After her son committed suicide, Colene Paradise committed herself to helping others recognize the signs of a potential suicide.
Anthony Paradise, affectionately known as Antone, was a friendly, energetic, and active 23-year-old when he committed suicide on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in May of 2014.
On a seemingly typical Monday morning, Anthony woke up, got ready for the day, and then made his mother breakfast. Just hours later while his mother was on her way home from work, she received a call from her daughter. “He’s gone,” her daughter told her. “Antone is gone.”
Tragedy and Grief in Indian Country
The Duck Valley Indian Reservation is home to the Shoshone and Paiute Tribes, and is located in the high desert of northern Nevada and southern Idaho. The valley is pristine and isolated, with one highway going into the reservation, and the very same highway leading out.
Like many tribal communities, unemployment is high on the reservation, and many struggle with a range of challenges, including depression, addiction, unresolved grief, and suicide.
Yet Anthony Paradise walked with a smile in the community, and had plenty of activities that he involved himself in. He was an avid runner, participating in relays and marathons all throughout Nevada, Idaho, and surrounding communities. He played basketball, attended sweat lodge and sundance ceremonies, and worked as an on-call employee for the local fire crew.
When Paradise took his own life, his family was left grief-stricken. Anthony left behind his mother, Colene, his father, Gary, sisters, Marla and Monica, and brothers Kyle and Kaycee.
“We were numb,” said Anthony’s mother, Colene. “We asked ourselves, ‘Why. Why didn’t we see it?’ I couldn’t even function. I couldn’t get out of bed.”
After taking some time off from work to grieve the loss of her son, Colene returned back to work at the local school and finished out the school year. Yet it wasn’t until that summer that she grieved deeply, and truly began facing the loss of her son.
“I finally started to heal when I was on a trip,” Colene said. “A stranger came and put a hand on me and told me that I had a strong power following me around. I thought she was crazy. I made a joke of it, and she said, ‘No, seriously. Your path has been drawn out for you.’ And then she walked away.
“I got back into my hotel room, and cried for like an hour,” Colene added. “That was the first time I cried so hard.”
Even after this, Colene isolated herself for days at a time.
“Sundance came, and I didn’t want to go,” she said. “I started to get tired of everyone asking, ‘How do you feel, how are you?’ I thought I was going to lose it. But I made myself to go. After sundance, I felt a peace come over me. I had a dream, the most beautiful dream I ever had: “I was walking down a path, and this man comes to me and says, ‘Come on.’ So we walk and walk, and suddenly, we see a fire. Birds are chirping. It’s really pretty. I suddenly see people waving at me. I couldn’t see their faces. I got scared, and then ran and hid in a bush. The bushes came apart and a hand came out. It was my son. He pulled me up, and led me into our house and shut the door.”
That dream was the first of a pair of encouraging dreams for Colene. Sometime later, a second dream came, this time, taking her another step closer to finding purpose in her pain:
“I was inside a huge cave with a beautiful waterfall, and fish were jumping in it,” she said. “There was a canyon outside. I walked out and down a path, and saw people singing and round dancing. I turned around, and a huge two-headed snake came toward me. All of a sudden, the snake left me and headed for the rim of the canyon and went toward some kittens I saw. The momma cat started fighting with the snake. I took the kittens and tried to run with the kittens tucked inside my shirt. When I got to (safety), I saw they weren’t kittens, but kids. I was almost to the people, but I didn’t get there.
“My dream was leading me to something,” said Paradise. “I’m supposed to help the kids.”
With growing clarity and comfort, Colene began moving forward. One day, she came across a flyer for a two-day suicide prevention training.
“I looked at (the flyer) long and hard, and decided that I was going to go, but I was afraid to get there and hear where I went wrong.”
At the training, she learned about the warning signs of suicide, and how to talk to somebody contemplating taking their own life. On the very night that she finished the training, she received a call from the school principal on the reservation. A student was on the verge of suicide, and Colene had the training to respond.
