Opinion: Simply listening could lead to a life saved

By Kevin Canessa Jr.

A little more than a week ago, everything changed for one family in an instant. And for many other families, the same happens far too often.

In this case, it was an 18-year-old young man.

He ended his life in a parking lot at St. Teresa of Avila Church in Summit — a parish I once served as youth minister. According to a local Summit news website, “When police units arrived on the scene, they discovered an unresponsive 18-year-old Summit man, with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, lying in the rear passenger compartment of a small SUV.”

For this man, whose name I won’t use for the sake of privacy for his family, for whatever the reason, it was easier to end it all rather than going on living. The sheer notion of it all is baffling — that things could be so bad for a human being that the better option is not to live.

According to SAVE.org, in America, there is a suicide every 12 minutes — which translates to an average of 105 a day. That’s right — 105 people, each day, decide to end their own lives in this country. That number is entirely too high. And perhaps even worse than that statistic is that there are many, many ways in this nation to prevent ending it all.

While I have no scientific evidence, I’d like to think empirical evidence demonstrates that one of the reasons there are so many suicides in this country is because far too often, we all simply fail to pay close attention to the people who matter the most in our lives … to the ones we love the most … to the people who are right there before our very eyes.

It reminds me of something that happened to me back in 2004. A former student was having a very rough go of it. He’d wind up spending a lot of time in my classroom after school, speaking about the difficulties he had in his life. He was a great kid, really was (and is still, to this day). He came from a very loving and supportive family. His parents were pretty well off. The kid was well liked among his peers.

And yet, the depression from which he suffered — to no fault of his own — was so great that at one point in 2004, he believed he wasn’t worthy of living. Though he never told me, I sensed he was planning to end his own life.  I had to do something, fast.

The school was able to get him help. When you’re a teacher, while keeping a student’s trust is paramount, when the life of another student or the student himself is in great danger, we were obligated to take immediate, swift action.

The day he thanked us for saving his life was one of the single most humbling experiences ever. But as many others would say in the course of things, I was just doing what I was called to do — to listen, to guide, to love.

I want to think this young man chose to speak with me about his issues because he knew I’d get it. I did, fortunately. Far too often, however, it seems in suicide cases, the “victim” too often feels there’s no other way. They feel no one gets them. They feel their best recourse is to die, rather than live and face their challenges.

What am I getting at here?

I firmly believe most suicides are preventable. I speak not as a psychiatric or psychological expert, but as someone who listens carefully to every person who speaks to me. In the busy-ness of life, think about just how many people’s voices we hear. If I asked you to repeat what every person you encountered yesterday [SAID?], could you, at the very least, recap what you heard?

If just one of the people you spoke with yesterday hinted that life was getting unbearable, would you remember it all? If that same person said he was sick and tired of being out of a job, broke and without much to eat each day, would you have gone beyond the simple basics in your conversation?

Sometimes, the evidence is right there. And while not everyone who contemplates suicide wants help, there are times when the cry for guidance is obvious.

That cry for help, too often, goes unanswered.

So what it all comes down to is simple — we need to listen more when our friends and loved ones talk about their rough patches. When our friends and colleagues talk, we need to stop what we’re doing and truly hear what they’re saying.

In those words we hear, there could very well be a plea for help. And if that plea for help is there, we must all take action. Because we truly never know just how serious the plea for help might be. Perhaps it might anger our friend and loved one. But wouldn’t that anger be much better than having to go to a funeral?

The options are there. The consequences of not listening are dire.

And it might just be a matter of life or death.

With all this said, I can only hope the family of this young man from Summit has some kind of peace in their lives now. And I can only wonder … did he have someone willing to listen?

Odds & ends

• My apologies for the morbidity of this week’s column, but I can’t help but pause to pay respects to Joseph Micalizzi, the 23-year-old NJIT student from Freehold who was killed earlier this month in his fraternity house. While every homicide is tragic, this one hits home even more because of just how close it was to us (it’s about three miles from the fraternity house to The Observer’s office at 39 Seeley Ave., Kearny).

Micalizzi was shot in the hand and head in his own bedroom at the fraternity house on Newark’s Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and reports indicate he struggled with the men who killed him. The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office says the perps in this case were seeking cash.


Many of the current NJIT told the press after the shooting that venturing off campus isn’t wise. These are the days I give thanks I don’t have kids. I can’t even begin to imagine what Micalizzi family is going through right now. And I am certainly glad I won’t be faced with having to tell a child of my own: no chance you’re going to NJIT or, for that matter, any college in Newark.

It’s a shame the mayor of the city isn’t as outraged over this murder than as he was about Uber daring to pick up and drop off passengers at Newark Liberty International.

• The Kearny PBA’s Food Truck Festival is Saturday, May 21, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the Frank A. Vincent Marina, Passaic Ave., Kearny. If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, log on to kearnypba.com/foodtrucks to order them online. This is going to be a great day in Kearny. And, all proceeds go the PBA’s involvement in the annual Tour de Force — and other great programs they sponsor.

• He’d probably prefer I not write this, but my colleague and friend Ron Leir was recognized last week by the Kearny Fire Department with the 2015 Media Award. This is a well-deserved honor — and Ron’s coverage of the KFD has always been strong, accurate and timely. Well done, Ronnie. We’re all very proud of you.

• Enjoy the rest of the week, one and all. The weather forecast isn’t very May-like — but hope you’re able to make the best of it.

Reach Kevin Canessa Jr. at kc@theobserver.com, facebook.com/kevincanessa or twitter.com/kevincanessa. The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the newspaper’s management.

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Editor & Broadcaster at 

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, an organization he has served since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on social media channels such as YouTube, Facebook, and X, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to Kearny to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.