Imagine Zero of Weld County Exhibits
It Knows No Face
It Knows No Face – Weld County is a beautifully moving and unforgettable experience that showcases images of suicide survivors and their candid reflections about suicide and the impact it has on their lives. Evidence shows that the more people talk about suicide in safe, supportive environments, the easier it becomes for people to seek services. In this space, we can save lives together.
Created by artist and photographer Randy Bacon and presented by North Range Behavioral Health’s Suicide Education and Support Services (SESS).
Randy Bacon visited Weld County during a national tour for 7 Billion Ones – a national storytelling project that uses photography, motion films, and written word to present people’s unique stories that create connection. During this visit, Bacon interviewed Weld County residents to capture their stories of suicide survival.
It Knows No Face is a much needed ‘voice’ for the topic of suicide – a topic that for too long has been avoided, misjudged, and misunderstood. Suicide is a complex, complicated, and individualized phenomenon that crosses all demographics. Evidence shows that several components to prevention can help: reducing stigma, supporting one another during difficult times, and sharing stories of hope and recovery.
In addition to the portraits, Bacon (along with producing partners and supporters) created a powerful series of short films featuring survivors from across the nation talking openly and truthfully about the topic of suicide. Visit 7BillionOnes.org to learn more.
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My first son was Jacob. He was born in 1982. He was very happy baby throughout his younger years. And in 1986, his brother came along. We named him Daniel.
Jacob started getting in trouble at the age of 13. He got involved with drugs, alcohol and jumped into a game. He got arrested for selling marijuana in middle school. One night he went to a party and took a bunch of medication. He was taken to the emergency room, and they pumped his stomach. He calmed down after this, but things got worse again. One night he and these gang members went to a party and one thing led to another and they began fighting. One boy got stabbed. Since Jacob was on probation, they arrested him and took him to jail. I didn’t want to leave him there, but I didn’t have a choice. I thought he’d be safer in jail than out here getting in trouble.
When Jacob got out, he followed some rules, but still broke others. He didn’t get any new charges, but during his time he got his girlfriend pregnant. When Jacob went to court, they sentenced him to three years in a youth correctional facility. After a while, he went to a halfway house and during that time his daughter was born. A staff member took him to see her. He was so very happy.
Jacob was sent home once he finished all the steps. He was really stressed and scared – he wanted out of the gang, but they didn’t want him out. They told him they would kill him or someone from his family. He was so nervous. He went to work, came home, and took care of the baby – that was it.
A few months later, we went to a family wedding, and Jacob came. He said he wanted to go home, the alcohol is too tempting – he left. He didn’t call when he got home. I kept calling his brother, Daniel, who was home, to see if Jacob arrived. Finally he got home, but he was drunk. His girlfriend was very angry because if he was caught, they would send him back to prison. No more chances. She threatened to never let Jacob see his daughter again.
Jacob went to the backyard, saying he wanted to be alone to think. Later Daniel went back there to get him. He found them hanging from my daughter’s swing set with his belt. Daniel called 911 and got him down and started CPR. The paramedics arrived and took him to the emergency room. We got to see him before they took him, but he wasn’t breathing on his own. When we got to the hospital, the doctor told us that Jacob had no brain activity and that I was going to have to make the decision to take him off the respirator. All the family arrived – we took him off the ventilator and he was gone within seconds.
Daniel was devastated and he became suicidal too. He said he wanted to be with his brother. I told him I didn’t want him to do with his brother did. He needed to be strong for his sister and me. But he blamed himself for his brother’s death. The day of Jacob’s funeral, he became more suicidal. I took him to the ER and admitted him into psych care. Daniel had so much anger in him. The next years were spent in inpatient hospital. He attempted at every facility that he was at. They tried medication and did everything they could to get Daniel to talk but he closed up. He refused medication, would hurt himself, started cutting himself, carving his brother’s name on his arm. He pierced his tongue, eyebrows, and ears with any sharp object he could find. He would harm himself whenever he could.
I visited Daniel every day, and it seemed he was doing better. During a visit, Daniel promised that he wouldn’t hurt himself. He even asked us to get snacks for the next day. The next day never came. He hung himself in his room with a sheet on the door hinge. They took him to the ER but he was already pronounced dead.
I don’t know how I got through the first couple months. But I had good support. I got a lot of help through Victim’s Advocates and Suicide Education and Support Services. Mostly family. I feel much better after all these years. My life will never be the same because my boys are not here. But I am doing better. I’ve learned to talk about what happened to them and what I’ve done to heal and grieve. The more I talk about my boys and my struggles, I get better. Everybody grieves differently but the more you tell your story the easier it is.
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My life was completely changed on February 8, 2017 with my father, Michael, took his own life. Although, that was the day I lost my dad forever, he was gone way before then. I found out he was an alcoholic and I never knew why. Was it a mental illness? He was hiding from? Was it because he was so unhappy with his life? I never knew because he never talked about what was going on in his head.
