Stolen by Suicide: Memorial Scroll helps locals remember their loved ones, raise awareness
By Samantha Jones and Haley Schichtl
On Dec. 24, 2016, Lynette Fultz hadn’t spoken to her son Ryan Grassel for two weeks. They sent messages back and forth, but Fultz feared she’d spoil his Christmas present if they spoke on the phone. She was excited to see the look on his face when he saw his brand-new keyboard on Christmas morning.
“He couldn’t play music for anything,” Fultz said, “but he said it spoke to his soul.”
Unfortunately, Ryan never got the chance to play music on the keyboard. He took his own life the day before Christmas, an event that would change Fultz forever. Ryan was only 27.
“It feels like it happened just a few weeks ago. It doesn’t feel like three years, and I’m supposed to do this for the rest of my life without him?” Fultz said. “It’s just not right.”
To remember her son, Fultz created the Stolen by Suicide Memorial Scroll. Ryan’s name is at the very top of the list, followed by more than 800 others who have taken their lives.
Fultz debuted the scroll at the Out of the Darkness Community Walk, an initiative to give people the courage to open up about their own struggle or loss sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). At the time, the scroll had 250 names on it.
“I thought that was a phenomenal amount of names,” Fultz said. “When I offered it to the support groups I was in, the names wouldn’t stop coming in.”
Fultz said many locals have asked that their loved ones’ names be included on the list. The scroll is long, Fultz said, but it would be even longer if it included the names of everyone who dies by suicide every year. That scroll would be approximately 25.8 miles, Fultz said.
“It puts perspective on how much of a monster suicide really is,” Fultz said. “Before I lost my son, I would hear about random suicides and it would go in one ear and out the other. If I had seen something like the scroll … I would have had more of an understanding of how bad the rising numbers of suicides are.”
According to AFSP, one person dies by suicide every 14 hours in Arkansas. Over the past two years, there have been four suicides in Eureka Springs, one suicide in Green Forest and two suicides and one attempted suicide in Berryville, according to local police. Zach Hedges, director of youth services for Youth Bridge, said Arkansas has the ninth-highest rate of suicides in the country.
“It’s showing us that it’s very prevalent,” Hedges said, “whether people are speaking out about it or not.”
Her life mission is to speak about it, Fultz said. The scroll has shown her suicide doesn’t discriminate, Fultz said.
“It takes the very young to the very old. It takes every race,” Fultz said. “It takes the rich. It takes the poor. It takes every religion. I want people to understand and see with their own eyes the names of the dead.”
In many ways, Fultz said, the scroll saved her after she lost her son. She said the scroll has helped her connect to others who have lost loved ones to suicide, saying that sense of community is what keeps many going after experiencing such loss.
“If somebody hasn’t dealt with suicide … you don’t know,” Fultz said. “You just don’t know. You just don’t get it. It’s a complete blow to your whole world and it happens to the normal everyday person.”
Fultz said she hopes the scroll has the kind of visual impact to inspire change. She hopes to take the scroll to Washington, D.C., at some point, Fultz said, to advocate for better services for those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts.
“We can talk and talk about the numbers of deaths and nobody really gets it,” Fultz said, “but when you make it personal by sharing the names of the dead, people start to think with their hearts … and start to care and understand.”
Stop the stigma
For 16-year-old Sierra Holland, the scroll is one of the many ways she shares her dad’s story. Holland’s father, Shannon, died by suicide in 2014 and his name is the sixth name on the scroll. Holland said her family has chosen to speak out about her dad’s death, saying they are focused on ending the stigma around suicide and mental illness.
“My dad was great, but he had always struggled with depression,” Holland said. “He had split personality disorder. There was my dad and there was another person that was not my dad.”
Holland said her dad loved to swim, work on vehicles and go for long drives. When he took his own life, Holland said, it was his ninth attempt to do so. She was 11 when he died.
“It’s miserable. He had three kids,” Holland said. “He’s not going to see us grow up. My older sister just had her first baby, and he didn’t get to meet him.”
Her dad thought he had to be tough all the time, Holland said, but nobody can be tough all the time.
