I imagine the title of this post throws a big curve in what was expected. After all, I haven't posted since November 14th, the week before the JFK 50. The post I was working on for the race got put into "drafts" and now seems dumb to post. In a nutshell, the race went very well. Sondra and I finished in our goal time with 10 minutes to spare and her calf was a non issue during the race. It really was a terrific event and a great way to start my training sabbatical. I have had a couple of months of downtime, running occasionally, with no huge training goal in sight. My timing could not be more perfect either. The season of my life that has arrived is one that requires my fullest attention right here at home. When I am training for a race, that piece of my brain is not available for my family. In other words, right now, life requires all hands on deck, particularly in the raising of teenagers.
What has driven me to sit and purge my thoughts and my experience is the recent suicide of a young man in my son, Will's, class. This hits close to home for a few reasons: first, the boy is 16 and a sophomore. I have a 16 year old sophomore. Secondly, I have lived this with my husband nearly 20 years ago, when his 20 year old brother took his own life. Third, and this affects me least of all but affects Will to a degree, the young man was Will's chemistry lab partner. He was someone my son came in contact with and worked with daily, though they didn't hang out socially. There is sure to be a void in that classroom for Will. A stark reality he will face in chemistry… a classmate that no longer exists in the physical sense. How in the world does a man-child process this type of thing? I have no idea. I'm a rookie at raising 16 year old boys.
I never physically laid eyes on Grant. I heard Will talk about him a few times, always in the context of school and class, never in a mean way. But you don't have to know someone to feel the effects of his or her death. All I have to do is think of his parents, his siblings, his family. All I have to do is remember the ripple effect the devastation of my young brother-in-law's death and how it still touches the family today. All I have to do is think that this could happen in my very own home to one of my children and it's enough to send surges of fear and grief throughout my whole body. On Thursday, I will accompany my son to Grant's visitation and I will stare at a 16 year old boy in a casket while standing next to MY 16 year old boy. I will greet his mom and dad and I will be at a loss for words. They fail me thinking about it. I hope I don't hear whispers of how good he looks, when the truth is that no16 year old child looks good in a casket.
I have thought of little else since I got news of this. I have said a few things to Will, who is very typical in his responses for his age. He's private about his feelings. That's the thing that sucks about boys. At least with my daughters, there is no guesswork involved in what they are feeling. Sometimes it is over the top. I'll take it over the quiet thinker, the one who buries things deeply. How do you reach that kid so that if there is ever a desperate moment in his life, something you said can be recalled and be helpful, if not lifesaving? That is the million dollar question. But one thing is for certain. Suicide and all its ugliness and all it encompasses MUST be discussed in my home with all of my children. It has affected our family and now has creeped into the surrounding world of my eldest. And I plan to sit them down and talk about it with all of them, ages 8-16.
And this is what I want to say:
Dad and I want you to know how much we love you. We want you to know that each one of you holds a place in our hearts untouchable to anyone else. We want to talk about what happened to Grant and to Uncle Jay and what happens to many other desperate young people who feel that life is not worth living. Depression is the root cause of many suicides. Unfortunately, depression has a stigma and therefore, many people bury their hurt and don't tell anyone and don't feel like they can. It makes me very angry that a biochemical disorder would have a stigma attached. Depressed people cannot help that they suffer from depression any more than the person with cancer can help that they have cancer. There are things that can help, from therapy to medications and many things in between. Depression is not a character flaw. If it were, there would not be a medication to help with it, just like there is not a medication to help someone's tendency to be an asshole (maybe I won't use that word…), a character flaw.
We want you to know that if you EVER feel like you may be suffering from depression, which you may not even recognize as such, or if you ever feel like you are walking around sad all the time, or like no one cares about you and that life is just too hard and not really worth it, you come to us. We are your parents and we will NEVER attach a stigma to that kind of emotion and we will NEVER judge you or think you are weak. You will never be told to "get over it" or "suck it up". You will never hear those words from us. Our job as your parents is to walk with you through pain and hardship and get you what you need to ease it. In fact, the bravest, boldest, most courageous thing you can do is tell us, or someone who you think can help you. Tell a friend, tell a teacher. Just please, I beg you, tell someone. Likewise, if a friend or one of your siblings or someone you know ever comes to you and confides in you, PLEASE tell them you care. Encourage them to talk to their parents or to a teacher. Listen to them and hear what they are saying and try to grasp their pain or struggle. And if you are afraid they won't tell anyone, then you tell someone for them. You could be saving a life. I wonder that if Grant had ever looked at anyone and confided in them his struggle, if he may have been able to be helped. Be a friend and NEVER laugh or make fun of someone who is suffering emotionally. Never laugh or make fun of anyone… period. Growing up is hard and kids make it really hard on one another. Fitting in is the most important thing in the world and to think you don't fit in or that no one likes you is devastating. To a person prone to depression, it could be life-threathening. And you may never know because people hide things through smiles very easily. Even when they are deep in pain. To my knowledge, Grant was not the victim of being made fun of or anything like that. In fact, I believe he was well-liked by his peers… a very outwardly positive person. You just never know, therefore ALWAYS choose kindness.
You are loved beyond comprehension, not just by us, but by your grandparents, aunts, uncles and tons of cousins. You life matters immeasurably and this family cannot imagine not having you in it, or not having the generations that will follow because you exist. Suicide devastates families and generations to come. It alters the plans God has for a person's life. It crushes parents and siblings beyond words. The beautiful thing is, THERE IS HELP and at all costs, we will get it for you should any of you ever need it.
Those are the words I want my children to hear. If you are the parent of a child who frequently tells your sad, depressed child to get over it or suck it up, shame on you (sad and whiny are two totally separate things. Whiny is most definitely annoying). Shame on the stigma you attach to what may be a debilitating disease on your child's part. You are what makes it hard for society to freely talk about this struggle that is more common than you may know. I am the last person to tell anyone how to parent. But this subject makes me crazy mad. Yes, we still live in a macho world, where boys are permitted only "appropriate" emotion. The irony of this is that boys, or at least my boys and many of my friends' boys, are very sensitive and really internalize things. My boys are far more "fragile" than my girls, who yell and scream and then get over it. But even they have picked up on what is allowed and not allowed in a "boy's world". Now Will may kill me for this, but many years ago, we were watching a Spongebob episode called "Where's Gary?" Gary the snail had run away and Spongebob was sick over it. He searched high and low for that little snail and coupled with the sad music and Spongebob's heartache, it was more than Will could handle. I looked over and tears were spilling out of that little boy's eyes. He was really embarrassed that I saw him and got defensive. But I told him it was ok to feel sad… that he was so kind to have felt Spongebob's pain. Talk about a sensitive and empathetic person! And don't make fun of him… he was like 6 or 7.
I was at a doctor's appointment yesterday. My doctor's son goes to the same school as Will and we were talking about the tragedy. Without hesitation, he told me his eldest son, a junior in college, suffered from depression and confided in he and his wife, who got him some help. With the help of medication, his son is doing exceptionally well. It made a huge difference. I wanted to hug him for telling me this information as plain as day, with nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about. Then again, as a physician, he understands disease pathophysiology so why would he be ashamed or embarrassed? If his son is sensitive about who knows this information, well he was sensitive to that fact too as he knows I do not know his son or would I know him if I bumped into him on the street.
This is what I want my kids to know about depression and suicide.
Praying for God's healing comfort for all the families in pain from suicide's devastation, especially the most recent ones.