"I wouldn't want to end like that. I want to grow old." Suicide prevention notes at Quechee Gorge lead daughters and mom to discuss the hard questions
Ashlee Brown has been crossing the bridge at Quechee Gorge since she was a child, stopping regularly to marvel at the beauty of water cascading through the rocky channels 165 feet below.
On Wednesday, she stopped by with her daughters, 10-year-old Abigail and 6-year-old Amelia, and found another sight: bridge railings lined with handwritten notes urging people not to leap from the bridge to end their lives.
"You are loved," read the note where the little family stood.
"Today is a beautiful day, so I figured we'd stop and see the gorge," said Ashlee, who had to travel from her home in Fair Haven to a medical appointment in White River Junction.
She had read about the spate of suicides at the Gorge, tragedies that have prompted the state to make plans to install a 9-feet-high fence on the span and, this week, prompted two young women to post notes they hope will pull despairing people back from the edge.
Standing among the usual stream of tourists on the bridge on a sunny afternoon, Abigail, Amelia and their mom read the notes and talked about what they meant.
"It's sad that someone would say they want to die," said Abigail, a girl with bright blue eyes and a love of books. "I wouldn't want to end like that. I want to grow old."
The notes were created by two Upper Valley women, Jessica Keene and Jessica Arruda, and have drawn a wave of attention and support from people eager to stem the tide of suicides at the gorge. Keene lost her mother to suicide at age 11 and said it's left a lasting scar.
On previous visits, Ashlee said her daughters had both appreciated the beauty of the channel carved into the earth and the peril of its great depth. But never before had they been made to confront the image of someone so despondent that he or she would jump.
"You don't want to prepare your children for something like that," she said, recalling that a friend of hers had discovered a body at the bottom of the gorge while fishing with a friend below the bridge.
But at the same time, she said, the notes' emphasis on people reaching out for help echoes the message she's given her children time and time again when discussing bullying, foul language and the other travails of childhood — and adulthood.
"I'm always trying to tell them, 'Talk to people. Don't hold it in.' "