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For there to be a last goal, there has to be a first goal

My name is Dennis Gillan, and if you are racking your brain trying to think that you should know my name and my lacrosse career, relax. I peaked at Nyack High School in 1981, and the rest of my “career” was spent playing for various club teams, trying to recapture some of that glory. This is why I found myself extremely nervous in 2015, standing on the sidelines of an adult lacrosse game at “super bowl” of summer lacrosse, the Lake Placid Summit Classic. Not only was I standing on the sidelines, but I was also about to go in and play midfield at 52 years old. I pulled a hamstring just typing that last line, and in the over 40 category, it did not take long before one of my fellow Griffin Gryphons tapped out and I was thrust into competitive lacrosse for the first time in years.

I run out onto the field, and we are on offense, and this is where this story takes on a twist worthy of a Hollywood story. Seeing fresh legs on the field, someone throws me the ball, and I actually catch it. The dude playing me must have seen the 1981 scouting report on me because he is overplaying me to the right. He knows for a fact that I have no left hand, and in the sport of lacrosse, that is a serious liability. I can’t shake this dude by going to the right side, and everyone on my team looks too tired to want the ball back, so I do something I have not done in years: I switch hands and take off with the stick in my left hand. It was ugly, and my left hand in lacrosse is akin to your appendix in digestion, utterly useless, but I created space, and I’m heading to the goal. Now any decent lacrosse player will tell you what happens next. A defender is going to slide to cover me, and I am going to throw the ball to the person who is now open because of the slide. Plot twist: no one slides to cover me. Everybody seems exhausted from our three minutes of over 40 lax action, and before I know it, it’s me and the goalie, and I have to do the unthinkable. Shoot left-handed. I’m not a total lacrosse noob, and I know if this shot is going to have a chance, I am going to have to bounce it, and I do. The next couple of seconds are a blur. I see the net move, the whistle blows, and my new teammates come over to smack me on the helmet. I look over to the bench, and my dear friend, Danny Sterns, is screaming in joy, and then it sets in. I had the ball for all of nine seconds, and I scored. This is going to be the best weekend ever!

Reality check! After the goal, I should have just run off the field and driven back to South Carolina so as to cement my image as some kind of Lake Placid legend. The old dude who played nine seconds, scored, and never played again. That would have been an awesome way to go out, but I stuck around for the rest of the weekend and I did not score again. I scored my last goal on Thursday and went 0 for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. In fact, I got hurt in the very last game and had to fly home with a very sore back. But I scored. I f’ing scored.

All this talk about the last goal I scored got me thinking about the first goal I ever scored, and I remember that one too, but the most goals I ever scored were in my backyard in Valley Cottage, NY playing with my brothers, Mark and Matthew. Mark played defense and took great joy in beating the crap out of me daily, and Matthew, being the youngest, ended up where we always put the youngest kid—in the goal! So there is the setup. Me with the ball, Mark on D, and Matt in goal—ready, set, go for hours on end.

Which reminds me. I need to go back to New York and visit Mark and Matt. They are not on the lacrosse field anymore, but in a different kind of field, a cemetery. I lost both of my brothers to suicide, eleven years apart. Now this is where I stop typing, read that last sentence, and shake my head in disbelief. This really happened, and it changed my life forever.

In the United States alone, we lose close to 50,000 people a year to suicide, and after years of being silent, my misery has become my mission, and I have dedicated my life to suicide prevention. It took a while to get here, but here we are, and we have much work to do. More facts: Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10–14 and 25–34, the third leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 15–24, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 44. 80% of all suicides are by men, but women have more attempts. We are all in this together, and it is hard to find someone who has not been impacted by suicide. The lacrosse world has been impacted, and a simple internet search using the words lacrosse, player, and suicide pulls up way too many results.

To help the cause, in 2020 I started a foundation called the Half a Sorrow Foundation. We get our name from an old proverb that goes like this: “A shared joy is a double joy; a shared sorrow is half a sorrow.” We do keynote speaking and tons of training on suicide prevention. Sharing this terrible story has clearly helped my grief journey, and true to our name, when I shared the sorrow of losing Mark and Matt to suicide, I cut my sorrow in half. Any good mathematician will tell you that my sorrow will never get to zero. A half of a half will always have a remainder, and that’s OK with me. My sorrow propels me to do more in this suicide prevention arena to help prevent future occurrences, and I recently joined an organization that does suicide prevention. We come in after a suicide and try to help those that are hurting, and if you think about it, postvention is prevention. I’ve also aligned myself with other suicide prevention entities through an organization called Linked by Legacy, where I have found folks like me trying to honor our loved ones and turn our misery into our mission. In the lax world, I am happy to be affiliated with Morgan’s Message as an ambassador, and you can hear my story on their podcast here: They spelled my last name wrong in the link; they must have been thinking of that lacrosse clear we all call GILMAN!

Back to lacrosse: I am sad to report that I have hung up the cleats and now use my lacrosse stick to clear dog poop from the yard, always right-handed because, as we all know, I still can’t go left. Tennis is my new jam, and nobody is hitting me as I attempt to hit a forehand, which is nice. But hold on here! While doing some research for this article, I did see that the Lake Placid Summit Classic has an over-60 age category. Hmmm, I turned sixty last year, and maybe, just maybe, I have one more goal in me. Interested teams can contact me at my foundation, and this is where you can also book me to come and share this story and help prevent future occurrences of suicide. That is what I do now as I have made my misery my mission. Zero suicides is my ultimate goal, and you can help me score it!

Lax on!


Reminder: If you or a loved one is feeling suicidal, please call the 988 lifeline.

988 is now the three-digit dialing code that routes callers to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (or 988 Lifeline). On July 16, 2022, the 988 Lifeline transitioned away from the National Suicide Prevention Line reached through a 10-digit number to the three-digit 988 Lifeline.

When people call, text, or chat with the 988 Lifeline, they are connected to trained crisis counselors who are part of the existing 988 Lifeline network, made up of over 200 local crisis centers. These crisis counselors are trained to provide free and confidential emotional support and crisis counseling to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress and connect them to resources. These services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, across the United States.

The previous 988 Lifeline phone number (1-800-273-8255) will always remain available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis

About the Author: Dennis Gillan is the Executive Director of the Half a Sorrow Foundation, lacrosse enthusiast, Camo Hat Club Founder™,  husband, father, former lax coach, and all-around good guy (on most days).

#suicideprevention #mentalhealth #youmatter

Proof That I Played The Darn Sport!

Look all the way to the bottom….honorable mention! I was robbed!