“He never told anybody about the way he felt,” Holland said. “He bottled it up and bottled it up and bottled it up and finally broke.”
No one should be afraid to open up to their loved ones, Holland said, but that’s what happens when there’s a stigma associated with mental health problems.
“I think if my dad would have opened up and would have tried to get help, it would have been a little bit better,” Holland said. “Everybody should be able to open up to somebody and tell people how they feel without being ridiculed.”
De-stigmatizing suicide is one of Youth Bridge’s missions, Hedges said. An example of that, Hedges said, is changing the phrasing from “committing suicide” to “dying by suicide.” Those who hurt themselves or die by suicide put a lot of thought into their actions, Hedges said.
“Suicide is not by any means a simple decision,” Hedges said.
Hedges said the signs that someone is considering suicide include being preoccupied with death, declining work performance, withdrawing from social settings and drastic changes in behavior.
“If they were typically an honor student and their grades start dropping or they start isolating from their peers,” Hedges said, “we’re seeing warning signs that precipitate suicidal thinking which ultimately could result in suicidal behaviors.”
Sometimes, Hedges said, people seem happy right before dying by suicide. Fultz said that’s what happened with her son Ryan. Near the end of his life, Fultz said, Ryan took a trip to Florida to visit family and go to an amusement park even though he was never really a thrill-seeker.
“He swore he was good and he was fine,” Fultz said. “He said he didn’t have those thoughts anymore.”
Holland said she had a similar experience with her dad. She knew her dad struggled, Holland said, but she didn’t understand how much until he died.
“I had never really thought as many people kill themselves as they do until my dad killed himself,” Holland said. “It opened my eyes that this happens daily and no one is talking about it or doing anything about it.”
Talking about it is the only way to increase awareness, Fultz said, and that’s exactly what the scroll is meant to do.
“It carries the names of our children, our parents, our grandparents, our family and our friends,” Fultz said. “They aren’t just numbers and statistics.”
How to help
The best way you can help a loved one struggling with suicidal thoughts, Hedges said, is to know the signs. Hedges said Youth Bridge offers training at the local schools and for any adults who would be interested in learning more about what leads someone to die by suicide. When you notice someone withdrawing, Hedges said, it’s important to talk about it.
“People need to feel connected. They need to feel like they belong,” Hedges said. “Our local schools are realizing people need to feel connected and building relationships is a great place to start.”
Green Forest superintendent Matt Summers said Youth Bridge has been a great help to the school district.
“If it’s brought to our attention by a parent, a student, a teacher –– if anyone tells us, ‘Hey, we’ve got a student who’s written something or said something that leads us to believe they could be suicidal,’ “ Summers said, “then our counselors follow that step and are looking to see where they are on the spectrum.”
Eureka Springs superintendent Bryan Pruitt said every teacher at the school district has been trained on mental health first aid, saying a speaker has talked to the staff and counselors and the school offers programs for students who are struggling. The school uses the Witness Program, Pruitt said.
“See it, hear it, tell it,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt said suicide awareness will be featured at the upcoming Teen Summit, scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 23, at Bobcat Arena in Berryville. Fultz said she is preparing for the event, making more than 300 T-shirts to hand out to students. Increasing suicide awareness is her new mission in life, Fultz said.
“I have to go, go, go, go as much as I can,” Fultz said. “I don’t stop. I’m constantly doing something for somebody, adding names to the scroll. Connecting to people makes it easier.”
Holland agreed, saying she makes a point to pay attention when people talk about what they’re going through. That could make all the difference, Holland said.
“It will get better,” Holland said. “You don’t realize how many people care about you at all. My dad didn’t realize how many people cared about him, but his funeral was packed.”
Once you notice someone is struggling, Hedges said, you should encourage that person to use mental health services. Hedges said Youth Bridge offers counselors to those in need, as well as a 24/7 crisis line. You can reach the local Youth Bridge crisis line by calling 888-518-1018. The national suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255.
If you’ve lost a loved one to suicide, Fultz has a spot on the scroll for their name.
“We want to make something beautiful come out of our tragedies,” Fultz said. “We want to educate and save lives.”