Five years ago, LBPD Deputy Chief Michael Beckman’s son took his own life. Here are some of the lessons he learned from that tragedy
The emergency room physician took a deep and dejected breath, paused briefly while he searched for the words, locked eyes with mine, and then told me to summon any nearby family to the hospital because within three hours, my son, Stephen, was going to die.
After a youth marked periodically with heartbreaking moments of anger, anxiety, drug use, jail and depression; with no gainful job, vocational skill, real income or sense of self-worth; being mentally ill with substance abuse problems and his unborn daughter on the way that he feared he could not support, at 21 years of age, Stephen gave up.
On that otherwise beautiful Sunday morning in June 2011, Stephen jumped from a bridge to take his own life. Despite a fall of approximately 80 feet, he was alive when rescue personnel reached him. He was airlifted to a hospital where medical staff determined he had sustained a traumatic brain injury, broken bones, internal bleeding and other life threatening injuries.
Family, friends, and loved ones congregated at the hospital. Three hours passed and Stephen did not die. That day turned to night and back to day, and he lived. His caregivers warned that life threatening setbacks were possible in the coming weeks: infections; breathing problems; pneumonia. None ever came to pass. Stephen spent 28 days in critical condition.
About three months after his attempted suicide, which saw additional medical, mental and rehabilitation treatments, Stephen finally came home.
I wish the story ended here. It does not. Although many endeavored to help Stephen heal his body, mind, soul and spirit, these acts of love and compassion did not prevent the tragedy that occurred just 13 months after his attempt, in July 2012, when my son killed himself. Stephen left behind his newborn daughter and countless people who loved, nurtured, encouraged and supported him.
Stephen’s voice is forever silenced but his legacy endures. It endures through the valuable lessons of his short life, recovery, healing and his death. It endures through the retelling of his story to countless hundreds of law enforcement colleagues; medical, mental health and public health professionals; high school and college students; crisis counselors; academia; citizens; and other stakeholders. And it endures in the wonder and innocence of his beautiful daughter, who will know that despite his passing, her daddy Stephen is still helping people; that he was mentally ill and had substance abuse problems through no fault or choice of his own; and that he loved her very much.
Michael Beckman is deputy chief of the Long Beach, Calif., Police Department. He has experience addressing the diverse and comprehensive impacts of homelessness, mentally ill persons in the criminal justice system and at-risk youth. He participates in Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s Criminal Justice Mental Health Project, which is a countywide effort to provide treatment and services to safely divert mentally ill offenders from county jail.
At Campus Safety Conference East in Philadelphia on July 13, Beckman will present My Son’s Suicide: Lessons on Life, Legacy and Livelihood. He will tell the powerful story of his son’s life, death and the profound personal and professional takeaways that resulted from his passing. The lessons learned validate the premise that in today’s complicated and dynamic world, there is a fundamental need for compassionate, empathetic and communicative law enforcement professionals to best serve their communities, their schools, their colleagues and families, and their organizations. To register for Campus Safety Conference East, visit CampusSafetyConference.com.