Open letter to VP Biden from one Auk to another | frank talk about suicide | episode 6

Dear Mr. Vice President:

We’ve been crossing paths since I was 12 years old, but the first time we spoke to one another was just last year.

The first time I saw you in person was in line for a movie at the former Concord Mall theater on 202 near Naamans Road.  It was the spring of ‘83 and Coppola’s The Outsiders had just opened in theaters.  I was 12 years old, my brother Mark and Beau were 14, and Hunter was 13.  Mark and I were in line right behind you, Dr. Biden, Beau and Hunter.  You guys ended up getting the last four tickets for The Outsiders, and even though we were underage, the woman at the box office let us buy tickets for the R rated comedy, Joysticks, which was not nearly as good a film, believe me.

Then during high school at Archmere, at football games with Hunter and tennis matches with Beau, and various other events, I saw you more times than I can recount.

Then in early 2012, when the football team that Hunter and I played on together that lost to Laurel 7-2 in the state championship game was inducted into the Archmere Athletics hall of fame, I saw Beau for the last time when you both showed up at the Patio that night.  I took delight in the fact that with not a single spare seat in the house that night, you took a seat on the stairs, and that was no big deal.  I chatted briefly with Hunter that night, but I’m sad to say that I didn’t say hi to Beau.  But I do recall the last time I saw and spoke with him.  I’m not sure what year it was, but I was driving through Philly when I saw Beau walking alone on the sidewalk, and he saw me see him.  So I pulled over, put my hazards on, jumped out of my truck and ran back to have a quick chat.  I don’t remember what we talked about really, but I do remember being lit up by the chance encounter…  because… well, Beau was Beau.

Anyway, it was last year when I personally met you for the first time when I offered you my condolences at Beau’s wake.

A couple months later I sent an email to Hunter that I want to share part of with you now:

The obvious horrible circumstances aside, I was grateful to have had the chance to spend the few moments that we spent together at Beau’s wake; it meant a lot to me to see you and to personally express my condolences to you and your family.  I also want to let you know how touched I was, blown away really, by your amazing tribute to your brother at the funeral.  The entire ceremony was such a beautiful tribute and celebration of Beau and his life.  I was so grateful to be able to see it, not to mention to know that people that may not have known Beau could see and hear you and everyone else that spoke, so that they could understand what kind of son, father, brother, friend and public servant… what kind of person your brother was.  I also wanted to take a moment to share something else with you.  Beau’s wake was the first time that I ever spoke with your father, and as I was getting close to the front of the receiving line, I debated taking a couple extra moments to thank him for his decades of service to the people of Delaware and this country, but I decided against it in the interest of time.  I wanted to thank him for living such an inspiring life and for dedicating himself to public service and for being a living example of the difference that one person can help make, for others.

So, thank you.

Just this past summer, with the help of Hunter, I got this letter in front of your scheduling assistant.

Dear Mr. Vice President:

Nine years after I graduated from Archmere Academy I nearly died by suicide when I was 27 years old.  Eighteen years after my suicidal crisis I am grateful to be a Philadelphia chapter board member of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the leading nonprofit at the center of the fight to reduce the mortality of suicide in this country.  Our mission is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.

In a couple of weeks hundreds of AFSP volunteers will visit Washington D.C. to meet with lawmakers to advocate for increased federal funding for evidence-based suicide prevention programs.  The AFSP has an ambitious goal and a practical plan to reduce the U.S. suicide rate by 20% by 2025.  I am writing to ask you to please consider meeting with the leadership of the AFSP before you leave office.  Robert Gebbia, our CEO, Dr. Christine Moutier, our Chief Medical Officer, and John Madigan, our Vice President of Public Policy would greatly appreciate the opportunity to brief you on our strategy to save the lives of thousands of Americans.  If your schedule permits, a brief meeting with you on June 14th would undoubtedly energize our growing group of thoughtful, committed citizens dedicated to reducing suicide.

We are convinced that our movement is approaching a tipping point in garnering the political will necessary to halt the rising U.S. suicide rate.  Your help in raising awareness about this preventable cause of death will hasten the arrival of the day when suicide is no longer one of the top ten causes of death in this country.  Thank you for your time and consideration, and thank you for being a living example of the positive difference that one person can make in the lives of others.

Francesco Bellafante
Archmere Academy Class of 1989

The date we were hoping to arrange the meeting for was June 14th, which turned out to be two days after the worst mass-shooting in our nation’s history.  Timing is everything, but there is still time to make this meeting happen before you leave office, if your schedule permits.

Your work with the #CancerMoonshot is inspiring.  Tragically, but not surprisingly the suicide rate for cancer patients is about double the national average.  Worse yet, a study has found the suicide rate to be 13 times higher for patients during the first three months after their diagnosis.

The leadership of the AFSP and I are grateful for all that you, Dr. Biden and the Obamas have already done for the suicide awareness and prevention cause,  but the days when the father of two of my teammates from high school is the Vice President of the United States are quickly drawing to a close.

I promised myself when you and the President were elected that I would get myself in a position to leverage my personal connection to you for the benefit of this cause before you left office.  So, from one Archmere Auk to another, I’m asking you to please consider meeting with these extraordinary leaders from the national non-profit at the center of this winnable fight to stop suicide.


Francesco Bellafante
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Board of Directors, Greater Philadelphia Chapter

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