Teen age suicide triggers the most important column of my journalism career

On Sunday “The Tips for Chips” podcast will be released. And the subject of my most important story came up on the show.

I want to share that with you. It was a column on a high school girl that caused me to deal with anxiety and depression for a long period of time. It triggered unexplained happenings in my life. And through it all it might have saved another girl’s life.

In 1987 I wrote a column in The Detroit Free Press about teenage suicide. It was penned as a letter to Lisa Gunn, a bright, witty girl who attended Harper Woods Regina High School. I met Lisa on the sidelines of Warren De La Salle football games. She knew most of the players and gave me inside tips that I used in game stories.

She told me she wanted to attend Michigan State University and someday become president of the United States. I believed her and was prepared to vote some day for her.

After her senior year in high school she enrolled at MSU. But things did not work out. She returned home after her first semester and killed herself in the family garage. It deeply affected me.

I wrote a column about giving life a second chance. It was penned as a letter to Lisa, but was directed at teenagers who struggled because of a bad breakup, a slump in the class room or battles with their parents. I asked Lisa to reach out to me because I refused to believe such a bright kid would end it all.

After writing the column I began to suffer from recurrent sleep paralysis. I felt the sensation of somebody giving me a warm hug. I attempted to turn around to see who this intruder was. However, I could not move.

My arms, legs and upper torso were paralyzed.

This happened so often that I was afraid to fall asleep. But eventually I’d nod off and the hugs began again in the wee hours of the morning.

After a while I became convinced that it was Lisa reaching out to me like I asked her to do in the column. She conveyed to me that she made a mistake. She wishes she were still alive. This went on for months.

One chilly fall morning it happened again. The warm embrace. My eyes opened and I could see exhaust fumes from running cars and my parrot Charlie playing in his cage. Once again I tried to turn around but could not move.

Then the hug became more intense and more loving. It was a goodbye hug from Lisa. I knew this was the final hug and I’d never experience this sensation again. The embrace stopped and I turned around quickly in time to see a flash leave my room.

I was totally exhausted. It was as if I took the red eye home from California or ran a marathon. I worked at the Mt. Clemens office of the Free Press and after an hour of laying in the bed because of exhaustion I got ready and dragged myself to work.

I checked on Charlie and gave him food and water. On the bottom of his cage the Lisa Gunn column faced me.

I wanted to tell the reporters of my experience, but who would believe this bizarre story? I finally told a reporter I named The Duke. I could tell he wanted to believe the story. But it was just so out of left field.

I felt like I was losing my mind.

Word got around the newspaper of my troubles and the Free Press found me a psychologist to talk to in Troy. I only went once because it seemed like most of the questions centered around drug use. I drank beer and have smoked weed fewer than a dozen times in my life. I have never used cocaine, heroine or any other hard drug.

If this guy thought I was a drug addict, I was done. I never returned.

High school counselors began reaching out to me. The column made an impact in the community and they said they spoke to several students who realized suicide wasn’t the answer to their troubles.

I spoke at a career day at Macomb Community College where I noticed a girl with black eye shadow, dressed in all black. She appeared and disappeared over and over again. After wrapping up my final talk she approached.

“Are you Terry Foster?” she asked.

I told her yes.

“I read your column on Lisa Gunn,” she said. “I have problems in my life. I thought about suicide but decided to give life a second chance.”

Chills ran rampant up and down my spine. I was happy and scared at the same time. I wanted to talk more to this girl, but she disappeared.

I’ve always wondered what happened to her. Did she keep giving life a second chance?

I sure hope so.

Find Terry Foster Podcast here:

Published by terryfoster8

I am a 58 year old retired sports journalist, husband and father of two living outside of Detroit in search of his next big adventure in life.

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