Cathy Comer didn't know a thing about suicide -- until her boyfriend took his own life five years ago.
"At the time I knew nothing about suicide," said Comer, a Syracuse resident and owner of Cathy's Caf (c) on James Street. "Unbeknownst to me, and even to him, Mike was suffering from chronic depression. Depression is different in men than it is in women, and he wasn't acting sad -- he was just angry all the time. So I didn't recognize it as depression."
And she certainly never thought he would hurt himself. She did know that Mike had tried to commit suicide before. She didn't know that the previous attempt made him 50 percent more likely to try again.
"I didn't know that, and neither did he," she said. "We thought he was okay."
Both believed that until Mike disappeared one day in 2004. His body was found 10 days later at his uncle's cabin in Sullivan County.
Ever since, Comer has been trying to make sense of his death. She's also channeled her grief into helping people who may be contemplating taking their own lives. That's why she's doing everything she can to reduce the stigma and raise awareness about suicide, including forming a support group for suicide survivors, The Healing Circle of CNY, and helping to start the Central New York Regional Suicide Prevention Coalition -- made up of mental health professionals, physicians, elected officials and more -- which encompasses Onondaga, Madison, Cortland and other counties in CNY.
Comer undertook these efforts because, in the weeks after Mike's death, she felt lost, and there were no resources locally to help her deal with what she was feeling.
"Suicide is a life-altering experience," Comer said. "When someone you love takes their own life, you're never the same afterwards. When they do it to themselves, who do you blame? They're both the victim and the murderer."