Choosing to Live: Stories of Those
Who Stepped Away from Suicide

by Cliff Williams

I am sitting in the same chair at a Caribou Coffee that I sat in when I interviewed “Marissa” (not her real name), the first person I interviewed for Choosing to Live: Stories of Those Who Stepped Away form Suicide, except that it is Jesse who is sitting across from me (that’s his real name). 

We are eating the lunches each of us has brought. I am telling Jesse about this book at the point when I have done a dozen interviews, and evidently I am displaying a high level of interest in it. He asks, “What do you find so satisfying about interviewing those people?”

“Ah!” I respond. “I am trying to put my finger on it, and I have gotten about this far,” I say as I move an extended finger toward the table and stop halfway down. 

“I like to listen to people,” I continue. “And I want to tell the stories of those who have made something of their lives after having wanted to die, people who otherwise might never tell their story to anyone.”

Jesse nods. “Maybe, too,” he says, “you find it fulfilling when they reveal to you their raw emotions. They have made themselves vulnerable to you, and you are with them when they open up their true selves.”

I nod.

Ann is visiting (that’s her real name too), and she asks, “What are you looking for in doing this book?” She is a professional therapist, so I know she is asking about some underlying motive in me, not just what the book is about.

I furrow my brow. “Hmmm,” I say.

“Maybe,” Ann continues, “you are trying to find out the meaning of life, or to rediscover it.”

I nod, hesitantly.

Jesse and Ann are right. Doing Choosing to Live was not just an academic undertaking. It was also acutely personal. I felt the trauma people went through as they told me their life stories. I was let into the secret recesses of their hearts, the places they don’t let just anyone visit.

Sometimes it felt as though I was something of counselor, one who listens without judgment and whose listening helps heal. On occasion, I stared out the window and wondered, “What is this thing called life, with its suffering and anguish?” I asked myself, “Do I have to come as close to death as these people did in order to know how to live?”

I found myself admiring the hard work the people I talked to had done to overcome years of emotional pain and to stay alive. From time to time, I felt gratitude, not just for their willingness to contribute to this book, but simply for coming to know their life stories. A few people wrote to me after we talked, telling me how they were getting along. I delighted in that.

Note: I wrote this epilogue before Choosing to Live was published, but chose not to include it in the book.

Web page for the book: www.cliffordwilliams.net/choosing-to-live

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Posted March 7, 2023