My mom, my sister, and I all tried to hold an intervention for my dad to stop drinking, for his family. I thought to myself, if he knew how much his drinking was hurting our family, he would stop drinking, right? I was wrong. After the intervention his drinking just became sneakier. He would hide the alcohol in different bottles hoping we wouldn’t notice, but we always knew.
The alcohol was tearing my family apart and there was nothing I was able to do. My dad was not himself due to the alcohol – he used to be happy, bubbly, compassionate, but all that changed when alcohol entered the picture. One instance I will never forget was when my dad told me to stay in the car to have a little “chat“. My dad went ranting about how I need to grow up and have more responsibilities. In my eyes, I thought I was a great daughter. I was a straight “A” student, top five in my class ranking academically, captain of my dance team, never partied, and completed all my chores. And he told me, “I failed as a father because of the way you turned out.” Those words will always be etched into my mind; I felt disappointment in myself and a strong hatred for the person I had become. Everyone told me it was alcohol speaking, but those words still cut deep and left wounds in my heart.
In August 2016, my dad wasn’t feeling well so my mom took him to the ER in hopes of figuring out what was wrong. We found out, dad had severe pancreatitis from the amount of alcohol he consumed. My dad was in the ICU in very critical condition for a couple of weeks. He was going through withdrawals from alcohol while in the hospital and he wasn’t himself. We thought this was his wakeup call to stop drinking after almost dying from it. But my dad got out, he hugged me and told me he would never do this to me again. His biggest fear after being hospitalized with his family watching him die on a hospital bed.
My dad was finally sober for a few months after getting home and I thought this was where my life finally got better. I thought I was getting my dad back until I got home on January 21 to a note stating he had left to California for rehab. I was confused; I thought he was sober, but my mom said he had recently started drinking again. He didn’t tell us what rehab he was going to. The only way to reach him was through email.
On February 8, 2017 I came home to my mom sobbing uncontrollably and that was a sight I’ve never seen before. She sat my sister and I down and told us, “I’m going to tell you the worst news you will ever hear. Your father took his own life.” All I could do at this point was cry and ask questions. We found out my dad never went to rehab; he went to Las Vegas to party and gamble before committing suicide. He waited for the right moment and drove to an alley and shot himself in his car. Suicide brings up a lot of questions that we can only assume the answers to go along with them.
After losing my father, my life was completely different. I blame myself for my dad drinking and for him taking his life. I felt like I wasn’t enough for him to stay and those thoughts to go over my life for months after his passing. I slipped into a dark place where I felt hopeless and alone despite the love and support from all my family and friends. I wanted to be with my dad and leave all the pain on Earth, but I convinced myself to stay.
I have so much to live for and so much more of my life to live. All you have to do is ask for help and know you’re not alone. There are people out there that care about you. Don’t shut off the people who love you due to depression or mental illness. You matter. Don’t give up.
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Sometimes I think we forget how precious our children are and that they are a gift. Alison was our precious gift. I can still picture Alison when she was about two, with her hands on her hips and her chin protruding out. She was the proverbial strong-willed child.
Alison was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at age eight, she didn’t like that journey at all. This diagnosis took a huge toll on her mental health. At age 15, Alison crashed. It was March. I’ll never forget it. My wife called to tell me that Alison had come home from school and couldn’t go back. She was diagnosed with severe depression. We never really used the word suicide, but we knew that Alison could be suicidal because of the depression. Her teen years were tough. We tried several medications to see if that would help, but we never really found the right one. She would get in the car and go driving. Some nights, her mom and I would wonder if she was coming home.
When Alison reached her twenties, she was doing much better. She finally found some medications that worked. She attended a community college and did very well in school. With the ability to attend class, she achieved straight A’s and an EMS degree. She found her calling and she loved it. During college, she worked in the emergency unit and after graduation, she was hired by a paramedic service and worked on an ambulance. She was successful. She had her own car, her own home, a dog, and a boyfriend. She was doing well.
Alison was a fixer, so she dated guys that needed fixed. She dated one young man who was a pilot on a B-1 bomber. He was a neat guy, but he had some issues and a strong ego. That’s the kind of guy she dated. Her next boyfriend was a good looking, ex-marine who had a tough childhood. He was hurting and needed “fixing.” He broke up with her the day she died – it was too much for her to handle at that moment.
Alison died on a Sunday. The last time I saw her was the Wednesday prior when she came to have dinner with us. I was sitting on the couch watching TV when she came into the house and she said, “Hi, Dad.” Now I regret not getting up off the couch and giving her a hug and telling her how much I love her. Why didn’t I get up?
It’s those kinds of things I regret now, the times I didn’t get off the couch. I never took a spring break with my family because I was working. I wish I had now. I didn’t do those dates that dads need to do with their daughters. I wish I had now. I thought I didn’t have time but really, I just didn’t take the time. I didn’t take time to get to know her like I should have. I regret not giving her the hugs she needed or telling her “I love you” or “I’m proud of you.”
