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David and Christi Eaton wanted to help families devastated by suicide and those who struggle with thoughts of suicide. And so they wrote “Hope Bridge.” I spoke with them about how a busy couple with six children who had never written a movie before were inspired to create this film. “Once directly in our family and then once with some very close friends who lost their 20 year old son, we experienced suicide and felt like we really needed to do something about the issue. Because one of the things we noticed is, if somebody dies of a heart attack, cancer or something you know people come in droves. They come, they bring food, they talk. But when you lose someone by suicide you know people don’t know what to say. So they just avoid you altogether because they just don’t know what to say,” David said. “We really felt like we needed to do something about it. We didn’t know what we were going to do and then God kind of put on our hearts that a movie was really the way to do this. Because media is such a large platform. The problem is we barely went to movies. It’s really not a part of our repertoire. So you now so being called to make a movie was actually kind of a funny joke that God seemed to be playing on us. Ok how in the world do we do this?”
Christi added, “It helped us realize that that is what God was wanting us to do. Something that was along His line of work and not ours.” Five of their children were teenagers at the time and both David and Christi had demanding jobs. They had no time and no experience. But they were determined to do it. David continued: “So we started writing a script, and of course what do you do when you don’t know how to write a script? You go on the internet because everything is true on the internet. So we go on the internet and we discover the framework of how to write a script and within eight weeks we had our first script written. We wrote at night, on the weekends, we would go for a walk, whatever it took. The kids would walk by the dining room and be like, ‘What are you guys doing?’ and we’d say, ‘We’re writing a movie.” They just rolled their eyes and started laughing hysterically. Like ‘Yeah, good one.’ But we wrote a script and got done with that and it was another one of those ‘Ok ,now what? Now what do we do?'”
Christi explained what happened next. “With every step that we took, it just seemed like doors kept opening. God would say, ‘OK, well you’ve been obedient, so now we’re at the threshold of another door, and I’m going to show you this door, and you’re going to walk through it’ and we did. It just seems as if it all rolled out, but none of this would have happened unless we were living Romans 8:28, which is ‘All things work for good.’ Sometimes those things that work for good start out really bad but if we know that God’s got a purpose in this, we walk by faith in that. We walk the walk and talk the talk that God will use it for good and we are definitely proof of that.” It was going to cost half a million dollars to make the film, which seemed impossible, but they found many people eager to help support the film.
What was important to them was helping families start the difficult conversations about suicide. “People are starving for it they want to talk about it and we’re giving them a reason to,” David said. They were inspired by Betty Ford’s openness about addiction and the way it inspired more information and support by making addiction less shameful. They want this film to be a part of the same kind of openness about mental illness. “The brain is just another organ in the body,” David continued. “If someone died by heart attack it is very sudden, but it’s something we understand. When have an issue with the brain sometimes people are a little more apprehensive to talk about it. You don’t just go, ‘Well there is something wrong here so I’m going to go to the doctor.’ But that’s how it needs to be.” Christi talked about the problem of reducing the stigma and misunderstandings about suicide. “I suspect suicide is attributed to bullying or a past relationship gone bad or even that some people think suicide is a contagion. Everybody just sweeps everything under the rug and nobody talks about it when ultimately there is always a deeper-rooted issue and most of the time it is a mental illness. It is a disease of the mind. And nothing has been glamorized. Everything has been realistic. The emotions that you see in the movie are realistic. It is not a documentary of course it is a drama. However we wanted to make sure that we were steering people towards the right avenue of finding healing and finding hope whether they have been a contemplator, a survivor or just people that are just trying to understand the whole topic of suicide that have never been touched.” She said she was especially concerned about teenagers, who are particularly vulnerable. It is the third leading cause of death for 15-24-year olds and the second for college students. Overall, there is a suicide in America every sixteen minutes. Veterans are also especially vulnerable, with as many as 23 suicides each day. It is a problem that applies regardless of race, class, or gender. “So this nation has a problem that needs to be addressed. In order for that problem to be discovered there has to be communication and there has to be a large platform and I’m so grateful that God trusted us just enough to put that in a movie.”
David said that being more open with their own children has had an impact. “I know one of the things we’ve noticed is how quick our children are to reach out to others now. You know one of the things that we consistently talk about is how there are people struggling and there are friends of theirs, and friends of yours and friends of anybody’s that you might know that are struggling and sometimes we’re maybe afraid to reach out to them because we might offend them. So we have a close friend who was struggling with severe depression and one of the things he told us later on as he worked his way out of it was that people are afraid to offend but he said, ‘I wish people would have offended me because that would show me that they care.’ It’s really important and what we tell our kids is, ‘Reach out.’ Sometimes you have to ask a tough question. Are you thinking about hurting yourself? Have you considered suicide? Do you have a plan? You know it’s OK to ask these questions because we care. And it’s OK if you’re struggling yourself to say something is wrong. We’ve had one child who was bold enough to reach out to us and say, ‘Something’s not right. I don’t feel right.’ It’s been very liberating for our family.”
They have put together resources via social media and on a website and they personally read all the messages that come in. The response to the film has been very heartening. Christi said, “After a screening, we had a 16 year old, approach us bawling, just tears rolling down her face, mascara too. She was quite a sight but she said, ‘I do not have the words but only thing I could tell you was thank you for making this. I’m not alone.’ And of course I started crying. I mean that’s our whole purpose, that is God working for good and we saw it right before our faces and it is a miracle.”