Turning tragedy into hope

By Samantha Jameson – 

Jazz Osman, the president of Adams County Suicide Awareness and Prevention, and guidance counselor at Ripley High School, has made it her life mission to make sure no one has to lose a loved one to suicide ever again. Suicide seems to be a taboo subject that is rarely talked about, and that’s something that she is changing. “Stand with us” is the motto of ACSAP, and their umbrella symbol is a sign of protection, Jazz describes it as “even though you can still feel the rain, you can protect yourself from the rain.”
If you’re like me, then you’ll agree that suicide isn’t something we openly discuss at the dinner table. It also isn’t something that anyone ever thinks will happen to them. But, the statistics make it all too real. According to The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention, approximately 44,000 Americans die by suicide each year. In 2015 alone, there were 1,650 suicides in Ohio.
“I’m a survivor, as in that’s what I’m called,” said Osman. “ A survivor is someone who has lost someone to suicide, not to be confused with someone who has survived an attempt. I think there is a lot of confusion with that. So, when we started the Survivors Suicide Support Group, we took out the word ‘survivor,’ because we didn’t want people who had attempted suicide and survived to try and come. They need mental health counseling, not a support group.”
When something tragic happens to someone else, you find yourself feeling sympathy and sadness for that person, you want to help, but you don’t know how. When Jazz became a survivor, she noticed that all those “sad eyes” had now turned to her, and she hated it.
“I felt like a leper, I felt like people were staring at me like I had leprosy.”
his is how she felt the first time she had went to lunch with her family after losing her fiancé to suicide. She remembers looking around, and noticing everyone was staring at her, but also realizing that she hardly knew any of them. Her brother responded with “Well they know you!” which sparked the question that started her passion to make a difference. “How can I use that?”
Jazz, her family, supporters, and other survivors in the county started attending the “Out Of The Darkness Walk” in Cincinnati in 2012. However, the walks were inconveniently on a Sunday night, making it hard for people that worked on Mondays.
“We loved it, so we did it for about three years.”
Unfortunately, the last year it dwindled down to only two people in their group.
“It was a dying cause, and I was like ‘I like this, I don’t want this to die!’ So we decided to start having it here.”
The “Out of The Darkness” walk provided Jazz with a lot of things- companionship, courage, and most of all hope. She still carries a specific quote with her that she read at the walk, “I didn’t choose this, it chose me.” She wanted to bring all those things to Adams County, and represent a cause worth fighting for.
So began Adams County Suicide Awareness and Prevention and as the president, Jazz knows first hand how difficult it is to start a non profit organization legally, but she succeeded.
“We got a lot of backlash at first, people would say things like, ‘How can you save someone?’ or ‘How can you do research?’ and I’m just like why wouldn’t you want to do research? Why wouldn’t you want to try?”
The statistics shown by www.afsp.org tells us that we should open our eyes. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 15-34. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. The hardest one for me to swallow was that, on average, a person dies by suicide every five hours in Ohio.
“Grief is a funny thing, especially with suicide. With Kubler-Ross’ five stages, I don’t think you start in one and go to the end. You can’t let it pervade your life, I wanted to give back to those who have lost, because it is such a taboo. I don’t think its selfish because I don’t believe that anyone that takes their own life is thinking rationally in their right mind. He was dealing with things I obviously couldn’t help him with or he didn’t want me to. I think that makes him unselfish, because he didn’t want to make me go through that with him. Maybe I’m too rational in thinking that, maybe he just thought his head was on fire and he needed to jump. Richard used drinking to cope. When he quit, he didn’t know how to cope.”
As a counselor at Ripley High School, Jazz shared that she trains teachers on suicide, and works with the students- what signs to look for, and how to ask a friend if they are thinking of hurting themselves. She is really ambitious about working with the youth.
“Is it the most uncomfortable conversation you could ever have with someone? Well, yeah. But it could save their life. You can’t be afraid of asking the question ‘Are you thinking of taking your own life?’ “
Students come into her office to talk about all things, including hurting themselves, sometimes they come out and say it, other times, Jazz has to do some coaxing.
“It happens more than you realize. It’s just crazy that we as a society want to ignore, or choose to ignore something that affects so many people.”
After Richard took his own life, it wasn’t until one of his sons came to Jazz and told her that she needed help. At the time, she had no idea that’s the direction she needed to go, but looking back she said it was absolutely the right decision.
“I’m really glad I did it.”
Suicide is often unexpected, it’s hard to see signs, and even if you recognize them, the person wont always accept help.
“My three favorite pictures of Richard and I, if you looked at them, you would have never guessed that he would be someone that would take his own life. I used to call it his dark cloud that he carried around. I would try and talk to him about it, but he just didn’t want to. I don’t want him to be remembered as the guy who took his own life. I don’t want that.”
When I asked how she would want him remembered, she responded:
“He lives in my heart, he was happy go lucky, he was funny, he was always giving, even if he didn’t always have much to give, I think he wore his heart on the outside, you know, he had that black cloud that followed him around, but I think he tried to hide it by being gregarious and outgoing, he was a hard worker, he was at the top of his company. My favorite picture of him, is of him at work holding a million dollar part, with the guy that owned it, and he had the biggest smile on his face, like he was so proud. If it was a million dollar part, Richard was working on it.”
Jazz laughs, and her face brightens as she tells stories of their life together. The things she loved and the things that drove her crazy.
“I do believe that we are soul mates, that’s why he’s still here, because he’s still a part of me. I think that’s why I’m able to deal with it a little bit better than most, I also think we weren’t meant to be together in this lifetime. We were supposed to learn something apart from each other.”
She also graced me with one of the best quotes I might have ever heard:
“I like to say that suicide is the elephant in the room, and I’m going to ride it.”
She explains how suicide is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. Something she is ready to take head on.
I asked her if there was anything else she wanted people to know, her response was simple:
“There is help out there, even if you’re embarrassed to ask. If you think someone is struggling, just talk to them, ask them. It’s worth it, even if we only save one person, I speak for our whole group when I say that.”
I believe we, as a society, can judge less and help more. We ignore things we don’t understand and we shouldn’t. We can’t always know what people are going through or feeling, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to help.”
The second annual ACSAP walk will be held at the Adams County Fairgrounds on Saturday, Sept. 23. Sign in begins at 6 p.m. and the walk begins at 7 p.m. You can preregister until Sept. 1. You can also register the day of the walk. Registering beforehand will secure your t-shirt. Check out their Facebook page for more information Just search: Adams County Suicide Awareness and Prevention.
“Somedays I get a little frustrated because I’m ‘that suicide girl,’ and then I take a breath and say ‘you’re right, you are that suicide girl’”
If you, or someone you know is suffering from suicidal thoughts, there is help. National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-TALK(8255) or text a trained counselor: 4hope to 741741. Both are available 24/7.