EXCLUSIVE: This story is an excerpt from Stepping Back From the Ledge: A Daughter’s Search for Truth and Renewal, which was published April 19 by Random House. Author Laura Trujillo, USA TODAY’s managing editor for Life & Entertainment, originally wrote of her experience in a story for USA TODAY in 2018.
This story contains discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
I stood and looked down into the canyon, at a spot where millions of years ago, a river cut through stone. Everything about the view is awe-inspiring and impossible, a landscape that seems to defy both physics and description. It is a view in a place that dwarfs you, that magnifies the questions in your mind about your place in the world and about the world itself, and that keeps the answers to itself.
It was April 26, 2016 – four years since my mom died. Four years to the day since she stood in this same spot and looked out at this same view. I caught my breath here, and felt dizzy and needed to remind myself to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, slower, and again. I could say it out loud now: This is where my mom killed herself. She jumped from the edge of the Grand Canyon. From the edge of the earth. I had come back to the spot because, finally, I was ready – I wanted to know everything. Like a lot of people who lose someone they love to suicide, I had been shocked. Numb.
Laura Trujillo, right, wondered what she and her family could have done differently to help her mother.
Now I wanted to understand how this could have happened and what I could have done differently, what we all might have done differently to help her. What could have caused this? Was there a tipping point?
“Stepping Back from the Ledge” by Laura Trujillo is set for release April 19.
My eyes followed a narrow trail down, cutting through layers of red and purple rock that felt as if it were another planet, until the trail disappeared into a patch of green. I’d been at this spot before, with my mother. My mom brought me here once when I was a child, and we’d walked along the rocky South Rim. She brought me here again when I was in college, this time for a mother-daughter trip where we exhausted ourselves hiking the 7.1 miles down to the canyon’s floor and slept in a cabin: We spent more time together just the two of us than we ever would again. In between, my mom hiked more than a dozen trails at the canyon, finding a sense of adventure and strength, of peace and spirituality. She had watched the sunrise at Easter Mass here and had sat along the edge at night when the canyon disappears into a hole of black, with only the stars visible. For her, it was a place where she rediscovered herself after her divorce from my father, and later where she went to escape the world.
Finding hope again:Stepping back from the edge
Now, I didn’t just want to know everything. I needed to know it: the latitude and longitude where she fell, the last words she said to the shuttle bus driver who dropped her at the trail overlook, her mood when she met with her priest just four days prior. He had told me my mom went out of her way to say she was good, but he had sensed she was hiding something. I had tracked all of this down to try to piece it together, my mother’s life.
I read over the last letter she had mailed to my children. I looked for clues inside that little card with a cartoon penguin drawn on the front: She wrote in block printing so my five-year-old daughter, Lucy, could read it easily. My mom wrote of riding the light rail to a Diamondbacks baseball game in Phoenix, of planting a cactus garden, of looking forward to summer in the already hot days of spring in the desert.
I also read and re-read her last words, written in cursive in the tiniest composition book, which she had left in her Jeep, as well as the last text she typed, in which she both celebrated life and apologized for it: “Life. My life has been such a gift. I’m so very sorry to disappoint all of you. In my heart I know this is not right but it’s all I can do. Please pray for my soul.”
Copyright © 2022. Published by Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House. All rights reserved.
If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night, or chat online.
Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741.
Meet the author
Laura Trujillo spent most of her time writing her book sitting on a heating vent.
Join USA TODAY Managing Editor for Life and Entertainment Laura Trujillo for a reading of “Stepping Back From the Ledge,” a Q&A and a chance to share some of your own story.
The event will take place online and at Changing Hands Bookstore at 300 West Camelback Road in Phoenix on Wednesday, April 20 at 7 p.m. PST/10 p.m. EDT. Virtual and in-person tickets are available at