RICHMOND, Va. — Ten years later, the fog consuming Ray Paul has not lifted, more so shifted. Paul, whose son Buck died by suicide in 2012, is now leading a nationwide effort to create dialogue about suicide and ways to prevent it.
“When your grief is so raw, you can’t really even function,” Paul said. “Buck’s always right in the front of my brain, all of ours, but we can talk about it.”
Ray said he misses Buck’s laugh. Like many families, the Pauls said they did not see warning signs that Buck was hurting. The 25-year-old was living with college friends and on a management track at work when he died.
“Just the brightest, nicest, loving, guy,” Paul said. “Why did we not see anything? How do we go through life not feeling guilt the rest of our lives that we didn’t see any warning signs.”
“We, as a family, were really lost, and you don’t know where to turn,” he said.
Their daughter, Margaret, decided to turn Into the Darkness, pushing the family to attend the annual, nationwide walk put on by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Now, ten years later, Paul is the director of the organization’s board, which is dedicated to saving lives and bringing hope to those affected by suicide.
Paul said he is humbled by the responsibility and points out that suicide affects people of all backgrounds across the world.
“That’s a large part of what we do as an organization: educate any demographic, any age group, on how to look for warning signs and we want to talk about those warning signs. They can be environmental, they can be health related,” Paul said. “It’s not bad to ask someone, are you thinking about hurting yourself? Are you thinking about taking your own life? It sounds like something taboo. In the past, you would say, ‘don’t plant that seed.’ Well, that’s not the case at all. If you ask someone that question, it might be a great relief and release to them.”
AFSP has resources for identifying warning signs and talking to friends or loved ones. Paul said leaning into those talks, which might feel awkward, is critical to saving lives, just as it was at the beginning of his family’s grief journey and the mission it sparked.
“That really opened the door for us from day one: to be able to talk about Buck. We just thought that if we didn’t talk about the way he died, that we wouldn’t be able to talk about the way he lived,” he said.
“Don’t wait for the knock to come to your door. Be aware of your family and friends; be aware of your own mental health. Look at all the steps you can take,” Paul said. “The more that happens within the community, that becomes a protective factor for anyone who is suffering.”
Paul’s work with AFSP continues on a volunteer basis, and he encouraged others with interest in helping to connect with the AFSP Virginia chapter.
Help is always available to anyone who is considering self-harm or under emotional distress. You can dial 9-8-8 or click here for help.
First Presbyterian Church in Richmond is hosting acommunity forum with Paul titled “We Can Talk About It.” It’s April 25 at 7 p.m., and all are welcome, especially teens and their families.
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