“Each day offers us the gift of being a special occasion if we can simply learn that as well as giving, it is blessed to receive with grace and a grateful heart.” Sarah Ban Breathnach
Prior to being struck by a couple of Denver-area newspaper articles about the recent suicide of widely-loved philanthropist Noel Cunningham, I had not heard of him. I had only eaten at the reputed Strings restaurant that he owned in Denver.
Nearly 1400 people, including many Colorado politicians, packed St. John’s Cathedral in Denver on December 9th to pay tribute to a man described by one eulogizer as “one of the greatest humanitarians of our times.” Even Bill Ritter, the previous governor of Colorado, wiped away tears while eulogizing Noel Cunningham. Apparently, this beloved restaurateur was generous not only with his money, but also with his widespread compassion and words of wisdom.
One of Bill Ritter’s remarks particularly grabbed my attention: “The final powerful lesson that Noel taught us is that self-care matters too, even for the selfless.”
It is well-known that suicide is much more prevalent for men than women (although women make more pseudo attempts). Of course, suicide and depression go hand-in-glove. However, it is striking when a man as highly regarded and admired as Mr. Cunningham was by numerous people, feels desperate enough to take his own life. Does his suicide betray the all-too-common male “pride” that prevents ample reaching out for help? Colorado’s former governor seemed to imply that Noel, like so many men, were overly giving to others, to the detriment of their own well-being.
As a therapist, I have witnessed self-neglect and even self-deprecation in a notable number of male clients, a few of whom were relatively prominent in their communities. Quite often these guys were noble providers for their families, while serving and giving freely to many others. Yet, the majority of them felt lonely, self-sacrificing and depressed. Some, like Noel, were suicidal (although, most surprisingly, I’ve never had a client actually kill him or herself).
At this season where giving is lauded throughout our society, we’d do well to remember the importance of the art of graciously (and gratefully) receiving and of looking out for “number one.” Playing off of the proverbial biblical injunction to love your neighbors as thyself, I’d exhort, Love yourself as you love your neighbors.”
HAPPY HOLIDAYS to all of my readers!