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October 25, 2016
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I don’t want to meet you, professionally

Edward Howell

It has been nearly a year and a half since I began my tenure serving as Wayne County’s coroner. Something that continues to impress me is the stunning reality that no two deaths are exactly the same. Certainly, details of one case may spark flashbacks to previous events investigated by the Coroner’s office; however, the specific and very personal circumstances of each death make my duties a very sensitive experience indeed.

As county coroner, I expect to investigate deaths attributed to natural physiologic events, accidental circumstances and even sometimes unexpected deaths of suspicious natures. Of all manners of death existing, there is one that burdens me greatly—suicide.

Suicide is defined as “the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally especially by a person of years of discretion and of sound mind.”

Yes, I unquestionably acknowledge the fact that suicide occurs all over the world. And Wayne County should not be expected to be the exception. We are not immune to tragedy. My concern is the marked increase in the cases of suicide which occur here annually.

In 1980, there were two deaths resulting from suicide. In 2004, there were four. 2010 saw seven suicides; 2011 jumped to 13. My first year in office, 2012, the number of suicides totaled 16. As of early May of this year, the coroner’s office has already investigated and ruled five suicides.

At this point in the narrative, I expect most readers to simultaneously utter the word, “Why?” I, too, ask the same question. There are some interesting facts about this phenomenon that I have taken note of since I began this vocation:

Suicide is not limited to a specific age group, nor is it restricted to a particular life circumstance.

In 2012, of the 16 cases, 11 were males and five were females.

Coroner investigations established that some of the greatest possible contributing factors were economic and financial struggles, psychological illness—especially depression. Medical illness also seems to be a common challenge for individuals who ultimately end their own lives. Chronic and acute conditions as well as new diagnoses seemed to play a part in the cases we have investigated.

My purpose for visiting this topic in prose is two-fold. I believe that it is important that the people of our communities be aware of the realities about us. Furthermore, my desire is to change the statistics of the future.

Earthly life is so very temporary. Isn’t life worth living?

I suppose for some it just doesn’t seem to be worth the battle.

It comes down to personal perspective and individual choice.

I do not wish to stand in the place of judgment as it relates to victims of suicide.

My message, however, is this:

There is help. There is hope. There are consequences for each of our decisions. No one can make this decision for you, but please consider the gift that life truly is. Each day, babies are born. I never met anyone in a maternity department who said of a newborn, “This life is worthless.”

Life is just as precious as the years go by. Sure, it doesn’t necessarily become easier, but it gains value each day. I can promise each reader this—you mean something to someone. Please don’t wait for that person to be me. I don’t want to meet you professionally.

[Edward Howell is coronor of Wayne County, PA.]