Five months after his son committed suicide, Rocky Dunham went to the grave with the intent of killing himself too.
Overcome with grief, Dunham took a gun that November day in 2008 to the cemetery where his 27-year-old son, Gordon Joel Dunham, was buried.
But instead of using the gun, he used a card for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that he had picked up at the Oklahoma City Zoo on a suicide prevention walk.
Dunham called Lifeline, planning to tell someone where his body would be located.
The call specialist in Oklahoma City persuaded Dunham not to kill himself.
“The one thing I do remember is they showed me more reasons to live than I could come up with reasons to die,” he said.
Today, Dunham, 58, of Midwest City, works part time taking calls from others who are considering suicide.
“The most satisfying call is when someone is distraught and thinking about suicide and we ask questions and get them out of the darkness they are in,” Dunham said.
Calls to Lifeline are answered by call specialists at the Oklahoma City-based HeartLine agency if they come from 76 of Oklahoma's 77 counties, spokeswoman Lisa Harper said. Tulsa County callers are routed to a Tulsa hotline.
Volunteers and paid staff members answer telephone calls from suicidal people 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We want to help them to find reasons to live versus reasons to die, help them see the good in their lives, the positive that is still there,” Harper said.
A call specialist, who asked to be identified as Cory, said most of those who answer the phones have a personal experience with suicide.
Cory said she is astonished by the number of teenagers who have called in the past year.
From June 1, 2010, to May 31, 2011, the local Lifeline took 283 calls from callers ages 13 to 18.
That number was 460 for the year from June 1, 2011, to May 31.
The total number of calls to Lifeline from people considering for the same periods shows an increase from 5,357 to 6,481.