Sometimes a voice is all you need to feel less alone. A steady, calm presence from a stranger who’s not afraid to look you in the eye and tell you that you matter, can make all the difference when you’re in a dark place.
Francis Gonzalez from Lowell, Massachusetts, is just that sort of person. Co-chair of the Merrimack Valley Out of the Darkness Walks and a 5-year veteran volunteer with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, she has received training to know how to help those at risk of suicide.
“When you’re going through a rough time and dealing with depression, you feel like nobody understands you and you’re all alone,” Gonzalez told the Lowell Sun. “You just have to let the person know that you’re there.”
But she also knows her help comes from above. “I believe that God was preparing me for that day,” she told WBZ-TV.
“That day” was June 19, when Gonzalez and her two daughters were in the car driving home. They took a different route for no real reason — though the reason soon became apparent.
“He was over the railing and leaning forward,” said 19-year-old Francheska Ortiz. “I yelled to my mother, ‘He’s going to jump. You got to turn around.’” https://t.co/Ds8AzFyf3k
— The Lowell Sun (@LowellSunNews) July 5, 2020
As they drove over Church Street Bridge, her daughter, Francheska Ortiz, spotted a man who looked like he needed some help.
“He was over the railing and leaning forward,” Ortiz said. “I yelled to my mother, ‘He’s going to jump. You got to turn around.'”
Gonzalez did just that. She parked the car and quickly made her way over to where the man was perched and began talking to him.
“I said, ‘I see you,'” she reassured him. “I’m here.”
“Please, there’s hope, there’s hope. I’m a stranger. I know I am. But, I am here to help you. I see you. I hear you.”
She looked him in the eye as she spoke about life and its difficulties, especially with the current climate. He didn’t speak, only cried and responded by nodding or shaking his head.
“I’ll never forget his face,” Gonzalez said. “You could see the pain. Such despair.”
Confirming that this was a serious situation, Gonzalez reached for her phone only to find that she’d left it in her car in her rush to approach the man. Thankfully, a woman passing by caught Gonzalez’s signal and dialed 911.
“God sent her, I tell ya,” Gonzalez confirmed.
At one point, someone in a passing car yelled “just do it and jump!” Gonzalez quickly countered that heartless message.
“It was horrible,” she said. “I said to him, ‘Don’t listen to them. I’m here for you.'”
The whole ordeal took 20-30 minutes before authorities arrived and the man was convinced to climb back over the railing. He was escorted to a hospital, but before he left, Gonzalez gave him a hug.
“I gave him a big hug and I said, ‘You’re going to make it. You’re going to make it. Thank you for giving yourself another chance,'” Gonzalez said.
“If it wasn’t for the courage God gave me that day and what I have learned from AFSP I wouldn’t have been able to be a lifesaver that day,” she shared on the Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention page.
“After he left with the ambulance, I hugged my girls and cried. I share my experience to spread hope and awareness. This is what The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention works hard for to help save lives. I pray for that man and hope he gets the help he needs to get better.”
While the man’s name has not been released to help protect his identity, Gonzalez hopes she’ll get to meet him again.
“I would love to talk to him. I want to know if he’s OK,” she said. “I appreciate life but it made me appreciate life even more.”
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