At the time of Alison’s death, she was just shy of her 28th birthday. She worked a 12-hour shift and was going to meet us at a party. When she didn’t show up at 3pm we weren’t alarmed – we knew she had a long shift. By 7pm we went to check on her. That’s when we found her. She had taken enough antidepressants to kill two people.
That night, her boyfriend wept. Big guy. He wept in my arms and begged for forgiveness. We forgave him. We loved him. We tried to help him. Four months later, he took his own life. I wish I could say I saw it coming. We thought we had gotten through that stage.
I’m not going to paint pretty pictures. The grief is going to stay with you. Sometimes I’ll look at this photo of Alison and weep. To this day, I still look to see who’s driving the ambulance, which is bizarre because so many years have passed since we lost Alison. I know she’s not driving it, but I still look. And that’s okay. Those times that I weep are okay. Those tears are okay. I encourage folks to look around and remember the good they still have in their life and the people that love them dearly. The Lord promises we’ll see our Alison again one day, and that’s what we cling to.
To those who have lost loved ones, I can promise that there will be people that come along side of you that you never expected. Don’t try to do it alone. Get involved in a grief support group. Do that journey with others. It is painful. You need the love and help of others.
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When I was nine, my grandmother died suddenly – I lost a best friend. I blamed myself. It sent me into a spiral of self blame. At 12, I began to think, “I have to die, I deserve to die, I’m this monster and terrible person.” I felt that way through my freshman year. I was preoccupied with death and dying. Before my sophomore year, it was June 13, and I was like “this is the day.” I was at home alone. I didn’t follow any of the plans I made for myself and I didn’t write the note that I thought I would write. It was hasty. It was like I had to do it right then or I wouldn’t do it. I told myself, “You’ve worked up the courage – do it now.”
I was in softball at the time, and I thought I’d ride my bike to batting practice after I took all these pills, as to not die in my house. That was a big deal for me. I thought that would make it somehow better. I called my mom and said, “Mom, I’m going to do something dumb, really dumb.” And she goes, “Don’t do it. I’ll be home in minutes, it’ll be fine.” She made me promise I wouldn’t do it. I promised, but I did it anyway… I took all the pills. Then I got on my bike and left. It was a whole out of body experience, like I was watching myself from above – then suddenly I was sucked back into my body. I called my mom, hysterical, freaking out, thinking, “Oh, my God, I did this thing that I’ll never be able to recover from. This is going to kill me.”
The minute I said what I did, my mom started barking orders. She said, “Get your coach. Tell her right now that you need to go to the ER. It will be fine.” So I threw my stuff in my coach’s car and we drove to the hospital. On our way there, my coach was trying to keep me awake and she asked, “What in your life you have to be happy about?” I was like, how could she even ask that question? At the time I was so mad – it was a good question but I couldn’t find a good answer.
We spent all day at the hospital – I was in and out of consciousness. It didn’t really hit my mom that it was on purpose until my social worker asked me, “Emily, was this intentional?” My mom goes, “No, no, of course not,” and I was like, “Yeah, Mom, it was on purpose.” My mom lost it. She was inconsolable, because no parent wants to think that about their kid.
I was sent to a psych hospital. I was discharged three days later. I went home, but my parents didn’t know what to do. We don’t have guns in the house, but how do you get rid of prescription pills or the knife block? Or what do you do? Or who stays home with her when we are at work? So we had to call family members into town to take care of me. I didn’t know what I was going to do and life felt overwhelming. Everything that was dark was too dark, and everything that was bright was too bright and I couldn’t look at anything head on. Because I felt like I should’ve died.
I began seeing a therapist regularly. It was hard work, digging up old stuff I never wanted to remember, and having to be ok with it. When I made that decision in July, I didn’t think it would change my life forever. I thought it would end it. I have to live with it every day. Now it’s not as hard. I never made another attempt at suicide. I got lucky… no, I didn’t get lucky, I worked hard! I owe everything to my therapist and parents. I wouldn’t even be here without them. They saved my life. Some days are hard and I struggle with depression, but I don’t struggle with feeling suicidal. I’ve realized life is hard… but life is so good too! I’ve had to figure out how to get through each day just by itself. Every 24 hours is a new decision to show up and be as grateful and vulnerable and happy as you can be, with the circumstances that given day. Right now I feel amazing and I’ve set up the life I’ve always wanted, in spite of what I wanted when I was 16.
For kids who felt like me, feel like me, you have to find somebody you trust. Whether it’s your parents, your teacher, or a friend, it has to be someone who can get you help. I am beyond happy and grateful that mine wasn’t a completed suicide. It’s beyond words for me. I can’t believe that this is my life! That I get to drive in 5 o’clock traffic. Then I get to have dinner with my parents, or that I have to go to work tomorrow night. Even the tedious, boring stuff, I’m so happy to be doing it… I was so close to not getting any of that stuff.
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