bogged down in the details of how it happened.

Podcasting and Other Ways I’m Trying to Prevent Suicide

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September 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day.  September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and a good time to spread the message behind The Silent Goldens documentary – conversation around suicide must be normalized.  It is an instrument of helping and healing.  So here are some Ruth and documentary related tidbits to mark the day:

September 11 and September 18 I will be representing the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for A Light In Dark Places, a series of short plays about suicide and hope at The Stella Adler Acting Academy theater, which I’ve been involved with for the last five years. Yes, me on stage at Stella Adler for the 4th year running! If you are in LA come see me!  Tickets here.

My 3rd guest spot on Wife of the Party podcast with LeeAnn Kreischer, wife of comedian Bert Kreischer was just posted. I shared the spotlight with Kelly O’Malley, founder of A Light In Dark Places, the play series mentioned above.  Over 1200 views in two days!

My 2nd guest spot on the Wife of the Party podcast went up a month ago.  It was just me and LeeAnn chatting about numerous topics, the primary one being The Silent Goldens.  It’s had over 1400 views so far!

More to come! It’s a busy month. Never-before-seen clips to premiere, and new Talking About Suicide Loss With… YouTube segments with cast and crew from A Light in Dark Places.  I’m also about to launch a new fundraising campaign to fill out our post-production budget so we can finish by Spring 2022! 

The International Foundation for Suicide Prevention,  which founded World Suicide Prevention Day and Month has great information and resources on their website!

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

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September is a big month in my life.  Primarily, it’s because I was born in September.  Then I always started school in September. And the Jewish High Holidays are typically in September. So it’s an annual sense of renewal, fresh starts and resetting goals.

It wasn’t until I was 50 that I learned it was Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month.  Suicide had been a part of my life since my mother killed herself when I was 19, but it was a part locked deep down inside me.  Everything changed when I attended my first suicide prevention walk with the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention in Los Angeles as a volunteer and immediately realized I found my people.  I was able to talk about my mom freely – no explanations needed.  The fact that everyone there had lost someone to suicide was new to me – it never occurred to me to look for other people but here I was in that “club no one wants to belong to” and there were so so many.

As a club member who is committed to speaking out about suicide loss and its ramifications on those left behind, I plan to be very active this month in putting forth information to help open and normalize conversations.

Coming up:

• Two new clips from the film will premiere.  The first on Friday, Sept 10, which is Suicide Prevention Day and then on Tuesday, September 21, which is my birthday.

• I’ve had two guest spots on Wife of the Party podcast hosted by LeeAnn Kreischer, wife of comedian Bert Kreischer, to discuss my film and suicide loss posting next Thursday, Sept 9.

• Four new Talking About Suicide Loss With… segments for my YouTube series. Guests are actors and crew from A Light in Dark Places, a play series about suicide and hope at the Stella Adler theater in LA.  Will be posted weekly on Sundays.

Prevention Tip:

If you are in crisis, are with someone in crisis or are concerned about someone here are the numbers you should know

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline     1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line        Text HOME to 741741

911       If someone is actively suicidal and has access to lethal means.

Let’s take care of ourselves and each other!