“My heart was pumping, and I was sitting in there with this kid, listening to him, and all of a sudden I felt so calm, like I had been doing this for hundreds of years,” she said. “After talking to him, he finally calmed down.”
This would be the first of many calls that Colene would respond to. Her services immediately became a tremendous resource for the community of Duck Valley and the Owyhee Combined Schools where she works with youth daily an as instructional aide and athletic coach.
Paradise intervenes regularly with suicide attempts, responding in the late hours of the night, and following up with individuals routinely afterward to check in on them and to show them that she cares. Paradise also works with the local Bureau of Indian Affairs police department responding to suicide calls.
“If something comes up, (the police) call me, and I go out and bring that person back. I’m not saying that I’m healing them. You’re just bringing them back to a reasonable place, trying to keep them in that safe zone.”
Listening to Our Loved Ones. Really Listening
With a newly found purpose, Colene progressed in her healing journey.
“From that point on, I really look at people,” said Colene, speaking of the change that came after her first suicide intervention. “I look at their facial expressions. I look at their body language.I no longer just walk by people who are crying. If I see someone sitting by themselves, not looking happy, I go and find out why.”
“Before that, I realized that sometimes we only half-way listen. It took me a while to train myself to really listen to people. To hear the hidden hurt in their voices.”
At least once or twice a week, Colene makes contact with suicide-attempt survivors whom she looks out for. “I ask them, ‘How are you doing today? How is everything?’ They have my number.” Colene also makes visits to families who recently experienced the loss of a loved one to suicide, helping them to cope with the tragedy. She also speaks at community events regularly, and has become a devoted spokesperson on suicide prevention, intervention, and healing.
“I realized that my son was telling us for a whole year what he wanted to do,” says Colene. “I think he decided after he went to sweat (lodge ceremony) a couple days before. He came home, and everything was put in order. Everything was folded and taken care of.”
Anthony began to show many subtle signs, slowly disconnecting himself from the things he loved most.
“We used to pay for his runs he would go on, marathons, relays, or races. We would pay for those runs ahead of time. That December before he passed, he said I’m never running in another marathon, never playing in another basketball tournament. He started telling us, with the word ‘never.’
“He started giving things away, or even throwing things away,” she added. “He started moving things he never moved. He even moved things into my room, like all his medals. He took them off his wall and put them in my drawer, which I didn’t find until months later. There were all these little signs that we took for granted.”
As a valued resource in the community, many ask Colene what to look for in their own loved ones who may be contemplating suicide.
“Look for a change in temperature, or if they ever use the word ‘never.’ Ask them, ‘Why are you never going to do that again?’ Be careful not to say, ‘not my child,’ and always investigate their mental state. Really listen to them, and if they need professional help, get it for them. Please don’t ignore it. Don’t wait for it to be too late.”
Running for Wellness and Healing
In honor of her son’s passion for running, Colene collaborated with others in the community who suffered the loss of loved ones to suicide, and together they organized a group called Running for Wellness. The group meets regularly, running down paved roads, dirt roads, on trails, and through the mountains.
“After we run, it’s like a family atmosphere, where we eat and talk. We talk about how to feel healthy about ourselves,” Colene said.
In the spring, the family of Anthony Paradise sponsors a memorial relay run in honor of Anthony. Colene and other members of the family also attend regular workshops and meetings of families coping with suicide and loss. Colene also found comfort in reading the book, My Son, My son: A Guide to Healing After Death, Loss, or Suicide.
“The healing has come from talking about him all the time. Crying. And I guess, in a way, the first part of it is admitting that he committed suicide, being honest to others about it, saying the word. That by itself started to heal the shame,” she said.
The family of Anthony Paradise continues their healing journey through prayer, by staying active, and helping others in the community.
“As a family, we spend a lot of time talking and laughing about the things he did in the past. Some still struggle, but overall, we’ve come to terms with it, and we work hard on doing things together. It’s something that is never going to be completely healed, but I feel peaceful. More and more, I am feeling at peace.”
If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, tell someone immediately and get help. Call the local police department, the mental health services in your community, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.