Dedicating Her Son’s Inheritance to Preventing Teen Suicide
Didi Hirsch’s Survivors After Suicide bereavement group provided more than comfort and support to Susan Sobel after her teenaged son Danny took his life.
“It kept me alive,” says Susan. “It was like a lifeboat. I don’t know how I would have made it through without them.”
In the nine years since she lost her middle son to suicide, Susan no longer attends the support group but has set aside a portion of her will—what would have been Danny’s inheritance—to Didi Hirsch programs that focus on preventing teen suicide.
“Didi Hirsch is making the world a better place in a multitude of ways—including in suicide prevention,” Susan says. “I want Didi Hirsch to be able to continue the work it is doing to educate kids about suicide. I’m confident in the quality of their work and don’t want programs to end for a lack of funding.”
A nationally rated fencer, Danny was in his first year at University of California at San Diego when he took his own life on Feb. 9, 2006. For the first six months, Susan felt as though she were sleepwalking through life. Her pain was excruciating and she felt completely alone.
“Most people I knew didn’t know what to say, didn’t call, or told me I would ‘get over it soon,’ ” Susan recalls. “I needed to go to a place where people understood what I was going through. The Survivors After Suicide program became that place.”
When the eight-week session ended, she attended drop-in groups for a couple of years and participated in the center’s annual fundraiser—the Alive & Running 5K Walk/Run for Suicide Prevention. But she eventually found her passion and calling in joining Didi Hirsch’s outreach efforts to speak at high schools throughout Southern California about suicide—the second leading cause of death for youth ages 15-24.
Today the retired dentist shares her story with teens at least twice a year. Thanks to a yoga practice that keeps her physically fit, lean, and youthful, Susan is particularly effective at helping students understand the emotional repercussions of suicide on families. One student who heard Susan speak said she hadn’t considered what her suicide would do to her mother and was no longer considering it.
“It feels good to know I may have personally saved someone’s life,” says Susan, who also serves on the board of directors of TeenLine, a youth warmline and partner of Didi Hirsch.
Susan always starts her presentations talking about Danny in the present tense: “I tell them I have three sons and one of them died by suicide.” She tells them that Danny was a bright, curious, and reserved young man who didn’t tell anyone—including his best friend—that he was thinking about ending his life. She shows the students a picture of Danny taken just a few months before he died and talks about how much she and his brothers miss him.
“I tell them that if they’re feeling sad and suicidal, that they’re not alone and that they need to reach out to someone for help,” Susan says. “I tell the others that they have the power to save lives, to make a difference, just by being there and supporting a friend who is feeling hopeless or thinking about suicide.”
It’s always an emotional challenge to relive Danny’s death, but Susan says she will do whatever she can to get out the message that help is available.
“I want kids to know they are not alone,” Susan says. “If I can spare one family the unimaginable pain we feel every day, I consider my efforts truly worthwhile.”
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call Didi Hirsch’s 24/7 English/Spanish Crisis Line at 877-727-4747. Crisis chat is also available at www.didihirsch.org/chat.