Carol McGuire cherishes having had 48 years to bond with brother Kenny, but, like any loving sister, she wishes she could have enjoyed at least that many more. On May 31, her sibling took his own life, becoming, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the fifth resident in the Pennsport and Whitman neighborhoods to die by suicide this year.
“There is no other pain that is comparable,” McGuire said of having parted with the youngest of her family’s five children. “It’s like living a nightmare each day…
“We cry for people and pray for families, but when it hits your door, there’s no greater grief,” McGuire noted of never being able to share another day with Kenny, the flasher of “a beautiful ear-to-ear smile.”
“There have to be voices or else, sadly, this will just continue.”
With that in mind, McGuire, of the 200 block of Mifflin Street, and other community residents met earlier this summer in an outreach meeting organized by AFSP and Minding Your Mind. The June 29 gathering drew scores to discuss the recent spate of deaths.
At a time when some may gloss over individuals’ woes by saying the nation has far greater health concerns to tackle, these saddened relatives and peers have chosen to focus on each life’s radiance and the constant struggle each separation engenders.
More than 40,000 Americans die by suicide annually, according to health statistics, with white males like Kenny accounting for 70 percent of the tally. A study released in April by the National Center for Health Statistics noted that suicide has reached its highest levels in nearly 30 years, with a staggering 24 percent rise from 1999 to 2014, pushing the death-by-suicide ratio to 13 per 100,000 citizens.
Regardless of the statistics, McGuire knows every suicide leaves those left behind with feelings of regret, anger, and sadness. But she believes neighborhoods can prove beacons for those in darkness, as that has been the case for her kin, including Kenny’s six-year-old daughter.
“I don’t think there’s enough care for sufferers of depression or anxiety,” she said. “It’s easy for people to fall through the cracks as far as the administration of help is concerned. There are people who have very few, if any, people to stand by them, but it’s not an easy road for individuals who have people in their corner.”
McGuire became upset when discussing her sibling’s decline, a descent she learned of last Halloween, when he confessed that he could not sleep. His advancing despondency startled her, and she has relied on resolute regard for his memory and his child’s welfare to summon the will to pursue solutions.
“It’s still easy to feel as if someone ripped my limbs off,” she said of Kenny’s passing. “However, I have to continue to keep this sadness from harming another household.”
That’s exactly what Minding Your Mind is striving to do, according to Drew Bergman, a representative of the group. “We have to be at the forefront of being proactive,” he said.
Bergman, a soon-to-be senior at Temple University, addressed the audience at the meeting in June on behalf of Minding Your Mind. Over the last decade, the Ardmore-based entity has provided mental health education to adolescents and young adults, their parents, teachers, and school administrators, aiming to “reduce the stigma and destructive behaviors often associated with mental health issues.” Having struggled with suicidal urges himself, Bergman said he has bettered his situation and, like McGuire, knows there can be no hesitation in helping those in distress.
“We have a great relationship with South Philadelphia, especially when you consider how many children live there,” he said of Minding Your Mind’s outreach, which includes interactions with Ss. Neumann-Goretti High School and a few local middle schools. “We did more than 1,100 presentations last year, so we know the significance of being constant sources of hope.”
While Pennsport and Whitman residents try to fill their fresh voids, others have been working for years to heal their wounds.
Jimmy French Sr., for example, lost his son, Jimmy Jr., on July 4, 2013. Three years after the harrowing departure, he admits that certain days prove taxing yet never too daunting to convince him to succumb to dejection. “It still hurts all the time because he was my heart,” French, of the 100 block of Mercy Street, said. “It doesn’t get any better, but because of some great people in my life, it doesn’t get any worse either.”
The proud patriarch explained that Jimmy French Jr. excelled at playing hockey, calling the game his “comfort zone.” His son wanted to join the Navy but ended up denied because of melanoma. That led to a bout with depression, but he vowed to vie for a successful life as a paramedic. On a day that one normally celebrates freedom, however, his father had to face the reality of not being able to save his boy, who was within reach of his goal.
“I’m not going to lie and say I always keep everything together,” French Sr. stated, noting friends of his offspring have since died by suicide, too. “I have gone to meetings, but I repeat myself at them. I don’t often go his gravesite either because I don’t want to talk to a stone. I want to talk to my son.”
Thanks to his involvement in the Downtowners Fancy Brigade, and participation in the AFSP’s Out of the Darkness walks in October, he has grown as an advocate, noting “Every day is a learning process because this is the path that my son put me on, that of someone who needs to speak up.”
Another who has faced suicide in her family is Kate McGonigle, who lost her 31-year-old son, Thomas Albright, in 2012. She attended her first Out of the Darkness Walk eight months after Thomas’ death. The resident of the 200 block of Greenwich Street confided that his last will and testament, which she carries with her, has eased her heart and soul.
“He struggled for so long to believe himself worthy of much,” she said of her son, a member of the U.S. Navy. “It pains me to think so many other people have those feelings, and it’s so sad each time I hear about another loss, as that news just makes the pain fresh again.”
Like McGuire and French, McGonigle will never court pity.
The five suicides this year in Pennsport and Whitman have given her added reasons to work on behalf of the cause. On Sept. 10, she’s organizing the Team Albright 1st Annual Chili Cook-off at the Mummers Museum, 1100 S. Second St., to benefit AFSP.
“If we can help one person, we know we’re making a difference,” McGonigle said. “We want to help many more because this is a huge issue facing so many communities.”
Contact Editor Joseph Myers at email@example.com or ext. 124.
Additional opportunities and resources
Neighborhood entities are combining with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to offer the following events.
Suicide Prevention Benefit:
Purses & Power Tools Bingo
Aug. 26, 7–9 p.m.
EON Athletic Association, 144 Moore St.
Team Albright’s 1st annual Chili Cook-off
Sept. 10, 2–6 p.m.
Mummers Museum, 1100 S. Second St.
$25 donation (Must purchase in advance through 267–528–9597 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Resources:
- More Than Sad, which trains parents to help to identify warning signs of suicide.
- Talk Saves Lives, which teaches young children and people in the community to talk about their feelings and to know the language they need to communicate with in-crisis individuals
- Bipolar Film, which features everyday people and NFL players battling bipolar disorder and discussing its effects on their lives.
- The families of Kenny McGuire, from left, Thomas Albright, and Jimmy French Jr. (second from left in third image) have put in their share of emotional legwork to recover from the losses of the beloved individuals.