Suicide attempt in youth gives Kennewick man perspective of 'heaven-on-earth'

Posted by Lucy Luginbill on June 29, 2014 

Depths of blackness. Excruciating pain. A suicide attempt that took one soul to the dark side.

“It wasn’t light and pretty,” Jason Vorpagel remembers about consciously feeling himself slip away. “I went into a tunnel at the end of the light and it was like stepping into a basement at midnight with all the lights off. My spirit hurt the further I got away.”

For the Kennewick resident, life had once been worth living. Raised in the rural forested area of Pennsylvania, Amish horse-and-carriage sightings weren’t uncommon. But in 1992 when his dad’s chemical engineering career took eighth grader Jason to San Diego, Calif., the new way of life was a shock.

“It was a totally different culture, race riots, gang fights, even a crazy shooter in the park across from the school,” the young man sporting a beard reflects on the radical change in his environment. “This was the better high school and I didn’t adapt at all.”

A strong-willed teen, but somewhat shy by nature, Jason’s parents saw emotional issues begin to emerge that were disruptive to family life. When he asked to enroll in the nearby Army-Navy Academy in Carlsbad, his mom and dad felt the decision would be a good choice.

“I joined the shooting team – it was a varsity sport – and we competed within the state and across the nation. It was great!” Jason says about his structured experience at the boarding school, one that had been a difficult adjustment in the beginning. “When it came time to graduate, I’d have given anything to have one more day.”

One more day. But that’s not what Jason was thinking almost three years later when he attempted suicide.

Life had been good immediately after his high school graduation when the teen began restoring ships with the San Diego Maritime Museum. Asked to help deliver one vessel through the Panama Canal, he and the crew faced down hurricanes that stranded them at sea without fresh water.

“We were hit by a rogue wave,” Jason reminisces about the harrowing experience. “We were nine days battling one hurricane and our fresh water-maker broke. We ended up catching fish, slitting them open and drinking their fluids.”

Nonetheless, Jason wore adventure well. At age 19 he traveled alone by rail across the U.S. to see America, as well as most of the Northern Hemisphere. By the time he arrived back in San Diego, the former student was ready to enroll at Sierra Junior College.

But it wasn’t to be.

One evening while Jason’s parents slept, he stepped out onto the patio, secretively holding a cigarette in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. When he sat down, the older woven chaise lounge collapsed throwing his full weight against the supporting metal bar, snapping three vertebrae and cracking several discs. “I was on heavy multiple drugs to alleviate the pain,” Jason remembers the surgery to remove parts of several vertebrae and back tendons that he says were like mush. “All my muscle wasted away from 200 lbs. to 160 lbs. I was weak,” he comments about minimal mobility that left him bent in agony.

Continually bedridden with tortuous pain in a new Tri-Cities community, Jason became deeply depressed. Close friends had been left behind when his dad’s career brought the family to Washington State.

“You feel like you’re in prison – your body is your prison,” Jason says about his disability as a 20-year old about to have a birthday. “There was no freedom and I didn’t see a way out,” he says about his year and a half of misery.

His anger toward God mounted, a God he believed existed but one who didn't care – and Jason didn’t follow. So one day in his fury he made a decision to end it all.

“I’m lying down and this is my last day,” says Jason who had just swallowed a multiple overdose of prescription drugs. “I ‘flipped-off’ God and said, ‘Good-bye world, I’m done. Good-bye pain. It can’t be any worse than this.”

But it was worse.

Jason says that as he moved to another dimension, floating away from his body, his spirit began to hurt far more. He describes it as pain penetrating who he was – his very soul. Then from the depths of darkness, without warning the scene changed.

“I’m hurting quite a while,” Jason relives the agony of those dark long moments, “and it was like a giant hand grabbed me and threw me back into my body. The first physical sensation was that I was bouncing on the bed, like I’d hit that hard.”

Although the young man’s mind fought to leave his body again, God had other plans. Jason finally awoke to find no evidence that he had regurgitated the drugs. Yet unexplainably, he was totally alert and then immediately despondent because he hadn’t succeeded with his death wish.

“I knew who had slammed me back in my body,” Jason tells the story with emotion, recalling the physical pain. “I said out loud, ‘I don’t know who you are or what the hell you want, but you’ve got my attention.’”

Jason says he had been dragged to church as a kid, but rebelled against the faith of his parents. Even so, this near-death experience turned him into a seeker.

“I pulled out my parents’ old vinyl’s from the ‘70’s – Don Francisco, Keith Greene – and I started listening to those,” Jason comments about his endless days flat on his back. “I picked up one of my parents’ Bibles and read it in about a week.”

However, the truth didn’t penetrate until one morning after he had painfully stepped into the shower.

“And all of a sudden I wasn’t alone in the room,” Jason remembers clearly the spiritual cloud that filled the room. “It was tangible, like having the lightest bed sheets fall around you. It was indescribable.”

Jason says he fell to his knees and then prostrate on the shower floor in humble recognition of the holiness that surrounded him, sobbing uncontrollably. Lying there, he cried for forgiveness as he realized how his life was filthy in God’s presence, a life that had ventured into borderline occult.

“When He left, I ‘walkered’ over to my bed and I knelt down and said, ‘I need a Savior.’”

What Jason says he found in Jesus was hope and layers of peace that came as he destroyed anything he felt was remotely connected to the occult – magazines, books and Dungeons & Dragons games.

Four months after his spiritual encounter and attempted suicide, the FDA approved a new procedure to alleviate back-pain. Jason was one of the first to benefit from the state-of-the-art process that left him able to walk without his walker and stand pain-free.

Now, fifteen years later, Jason, who holds a Bachelor of Science in music production, is a married father of three, an accomplished guitar teacher, Sound Forge Studios producer-engineer and lead sound technician at Columbia Community Church (3C) in Richland. He also does freelance music composition for companies around the world.

“God was very generous to me, and he didn’t have to be,” the grateful believer says with feeling.

Now as Jason’s 36th birthday nears, how thankful he is that God spared his life. These days he is basking in the Light.

Lucy note: Jason asked to share these personal thoughts for anyone contemplating suicide: “If you know Jesus, this [life on earth] will be the closest to hell you’ll ever be. But if you don’t know Jesus and you take the pills or eat the bullet, the pain you feel now [in this life] is the closest to heaven you’ll ever be. Is that really what you want?”

If you have a story idea for Light Notes, email lluginbill@tricityherald.com. Follow Lucy on Twitter @LucyLuginbill

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