In March of 2010, in a deli that no longer exists, Brice Beaird put a set of Bose headphones on my ears and pressed play. 60ish, thick silver hair combed neatly to one side, wire-rim glasses, often in a blazer; no one would pick Brice in a songwriter line-up. An ad guy by day, Brice has refined his musical craft while maintaining his role as a husband, father and community activist.
Brice's guitar filled my ears. The waitress mouthed "Coffee?" with one brow raised. I nodded. The lyrics began:
Shadows fill the patch of light,
Rooms grow dark that once were bright.
A broken mind can't comprehend
All these things come back again.
Brice's sister, Mary Lou, died about 25 years ago. If she had lived, Mary Lou and I would have been the same age. Brice read the first chapter of my book and the music flowed. The last time he spoke with Mary Lou over the phone, she seemed upbeat, ready to try a new treatment for her persistent depression. A day later, he got a different phone call. Mary Lou was dead.
By the second verse, my coffee tasted salty. Brice and I brokered a strange but powerful alliance over a fruit plate and scrambled eggs. I attempted suicide, almost leaving my family with the pain Brice and so many have experienced. Brice opened himself to the treacherous ground of what might have been and his sister's suicide; I faced the guilt of what almost was. The result? Healing. Hold on to me.
Brice told me once that Hold on to Me are the words he would have said to his sister if only he had known she was so close to suicide. So often those who are suicidal firmly believe that they are a burden on the world. Suicide most often occurs not out of vengeance, not out of selfishness, but because the suicidal person can't see what purpose she or he serves. Thomas Joiner's research confirms this, my personal experience concurs.
What the suicidal person forgets is we matter to each other in a way that transcends what we can produce. We are more than what we do. Sometimes, in our weakness, we give purpose to others. For people like me, who like to be independent, self-sufficient and self-propelled, that's an unwanted lesson in humility. Now the worst moment in my life makes the best connection.
The production of Hold on to Me has had so many uncanny coincidences that I suspect Mary Lou is somehow behind the scenes calling the shots. I met Helen Darling, the singer, in Austin while I was on book tour at two in the afternoon in a Jack's Allen's Kitchen on the outskirts of the city. A Notre Dame friend who I hadn't seen in 20 years took me to Jack Allen's after a talk. Helen happened to be lunching with Gary Powell, a music producer.
When I (being pushy) suggested to Gary that he had to hear my good friend's song, it turned out that Gary and Brice performed together decades earlier in Carousel at Highland Park High School in Dallas. Gary told me the woman I needed to sing the song was standing right next to me, Helen Darling. Gary dragged us all to his studio that instant, hooked up my IPhone to his speaker system, sat down at a white grand piano and played an accompaniment that sounded like he knew Hold on to Me for years. I felt like I was in a movie.
Brice once told me that he always envisioned a woman singing Hold on to Me. I always thought this was weird. After all, the song is his words to his sister. Even if the song were to me, doesn't it make sense for a male voice? But this morning, Brice's gut reaction makes me realize Mary Lou has been at it again.
75% of suicides in the USA are male. Men are tough to approach on things like depression and suicide because men are trained to be tough. But Helen Darling's warm voice opens a new avenue. Can't you send a man a song to thank him for all he's done for you, and let him know you're there for him as well? Try it. Send your loved one a song for Thanksgiving.
You can download Hold on to Me by selecting the link or by going to ITunes and searching for:
Helen Darling "Hold on to Me"
If you are curious about seeing the characters in this story, me, Brice and Helen among others, check out the video of Hold on to Me that was premiered at the Kessler Theater in Dallas in a benefit for Mental Health America last week.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving. Your thoughts and well wishes give me a sense of purpose unimaginable a decade ago. A book? A song? What's next? I never dreamed such joy could arise from such a dark place. Thank you for holding on to me.
For more information about Julie Hersh or her speaking engagements, check out her website at www.struckbyliving.com